Making Textured Panels
Materials for and preparation of the panels:
I use 1/4" MDF (medium density fiberboard) or 1/4" finish grade plywood (birch is less porous than oak). I buy 2 ft by 4 ft sheets (about $10) at the home store (Home Depot) and cut them up on my table saw to size. I most commonly make 9" by 12", 11" by 14" and 12" by 16" panels. After cutting to size, I sand the edges and face to paint on with 120 grit or finer sand paper and coat the back with Golden Acrylic Polymer (GAC-100) to seal it. You can buy plywood or hardboard panels online or from your art store, or you can have a friend with a table saw cut them for you. You can use 1/8" fiberboard if it is tempered (Masonite or Ampersand panels) or 1/8" plywood if it has 5 layers (Baltic birch from woodworking stores). Warping is more likely with thinner panels.
Texturing the Panels:
I use Liquitex Super Heavy Gesso (this costs about $29 per quart but goes a long way). An alternative is to mix 50/50 acrylic soft body gel medium (Liquitex, Golden or other) with artist's acrylic gesso. I then brush one coat on the front with a coarse 2" bristle brush using small strokes of this texture coat; don't make it too thick and the smaller the panel, the less texture needed.
Gessoing the Textured Panels:
When the texture coat is dry, I paint the sides and front with 2 coats of my casein modified gesso using a soft 1 inch gesso brush (Princeton) or any soft bristle brush from the art or hardware store. The way I make my caein modified gesso is as follows: I buy a 16oz jar of Blick Artists' Acrylic Gesso and dump 1/2 of it into an 8 oz or largery glass jar and save it for the next batch. Then I add to the 1/2 full jar a 3.75 fl. oz bottle of casein emulsion from Richeson (The Shiva Series). I get the gesso and the casein emulson from Blick. This gesso has more tooth and less absorbancy than plain gesso and seems to work well.
Experience with the textured panels:
I have been using these textured panels for most of my paintings 12" by 16" and smaller for about 18 months and really like them. Johannes Vloothuis was doing a similar thing for a lot of his paintings using Acrylic heavy body gel mixed with gesso instead and after I told him about the Liquitex Super Heavy Gesso, he switched to it. Larry Seiler mixes pumice in with his gesso. David Curtis (UK) paints on similar panels.
What is special about the casein in the gesso:
I started using the casein modified gesso after reading about it on a Dutch artist's website containing a lot of recipes for oil painting materials. The site for the PDF E-book of oil painting recipes is: http://www.painting-ideas-and-techniques.com/oil-painting-guide.html. Because there is no chemical bond between an acrylic dispersion (gesso) and the oil paint, it depends only on a mechanical bond. The casein (milk protein) provides a chemical bond to the oils. Toning the panel will be best with oils rather than acrylics, so that the chemical bond is maintained. An alternative would be to add some pigment or tube acrylics into the final casein modified gesso coat.
What your textured panel should look like:
When you have finished the panel and allowed it to dry the accompanying photo shows what the texture will look like. To show this off in the photo, I applied some OMS thinned raw umber and wiped back with a flexible silicone spatula to accentuate the strokes. Note the random pattern. Don't make the texture layer too thick. This can be used on a canvas panel or stretched canvas as well because this is just a thick gesso and very flexible.
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