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Surfaces for Oil Painting

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Choosing surfaces and supports for Oil painting.

zest-it support canvasCanvas weave

Oil paint is an amenable media and can be applied to many surfaces.
The surface you choose if often a personal matter related to the finished result. The surface you use is refereed to as the 'support'.
The most common choice is canvas, either as a 'stretched' canvas or as a canvas board. There are however other choices, either as rigid or flexible supports.

Below is a selection of surfaces that can be used for oil painting.

Flexible supports.

These would be canvas, synthetic canvas, textiles, leather and paper.
'Canvas' is often used as a generic term for different types of ready prepared stretched canvas. The flexible canvas 'support', is material stretched over stretcher bars to give stability and a paint-able surface.

The two main true 'canvas' fabric types used are, Cotton Duck and Linen, a look at the back of the canvas will give an indication of its fabric type.

zest-it stretched canvas

watercolour paper Watercolour paperoil painting paper
Zest-it, Oil paint and Arches Oil Painting Paper

Paper makes an excellent support for oil painting if it is 100% cotton rag content and buffered against atmospheric damage which most good quality watercolour papers are. Drawing and printer papers are not usually suitable.

Watercolour paper needs priming for best longevity results, a thin gesso, permanent ink or gelatin can be used successfully for this purpose.
The weight of the paper is important - 140lb (300 gm) or above. Arches and Saunders Waterford would be good choices. (Millford is the 'Whatman' w/colour paper replacement made by St Cutherberts Mill)

Since this was written Arches have a new Oil Painting Paper, this link will take you to an article about the paper Zest-it and Arches Oil Paper

For thinning your oil paint you could use either Zest-it Oil Paint Dilutant and Brush Cleaner (Brush Cleaner) or Zest-it Solvent. You may also like Zest-it Lean or Clear Painting Medium.
If you like mixed media then you also use Pastels and Oil Pastels with Zest-it on the paper. If you are going to add some impasto, then I would recommend a heavier weight of paper or mount the paper on Matt/Mount board.
For Zest-it product information please click the link.

Rigid supports.

These would be a wall, wood, wooden panel, metal, glass, core boards, mount board, mdf, laminated board, tin and pottery.
The preparation of these surfaces is just as important as that of flexible ones and most need priming suited to their type.

Very few rigid supports are available as ready prepared surfaces, so for many, the preparation of the painting surface becomes an integral part of the whole painting process.
Tinware is one of the few that can be found ready for use.

zest-it support metal jugTinware

oil painting on copper tray

Metal and boards can be found almost ready to use. Wood and glass can be easy surfaces to prepare for oil painting if purchased just needing to be primed and the same applies to pottery surfaces. It will pay dividends to learn about the preparation of your chosen surface.

Conservators have indicated that the more rigid the surface the better chance the oil painting has of living a good long life.

Hints and Tips

Zest-it Solvent (Citrus Free) is excellent for cleaning and removing oil, wax and grease from metal, tin, pottery and glass surfaces before painting.

Put a small amount of liquid (a little goes a long way) onto a cloth or paper towel and wipe the surface thoroughly, wipe dry with a clean dry lint free cloth or allow to air dry.

zest-it solvent citrus free

zest-it lean painting medium

If you wish to start your painting with an under-painting, following the traditional method of working, the Zest-it Lean Painting Medium is designed for this purpose.

Mix your chosen paint colour, for the under-painting, to a thin consistency with the Lean Medium and apply to the canvas.
Burnt Umber is quick drying and excellent for this application.


For staining wood or painting on glass, the Zest-it Oil Paint Dilutant and Brush Cleaner will be the best choice for thinning the oil paint. The essential oils of the citrus element in the brush cleaner are more suited to this application.

Mix your chosen oil paint with a tiny amount of the solvent and mix to the desired consistency. Apply with a soft haired brush or a cloth.

zest-it oil paint dilutant and brush cleaner

zest-it damar varnish

The oil painting needs protection once completed, to do this it is usual to apply a varnish once the oil paint is dry.
The Zest-it Retouching Varnish can be used whilst the paint is drying - it allows the paint to breathe.
As a final protection to the finished painting apply a couple of coats of Zest-it Damar Picture Varnish. Both of these pages give information about applying varnish.



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