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What Supports and Paints Do You Use

I am posting this here to encourage other artists to poke holes in my arguments.

I have been thinking and experimenting over the years on the nature of the supports and paints I would like to use for my paintings and here are my conclusions so far:

  1. It is important for me to reduce present and future flexing of the paint film. For small sizes, say up to 12 inches, I use solid boards such as Masonite or plywood supports. I buy oil primed linen and after sealing the board with Golden GAC – 100 on all sides and edges, glue the linen to the boards with PVC glue. The gluing is done by spreading evenly a layer of glue on the board and pressing the linen onto the board carefully and evenly with my hands. I then trim to the edges with a sharp knife. I don’t use a bayer roller in order to avoid lumps. For larger paintings, the boards would get too heavy, so I staple them to stretchers. So I don’t waste time stretching a bad painting, I tend to paint on linen that has been temporarily stretched with masking tape onto a large board. If the painting turns out, I stretch it.
  2. It is also important for me to be consistent with the painting medium from layer to layer. i.e. I prefer to stick to oil-based paints and would rather not paint on top of acrylic primers. I may be breaking my own rule by using Ampersand gessobord panels for 6 x 6 and 6 x 8 inch boards. It is just too much trouble to do my own small boards and I hope that Ampersand has made them durable enough. Another reason is that while I like the texture of linen on the larger work, I find it distracting on the smaller paintings.
  3. For health/environmental concerns and because it is friendly to my brushes, I work almost exclusively with walnut-based oils.
  4. The exception to my rule about sticking to one medium is a top varnish layer. Since it is intended as a protection which may have to be removed at some point, this layer should not stick to the paint in a permanent way. For this reason I am afraid of painting with mediums that might contain substances that could bond to the varnish.

I’ve thought about switching to walnut-based oils for the same reasons you mentioned. I have a few M. Graham tubes, but I haven’t tried them yet. I use mostly Gamblin paints with NeoMegilp as my medium. I also varnish with Gamsol. I also like painitng on oil-primed linen, even on smaller paintings.

I buy 1/2" birch plywood and my husband helps me cut them down to the various sizes I need. I sand and seal (Golden GAC-100) them on all sides, including the edges, then I use acrylic gesso on them. I have been thinking about using an oil based primer but any pre-primed panels that I take for a test drive that have oil based primer are not very smooth. I am not sure if this is a result of using an oil based primer or if the companies just leave it as a rough surface. I prefer an ultra smooth panel. I don’t even use linen because I really prefer the smoothest surface I can get to paint on. For larger paintings I grin and bear it and use stretched canvas then gesso the heck out of it to get it as smooth as possible. I really don’t like weave bumps.

I too try to use non-toxic materials. I use M. Graham oil paint. They only use pigment and walnut oil, that’s it. I love the feel of the paint straight from the tube. It is smooth, loose, and creamy not stiff like so many others. I do use M. Graham’s Alkyd Walnut Oil as well. I love how quickly it allows the paint to dry and I can use it to glaze as well.

For solvent, which is really not necessary with M Graham oil paint, I use Chelsea Classical Studio Citrus Brush Cleaner. It is a bit pricey but it is completely non-toxic and smells really nice.

I use Gamvar as my varnish because it is so easy to apply and you don’t have to wait six months to apply it. I paint very thin so my paintings are “dry to the touch” very quickly.

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I know I’m going to get in trouble for saying this, but unless you are allergic, painting with “toxic” paints is fine. As my current instructor says (and she has painted with many famous artists), “Just don’t eat it.” This, as it turns out, is good advice. Avoid handling food while using cadmium paints, etc. I use the safest “toxic” ones I can, but I don’t avoid them. Walnut oil is probably great but I believe it dries quite slowly. I prefer Gamblin’s Neo-megilp. I use Gamblin’s Gamsol because it has a very high flash point and I want to avoid any possibility of fire. However, my grandfather used real turpentine for over 50 years and he never had a fire–but it did smell pretty strong. I’ve also read all the disposal information on many of the “non-toxic” ones and they often have the same limitations on how to dispose of them, so they can’t be as non-toxic as people think. I’m not advocating to go crazy with toxic materials but I think we need to not assume that “non-toxic” ones are a lot safer. And-- you still can’t eat them.


I like linen too, but I worry about it stretching and causing a problem particularly if it gets sold and finds a home in a more humid climate, so I don’t use linen on large pieces. I would think that it is the large pieces that need to be stabilized by glueing to Masonite.

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I’ve tried many different types of paints and supports over the years. My conclusion: the most important thing is to love whatever type of paint/medium/technique/support you’re using.