Within this Basic Breakdown Blog our in-house artist talks about what a panel is, they quickly explore the difference between primed and unprimed and also compare it to canvas. If you are wanting to try a surface that isn’t paper, we highly recommend a panel surface.
What is a Panel?
Simply put, a Panel is a piece of board, most likely a sturdy, resilient piece of wood that has been cut to a specific size before being primed or left with a wooden finish. Panels are an excellent alternative to traditional canvas, its solid hardback feel allows for extremely aggressive work with both brush and knife, the rigidity of the material doesn't give you any ‘bounce’ when using these techniques and thus is quite suited for textured impasto projects. In addition to its usefulness as a hard board, the fine grain surface allows for extreme detail to be achieved. Especially with oil paints, the blendability of these panels is very high, the extra smooth surface is perfectly suited for tight detail work, portraiture and fine detail painting. In addition, because of their small depth they are typically far easier to store than even standard edge canvases.
Primed vs Unprimed
A primer is a ground or gesso that is applied to a work surface prior to painting, the application of this primer allows for paint to be properly absorbed without losing colour, intensity or feel. There are numerous types of primer but the most commonly used in industry today is an acrylic gesso primer. This primer is applied in layers until the desired effect is achieved, after drying the primer can then be sanded down to gain a smoother finish.
There are a few schools of thought when it comes to primed vs unprimed. Foremost, unprimed materials such as panels or mdf are extremely absorbent and will soak up paint that is applied. The colour will become faded and more paint will be needed to gain the desired effect. Primer solves this problem as it often allows for the colour to be readily applied when dry.
Artists may perhaps want to buy unprimed canvas or panels as they like to use their own primer, with a specific formula that is tailored to their needs. In the past there was a large price differentiation between primed materials and unprimed, however in recent years this gap has reduced due to most manufacturers priming their products as standard.
Panel vs Canvas
Traditional canvas has been used by practising artists for centuries, its feel, texture and sizing can all be decided by the individual using it. Yet this age old technique has, in recent years, become somewhat diminished in favour of more efficient, modern work surfaces. These days most canvases are stretched for the user, removing an element of personality and despite canvases enduring popularity, the hard backed, resilient surface of artist panels has become a desirable surface to work onto.
Compared to canvas, panels are typically finished far smoother, either due to them being left unprimed, or because the primer has been sanded down to provide a fine grain effect. They are rigid and strong, tough enough to endure even the harshest use with brush or knife. Because they have not been stretched over a wooden frame they do not suffer from the ‘bounce’ of a canvas. A ‘bounce’ is essentially the canvas material being stretched back as the artist pushes into the surface, this is not an issue with boards and panels as their backing is hard and complete, going over the whole work area. In addition to its hard surface, Panels typically have a smooth finish to their surface, which in turn allows for extremely detailed work to be completed without any texture interrupting.