top of page

My Current Support, Painting Surface and How I Go About Preparing It...




  • Cut to Size 6mm MDF

  • Winsor and Newton Galeria Gesso.

  • Titanium White, Griffin Alkyd Oil

  • White Spirit/Turpentine


  • Saw and surface to cut on

  • Ruler/pencil

  • Straight-edged sponge

  • Bowl or tray of water.

  • Something to catch spillage

  • Lint Free Cloth

  • Dusting brush or a second lint-free cloth



Decide on the size of the board I'm going to prepare.

I usually do several at once while I'm making a mess...


If I need lots of smaller boards either for smaller studies or if I am preparing boards for a workshop I find that covering them first and then cutting is the easiest way to do it.

 The edges may be a bit rougher like due to cutting once painted this can be tidied after if necisairy or left if just for practice.


The first layer of gesso can be thinned a little with water and can be 


Step 1

Cut Board to size

Step 2

Sand edges smooth or just remove loose bits.

Step 3

Use a sponge to first loosely cover the board.

Step 4

Tilt the sponge about 30 degrees to the board with the flat corner of the sponge touching the board.

Step 5

Pull the sponge the full lenghth of the board keeping a consistent pressure in as straight a line as possible. Lay the board so you can pull the sponge to the edge and a little beyond so your created texture stays consistent.

Step 6 

Work from one end of the board to the other working in the same direction and notice a series of hundreds of slightly textured lines appear.

Step 7

Keep working until you are happing with the consistency including the direction and thickness of the texture is to your liking.

You will notice the Gesso drying as you do this and will learn as much from doing as from reading.

Step 8

Let this dry

Step 9

 Give a quick light sand over using fine sandpaper then give the surface a brush off. I use an average size decorators paint brush soloely for this as it does get dusty.

Step 10 

Cover in gesso again spread around and get the gesso relatively even and then proceed as before but apply in a perpendicular direction so you will create a faux weave. Work until happy.

Step 11

Repeat step 8 -  10 at least twice more and you will start to see how you can adjust the thickness using pressure. Try without sanding and you will feel the difference. This roughness may or may not be something you like, you will feel the difference when applying the next layer of Gesso. A slightly sanded board is infinitely smoother than the raw gesso even if it looks fine it has a sharp tooth or bite.


Step 12

When content let your board dry out again. Try not to rush, good when you have something else to do and why I like to do a small batch at once so that several are drying while I work on another and on a warm day you can be quite productive, cold and it can seem to take ages...


The surface is ready to be painted on now as intended...

and I suggest you do try it as it might be perfect for you. 


..but I have found that an additional step compliments and enhances my painting technique infinitely. It does add another day of drying to the process but in the grand scheme of things, this is nothing when considering I might spend months on a piece.


Step 13


Thin some alkyd white with white spirits or turpentine and either brush or use a lint free cloth to apply the alkyd to the surface, I tend to rub it in with a cloth and just try to make sure it covers everywhere. If you have sanded your board prior this will be a much more pleasant experience. It doesn't have to be thick at all, I almost polish it in. By holding your board at an angle to light you should see a semi-gloss or sheen where it has covered and a much more matt finish if you have missed.anywhere.

You could sponge the alkyd on and create the same texture as with the gesso but I find this excessive.

 A decent application of polished in Alkyd leaves the weave but adds plenty of added strength and durability the surface.


Let this dry overnight and you will have a surface made from the same paint and therefore will have the same feel from the start.

A more durable cleanable surface suitable for paintings that have incomplete areas of the raw surface left open. Gesso is not nearly as durable and will soften when dampened so not suitable to be left to the elements or even cleaned without this knowledge.

You can use the opportunity to colour this base layer or ground by replacing the White with whatever suits...

A much tougher surface that can be wiped or scaped back considerably more than a gesso ground without risk of damaging it.

These all matter a lot to me as I will strip back a painting quite ruthlessly and continuously until I am happy and have often damaged the gesso by doing so. If you do damage the base weave it is actually possible to repair it by subtly sponging alkyd, not gesso back over in a more localised approach. Don't use gesso as you have already added oil to the mix. I would personally happily paint alkyd directly onto MDF and be confident that it would be as if not more substantial than the gesso... but due to drying time, it is more beneficial to create the texture with gesso and then protect it with the Alkyd.






Ways to adjust this process to make it more personally relevant.


  • You can add a little water to the gesso mix.

  • This can bring out the texture in the MDF on the first application which is quite interesting.

  • It will thin the gesso but will take the crispness out of the weave as it removes the natural strength in the undiluted gesso.

  • You can experiment with different amounts of water over as many layers as you like. 

  • You can sand the gesso so smooth or even use a damp cloth to actually rub it smooth if you want this kind of surface.

  • Careful with overly smooth surfaces, some grounds can be made incredibly smooth but retain the bite required for the paint to bond others can appear more textural but have no Tooth left and paint will endlessly slide without bonding even when dry.

  • You don't have to apply the gesso in a weave at all or a least not a consistent weave.

  • Apply it randomly with a cloth rolled over the surface.

  • Brush it on, big brushes, random marks or considered strokes will all work.

  • use a palette knife for real texture.

  • If you want a thick Impasto ground or more textured surface it is worth investigating into other more purpose made products. Standard Acrylic Gesso has a relatively limited ability when it comes to building a substantial body.  there are several different methods and products for achieving this.  

How to choose your surface...


What is a Support and surface, ground, Base etc, Priming, Gesso, Acrylic, 


Common Supports and Surfaces.




My Surface.


Why I like it.


How I creat My Surface

How I chose a surface to paint on...

What to look for

board canvas

I have tried working on several different surfaces and it took me a while to find what worked for me. I learnt early on that although I actually liked the feel of cheap canvases and the instantly ready to hang when finished option, they were just too delicate. I accidentally put my foot straight through a just finished painting that was resting on the base of my easel. Looking back it was an awful piece but at the time I was gutted. Good canvas will take a bit of a beating and that was enough to make me make the transition. 

I started buying pre-primed rolls, making my own fixed, not adjustable stretchers and making my own canvas to suit. This was the cheapest method I found to make good strong canvases but it was a lot of hard work to tightly stretch a canvas over a solid frame. It also took a lot of time when I could have been painting. Eventually, I cottoned on to painting on panel and experimented with MDF and acrylic gesso. At first, I went out of my way to produce the smoothest surface possible but I have gradually come to like a slightly textured finish. I find it ads a subtle texture without being overwhelming. I create a faux canvas weave by applying alternating layers gesso with a sponge. It is only soft and can easily be lost with the applications if paint but I like it. I'm not to keen on paintings that rely totally on the canvas weave to ad interest, and don't get me started on photos printed on canvas...

I do like a fairly smooth surface even with the texture. The surface can have a lot of tooth or bite regardless of texture which is what I don't like, it feels like you are painting on sandpaper and can shred brushes. So in order to eliminate this, I lightly sand between gesso coats and on the final layer, careful not to remove the paternity but just the roughness. Now I even ad a final scrub of alkyd white over the whole if the board. Ads a day to dry but I think its well worth it. This does several things, it makes the board smoother to paint on. It means that I am painting on the same surface from the start to finish, gesso looks and feels different than oil. The alkyd is much harder than the gesso so I can scrub back a lot more without worry of damaging my surface. Another reason I prefer the board is that it is solid, you can lean on it hard and be pretty rough with it if need be and it doesn't stretch or move like canvas.

You can leave a little extra if unsure of composition and easily cut back if required. It's a lot less prone to cracking than canvas and combined with the alkyd surface it's pretty tough. A 6mm board can feel heavy compared to a canvas but it still weighs less than a glazed watercolour of the same size. 3mm is a lighter choice but doesn't have the same rigidity you get with the 6mm. I have made these into box style pieces by gluing a frame directly to the rear and I have also made frames for them as well. The frames, in particular, take to much time really but unless sold straight away what they cost in time and effort to make they save on initial outlay. Swings and roundabouts...


Don't like canvas board. Paper quite absorbent so I'd prime it first.

bottom of page