Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Painting furiously... and saving on supplies...

Color Study # 109. 24x24 on deep cradle panel.

I've a show next month (March) at the Heritage Center along with my friend Carol. I wanted to have all "new" work for this show - and with that in mind I've been working away at several paintings at once - as well as panel preparation. Panel preparation you say? No - not sitting in on a panel presentation, but preparing panels for painting... wow... onomatopoeia.

I'm always looking for ways to save money - not because I'm cheap, but because I must. I discovered the so-called deep cradle panels several months ago at a nearly art supply center - and I love them - but even with my member's discount, a smallish 16 x 16 panel is around $30. That may not sound like much to many - but it's quite beyond my means as I like to work larger. The panels equivalent to a 32 x 36 or so sell for over $100. Ouch. It's only plywood and Masonite. Could I build them myself?

I set about to try this, cutting 3/4" plywood strips and mitering the corners. These would be clamped and glued to Masonite cut to size. I made up a jig on a large table in my shop with boards and clamps in order to assure square corners. With trial and error, I made up a couple of these, but it took a lot of precious time.

I came up with an alternative that works well for the frame-less contemporary look I prefer. I've done several paintings on hollow-core doors over the years for myself and clients. They're lightweight, easily primed and prepared to accept paint - and way cheaper than the panels offered at art suppliers. Why not substitute these?

You'll need access to a table saw with extensions to support the door, and a really good blade, as only sharp blades with small cutting teeth are suitable to rip the door without shredding the thin plywood skin into splinters. I measure and mark the door, making sure there are no nails, brads, screws, etc., in line with the blade. Recycled doors especially need to be carefully checked.

When the cuts are made you can see the cardboard supports glued inside. These will also help support the strip of wood cut to close the open end/s of the door. I carefully measure and cut strips to fit, then glue all sides and tap into place with a rubber mallet. Edges are clamped using wood strips to even out the pressure.

When the glue is set (I like to wait 24 hours), I use wood putty to fill any cracks or holes, or to even out edges. When dry, I sand the entire door, keeping square corners and etching any primer or paint that might be there. It's important that everything be pristine. Again I inspect the edges and fill tiny imperfections with latex spackle. This is lightly sanded and then the panel is ready for primer or gesso.

If the door has been previously painted, I sand thoroughly and use a liquid sander to provide a secure bond between the old surface and the new paint. Completed paintings are sealed with two to three coats of a satin protective coating.

To hang the panels, I use small screws partly inserted along the edges of the door where the wood strips give good support. I add the wire, then screw down the heads to secure firmly. Lastly, I add small adhesive felt pads over the screw heads and at each corner. An alternative is to accurately measure along the top support and then carefully drill two holes which will allow the panel to hang flush on screws in the wall. Or I suppose one could add a toothed hanger - but I don't trust these.

Cost? I buy unpainted (mostly) doors at Habitat for Humanity for $10 - $15 each, depending upon width and condition. From each door I make two or three panels, which take about an hour to completely prepare. I use gesso to prime the painting surface as I like its opacity and texture. There will be texture from the wood grain of the plywood surface - but it's no more noticeable than the weave of canvas or linen. It is possible to layer two or three coats of gesso or primer for a smoother surface, but I've not found this necessary as I usually paint in a "plastic manner" (thick, with brushstrokes showing).

And I've had help - Snoochie the glow-cat kept poking me in the thigh with her sharp little claw while I worked on a new panel. I don't think she approved of the subject matter (another dang bird) - but she caught the edge of the panel and the photo tells the rest of the story.


Margaret said...

I don't know how artists who have to buy all their supports ready made manage to do it financially. My husband makes all of mine from scratch and of course then it's just the cost of materials. I've begun working on cradled panels for this reason. If I want a softer surface, I use acrylic medium to attach paper to the top. I'm very impressed that you set about to construct your own.

My friend prepares hollow doors in the manner you've described here. If you like to work large, this is a great solution. Even buying them new, it's much more economical than cradled panels. I'm curious what product you would use to seal your doors, if they are new.

Patrice said...

Margaret - If the door is unstained (raw wood), it isn't necessary to seal it other than the use of the gesso and/or primer. The pain itself will seal all the surfaces except the back. Even thin plywood has enough glue in it to keep it relatively stable.

I don't use stained, unsealed doors as these must be re-sealed with noxious products made for use with lacquer - and there's still a risk of bleed-thru.

I use Valspar's faux finish protector/sealer in two or three coats to seal my painted surfaces. It's really clear, and available in various sheens.

I love your idea of adding a soft front. I'll be certain to try it out.

Roy said...

Wow! Things have certainly changed since Robert Henri, Maurice Prendergast, and James Wilson Morrice used to pack smoothed cedar shingles into pie carriers and set off into the byways of Brittany for a little painting en plein air. I usd to be an art dealer and was part of the group who handled the work of Robert Henry Logan, one of Henri's students who used to go with them on these plein air expeditions, and the man had tons of them. And now you do it on cut-up hollow core doors. Although I bet you can't carry a stack of them along on a little outdoor painting expedition!

Congratulations on the show. Here's hoping you sell them all.

RT said...

Good God Patrice, that is clever not to mention skilled. Wow. I find too much prep, too costly materials, too fine a brush, all inhibit me. Anything good I do comes from being in the right place at the right time.

kathi said...

Wow. What a creative idea - painting on a hollow core door!
I've been trying to find art to hang over my sofa. Nothing seems quite right. Perhaps I'll try painting my own "masterpiece?" Thanks for the information about primers and sealers. I'm a real novice here...

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