Oil Painting Surfaces

Oil Painting Hints & Tips -  Oil Painting Surfaces



Stretched cotton canvas has been the most common support for oils since the 17th century. The weave of the cloth combined with the spring of the stretched material are the features which maintain its popularity.

Canvas board

Canvas boards have traditionally been used for sketching outdoors. Boards take up less room and are less easily damaged than stretched canvases. Winsor boards are made from a substantial board and high quality cloth, making them superior in quality to coated sketching boards. Finished paintings on boards can be easier and cheaper to frame than canvases.


Paper is popular for sketching in oil and also liked by professionals for its texture and drag. Contrary to hearsay advice, using paper is acceptable for oil painting. It is recommended however that good quality heavy water colour paper is used, thinly primed with Acrylic Gesso Primer.

Arches Oil paper is a French made 300gsm (140 lb), 4 deckled edge paper specially formulated for oil painting, yet it maintains the look and feel of traditional Arches papers. Arches Huile Oil Painting Paper Pads are also available.

Priming canvas and Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF)

By preparing your own surfaces you can choose any dimensions or shapes you like, even circular, and many artists enjoy the preparation of their materials. Priming hardboard or MDF (masonite types) for painting is  inexpensive and this in itself can encourage more painting. Primers control the texture, absorbency and colour of your support.

Oil Painting Primers

Acrylic Primers

As a result of their formulation, Winsor & Newton acrylic primers are suitable for oil painting. They are popular because they dry quickly and do not require any sizing underneath. Winsor & Newton Acrylic Gesso Primer has the highest covering power and is the best primer if using one coat only. Galeria Gesso Primer provides a good quality gesso at an affordable price. Clear Gesso Base is a unique product which provides tooth and no colour. Using acrylic with Clear Gesso Base, you can make your own coloured gesso.  A dark priming brings the elements of the painting together and also saves time when painting.

Oil Primer

Oil Painting Primer imparts a traditional oil base. Some artists prefer this and may find a slight increase in gloss and smoothness. Oil primed canvases may slacken off less than acrylic primed canvases. A coat of warm glue size is required first. The primer should be left to dry overnight. Foundation White is a white lead oil colour which can be used for lead priming. Lead priming was used exclusively up until the 20th century. As lead primed canvases have to dry for 6 months Oil Painting Primer is more popular.

Alun Foster

Common failings

Achieving good results in oil painting relies as much on the quality of the ground as the use of good quality oil colour. A high proportion of technical problems experienced by artists are due to a poor quality ground. Winsor & Newton primers and ready made surfaces ensure these results by controlling texture, absorbency and colour. Invest in good surfaces as well as good colours!