I would like to encourage you to give painting on timber a go.
I am currently part of a successful exhibition with Geelong Illustrators called ‘We Were Board’, where the members could create their masterpiece using any medium and subject, on 30 x 30 cm timber boards. For some members it was the first time to paint on timber, so there were so many questions and failed experiments along the way!
My favourite timber to paint on is plywood. I love the grain of wood that goes through the timber, and sometimes it influences me on what to paint. It can look like a sandy beach, where the tideline is, so I might paint the shoreline, leaving the exposed timber for the sand. Or it may take on the appearance of a timber wall. You could even tape the sides so it gives the appearance of it being framed. Use painters tape to cover the area you want to leave free of paint, and when you’ve finished painting and the paint has dried, peel the tape off slowly to reveal the raw timber. Aahh, I love that part.
Plywood can be found as off-cuts at a building site, at a recycled timber warehouse, or even the tip! Otherwise you can easily purchase it at your local hardware store. If you don’t have access to a circular saw then you could ask someone to cut it for you, but make sure they use a fine-tooth wood blade, and have them cut it from the back side to avoid splintering. The edges will then have a clean cut finish. Hardware stores have a small charge for basic cutting. If you’re in Geelong then just ask us. My partner, Peter Spano of @our.boxframes, makes all of mine. Here comes another shameless plug…go to my contact form for a free quote.
I like to give the timber a very light sand with fine grade sandpaper. If I’m only painting on part of the area then I draw the outline first, and then fill the area with Gesso, leaving the rest of the timber raw. Gesso is a primer, and is similar to white acrylic paint, but thinner. You can make your own Gesso by mixing 1/4 cup of talcum powder, 1 tablespoon of white paint, 1 tablespoon of PVA and a bit of water until you get the consistency right. The Gesso prevents the paint from soaking into the timber, and also prevents bleeding on the edges. Give the Gesso a light sand after it’s dried, and then another coat and sand if needed. Wipe the remnants off afterwards. Now you have a nice smooth area to paint on.
If I want the timber to show through the paint, then I don’t use Gesso at all.
I mainly use acrylic paint, but other mediums work on timber as well. Gouache and watercolour work well, however remember it will be very transparent without the Gesso underneath. Posca pens, or any ink pen, will bleed too. A great idea is to use an off-cut piece of timber to test your preferred mediums.
Mixed media is fun to do on timber. Use PVA (wood glue) for your adhesive. For gluing paper or fabric I find Mod Podge works best. If you don’t have Mod Podge then just make your own by mixing water with wood glue (50/50 ratio). Add a bit of gloss or varnish to make it shiny if you like. Trust me, it’s what I use and it works just as well! Apply the glue to both sides of the paper/material, so it gives a protective coat over the top too. Do not use sticky tape. Not even double sided sticky tape. Just don’t.
The most asked question is ‘do I need to varnish it?’ If you have raw timber showing and you want it to stay raw, then you don’t have to coat it with anything. The timber will discolour after a while, the pale raw colour will turn a slightly darker shade and won’t be protected from the elements (or dirty/greasy hands). If you don’t want it to discolour slowly with age, then you can paint a clear varnish over the whole painting. It will give it a slightly different shade. If you’ve used ink pens or art pens like Posca’s, then spray the varnish on, otherwise you may end up smudging the ink. Read the label to see what suits your medium. My preference is to actually paint a gel topcoat (semi-gloss) over the painted area only, and then leave the timber raw.
Plywood comes in different thicknesses, so take care when choosing the correct size screws to attach your hook or wire. For this exhibition, with 30 x 30cm timber, we used sawtooth picture hooks screwed straight on to the back. If you have a large piece of plywood then you may need to brace the back of it to avoid warping, and then attach wire. Now you’re ready to hang your masterpiece!
If you post your masterpiece on social media then make sure you tag me, I’d love to see how you went!
‘We Were Board’ is currently on at Geelong Illustrators Studio Gallery, 105 Moorabool Street, Geelong CBD. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10-5. Finishes on September 12th. (Yes, I know, it’s another shameless plug. Shush.)