Calling all oil painting experts

Sherry Lee

SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
Jun 25, 2002
Phoenix, Az.
I have a customer that wants to sell her fairly expensive oil paintings in an archival manner. Rather than varnish stretcher bars for her canvas (she always stretches before starting the painting), she thought she could buy 'panels' to do her oils on. Utretcht and other art supply places sell wrapped canvas panels in standard sizes but they are not archival. She mentioned that an art teacher had suggested masonite and I shared that it wasn't archival (at least that's what I've been told).

Any suggestions? It's rather nice to have a thinner substance to frame rather than thick stretcher bars, but I'm not an oil artist so I can't help her.

Your advice is greatly appreciated!
Most painting panels are considered a "student grade" or "novice grade" product. If she is talking "cheap", go this the flow and let her use in non-archival panels. Most Masonite® has formeldahyde based glues and is not truely "archival" although it may appear stable at the present time and or may have lasted for lets say 50 years.
There are prepared panels that at least claim to be archival and I don't think any hardboard panels use formaldehyde in the manufacturing process any more tho I could be wrong. I do think that the hardboard itself is made from woodpulp that is or could be acidic. I think that the claim is that the sealing process they use will prevent the migration of bad stuff through the ground. Of course there are many painted panels still in existence that are very old. The brand we sell is by Ampersand and you can get more technical information from them at or 1-800-822-1939. I know there are others too. I have made my own useing a furniture grade plywood, birch is nice, and sealing it well with shellac and then gesso. I feel pretty confident about them. They aren't very practical for large work and I don't think there is anything wrong with stretched canvas even over unsealed bars but if she is so worried about it why not just seal them?
Man fine artists use Masonite® as a support.
Masonite was once made by Masonite Corporation of Chicago but is no longer made in the US. It is imported by Arthur Brown and Brother of New York. The material contains no binder but is made by exploding woodfiber undr steam under a pressure of 1000 pounds per square inch and pressing the refined pulp with heat. The fiber interlock and form a permanent hard mass most likely held together by natural ligning" Ralph Meyer The Artist's Handbook Fourth edition.
The Masonite board should be carefully gessoed but I would not recommend applying gesso over shellac unless the shellac coating has been given ample time to dry. It will other wise cause the gesso coating to crackel. Paul Frederick, CPF®
Panels, on which oil paintings can be executed,
have been an option that has been evolving for
centuries. Wood panels bend and crack. Copper
panels have thermal porblems that lead to the
loss of paint. Press wood panels have weak corners
and cardboard and fabric panels degrade. Modern
composite boards that have polyethylene cores and
painted aluminum skins may be useful in this quest. They can be found under the names DiBond
and AlucoBond,
and anyone who in interested can track them down
from regional suppliers. They are easy to cut with
a saw and one could paint acrylic medium onto the
panel and the back of unprimed canvas and smooth
the two together. When the acrylic is dry, the
canvas should be adhered to the panel and its
surface can be further prepped with acrylic gesso
and ground tones. The fact that the panel support
boards have a plastic core, should help with
problems that might arise from a solid metal core,
however, photos mounted to sheet aluminum do seem
to perform well, so canvas mounted on it might
also work well.

Why not just wrap the bars in Lenco (spelling?) barrier tape, stretch some good linen and paint on that? It's a much nicer surface to paint on, it looks better to the buying public, it's a time tested way to present your paintings.

Our quest to make things last for thousands of years is oftentimes a little unrealistic. A painting on quality stretched linen is going to last a long, long , time, even much longer with treated bars and stainless steel staples.

Your customer is being silly, and it could cost her some sales. Many people who spend thousands on an original painting will want it to be on stretched canvas, just because they are used to that method of painting and presentation.

Those same customers may be very skeptical of paintings on panels and will probably associate them with student art or some such thing and value them less in their minds. I would advise your client to proceed with caution if she depends on her sales.