8 Different Oil Painting Surfaces You Can Experiment

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Once in a while, I am asked to teach oil painting at sip and paint parties. The guests are always surprised when I show up with something other than a traditional canvas for them to paint on.

I like to experiment with a variety of surfaces for oil painting. This can greatly affect the appearance of a painting, such as changing the texture.

I always tell paint and sip students not to limit themselves to only using a canvas for painting. There are so many other surfaces that can be used. Art is all about experimentation, so I like to encourage others to try different things.

In this post, I am going to discuss some of the most commonly-used oil painting surfaces. I will also let you know the good points and the bad points about each of these surfaces.

Keep reading to learn more.

What Is The Best Surface for Oil Paints?

When most people think about surfaces for oil painting, a canvas is the first thing that comes to mind. Canvas has been used by artists for centuries because it is ideal for oil paints.

A canvas is made by stretching the fibers of a fabric. The fabric can be hemp, cotton, or linen. It is stretched on a wooden frame until it is tight.

Some artists prefer to make their canvases, while others simply buy canvases that are ready to use. If you want to make your canvas you can buy unprimed canvas by the yard, along with stretchers so you can customize canvases yourself.

#1. Types of Canvas for Oil Painting

Canvas is the best surface for oil paints. Canvas has been the preferred choice of artists for over three centuries, and its reputation is well-deserved. The woven texture and resilient stretch of the material make it ideal for oil painting. 

Typically crafted from linen or cotton, canvas offers a versatile and reliable surface that artists can confidently create their masterpieces on.

Several different types of canvases can be used for oil painting. For instance, some artists like to use a fine weave canvas while others prefer one that is quite coarse.

If you are going to be using heavy brush strokes, it is best to use a canvas with a coarse weave. On the other hand, if you are doing a lot of detail work a canvas with a finely woven texture is optimal.

You can choose from linen or cotton canvas. For my beginner paint and sip students I generally recommend using cotton, as it is less expensive. It is also easier to stretch if you are making your canvas.

Linen is much more costly but often preferred by more experienced artists. This is because it is stronger and much more durable.

#2. Using a Canvas Board

If you are planning on framing your art, you may want to try using a canvas board. These are prepared and ready to use, and available at any store that sells art supplies.

These canvas boards come in a variety of surface textures. If you are going to use a canvas board, I recommend spending a bit more money to get one that has a coarse surface that will add texture to your oil paintings.

Canvas boards are best suited for paintings that are to be framed, but they are not an ideal choice if you are looking to sell your paintings. These are more suited for minor work.

#3. Using Wood Board Instead of Canvas

A lot of artists like to use wood boards for their paintings. There are several advantages to have oil painting on wood.

One of the greatest advantages is that wood boards are much less expensive than traditional canvases. You can go to any lumber yard and get a piece of board to paint on, and you can have it cut to just the right size so you don’t have to cut it yourself.

I like to play around with different types of boards. Plywood is fun to work with, as well as medium-density fiberboard.

Boards have smooth and rough sides. The side you paint on will depend on how thickly you apply the paint.

You will need to prime boards before they can be painted on, but you don’t necessarily need to use gesso as you would with canvas. You can use a water-based paint for this purpose.

#4. Painting on Paper

Paper can be used for more than just sketching and drawing. Yes, you can oil paint on paper, as long as you are using the right kind of paper.

A rougher paper will be more absorbent and allow the oil paint to dry faster. This type of paper is great for oil painting.

You can make the paper even stronger by wetting it and allowing it to dry. You can even add a bit of water-based paint to the water to create a colored background.

Check these oil painting ideas you can try.

#5. Try Using Cardboard

One of the things I love most about painting is that it is fun. I like to make it even more fun by working on different types of surfaces, including cardboard.

I often cut up large boxes made from corrugated cardboard. Not only does it provide an interesting surface to paint on, but it is also environmentally friendly because it is recycled material.

Cardboard will absorb oil paint quite quickly. This means that you can use thicker applications to create texture.

#6. Painting on Stone, Bricks, and Plaster

If you want to challenge yourself, try painting on stone, bricks, or plaster. These surfaces have been used by artists for many centuries.

One of the biggest drawbacks to using any of these surfaces is that, as I mentioned, it is extremely challenging. Also, paintings on these surfaces can degrade over time.

Leonardo da Vinci experimented with these surfaces, as well as the paints he used. For the Last Supper painting, which was created in 1495, he worked with a combination of oil paint and tempera paint.

This created a very fragile painting. Throughout the years there has been much effort made to slow down the deterioration of this masterpiece.

#7. Try Painting on Metal

Some artists like to paint on metal. While this can create some interesting effects, it is not always the best surface for oil painting.

Yes, it is an interesting surface, but because it is a newer surface, no one knows for certain how long the paintings are going to last. It could be that the paint will not adhere for many years as it would to other surfaces.

Aluminum is becoming a popular painting surface because you can use regular household paint without having to spend a lot of money on artists’ oil paints.

There are a couple of downsides to using aluminum. First, it is expensive, costing more than $150 per yard. Also, aluminum, as well as other metals, is vulnerable to rust. This means you may have to repair the painting surfaces over time.

#8. Painting on Masonite

Masonite, a type of medium density fiberboard or hardboard, is an excellent and affordable surface for oil painting. 

Made from finely ground wood pulp and bound together through natural resin, masonite offers a pure wood substrate with a smooth, glossy surface. When properly primed, it provides an elegant painting surface that can last for over a century. 

Masonite is readily available in hardware and lumber stores, and there are also specialized versions made by art companies ensuring optimal quality for artists’ use.

Check my guide on painting on masonite for more tips on how to prep and paint the surface.

Final Thoughts

One of the great things about painting with oils is that you don’t have to limit yourself to only using a canvas. There are so many interesting surfaces that you can paint on.

I always encourage paint and sip students to think outside of the box when they are choosing painting surfaces. This is why I often bring boards and other items for them to paint on rather than canvases.

Try experimenting with a variety of surfaces and painting techniques. You will learn a lot throughout the process, and you will have loads of fun trying new things.

If you enjoy this post, check these paint and sip painting surface alternatives for more tips.

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