Di Alexander's Techniques - Preparing Rigid Supports

Make painting panels to fit frames. Create your own custom-made surface. If you can glue and paint then you already have the necessary skills!


2 parts cheapest white acrylic artists’ paint
1 part whiting i.e. powdered chalk
1 part PVA glue (archival is best)
2 parts lukewarm boiled water
Medium and fine sanding blocks
Decorating brush & stirring stick

Stir most of the water into the PVA glue. Stir in the whiting and add enough water to form a runny paint consistency. Apply with random stokes using a brush. Allow to dry and lightly sand with a fine sanding block to remove tiny blobs of paint on the surface. Apply two more slightly thicker coats of gesso to the panel. Sanding between coats gives a smoother finish. Store in an air-tight container for up to a week.
 Gesso provides a partially absorbent surface for the paint. This is very important if oil paints are to be used.



For the texture powder use thicker gesso with chalk whiting or baby powder.  N.B. Wear a protective face mask if using talcum powder 
1 part cheap white artist’s paint + 2 parts whiting + 1 part PVA glue
2 parts cheap white acrylic artists’ paint + 4 parts baby powder + 1 part PVA glue
2-3 parts boiled lukewarm water

Stir PVA glue and white paint together and add enough baby powder to make a stiff mixture. Apply to the board with a knife or mix with paint and apply. Store in an air-tight container for up to a week.
Texture paste reduces the amount of expensive paint required in order to achieve an impasto effect.




• Artists’ dual-purpose Gesso Primer such as -  Daler Rowney  OR
• specialist branded wood sealants suited to the type of support - such as
          Rustins or Dulux MDF sealant OR
 • shellac  OR
• 1 part PVA glue to 1 part water
Medium and fine sanding blocks
Decorating brush & stirring stick

Apply one coat to both sides and the edges. Allow to dry away from heat. Plywood and hardboard often bows if coated on only one side.

Besides forming a good surface for the upper layers, this colourless base coat provides an extra protection from resins and contaminants in the wood such as formaldehyde. Formaldehyde gas yellows paint and prolonged exposure may cause leukaemia or cancer. It also reduces the number of coats of gesso needed. It is very important to seal the edges and back of all the wood that you use to prevent the wood from absorbing moisture.

Household emulsion paint, primer, undercoat and varnish is not recommended. White paint may turn the upper layers yellow within a few years and cause them to flake away from the surface. It contains drying agents and additives that are not long-lasting. It is not as absorbent as gesso so it should not be used for oil paints.



HARDBOARD                                                             £11 per sheet
PLYWOOD per 3mm x 1220 mm x 2440 mm   £15 per sheet
MDF  3mm or 6mm sheet                            from £7.00 per sheet
ALUMINIUM COMPOSITE PANEL                     £12.50 per A4 sheet; £32 per A3 sheet
MDF sealant                                                             £9 per litre
Ready-made Gesso                                                 £10 per half litre
Archival i.e. PH neutral PVA glue                         £7 per litre
Whiting (i.e. chalk)                                                   £2 per kg.
Cheapest white artists' acrylic paint                     £11 per litre
Linen fabric                                                               £5.50 per metre
Isopropyl Alcohol                                                     £6 per half litre
Baby powder                                                             £4 per kg


Hardboard is the oldest, cheapest type of wood panel. MDF is stiffer and fairly cheap. Plywood is stronger. Thin sheets may be safely cut with a Stanley knife. When sawing thicker sheets, carcinogenic dust is created. Always use a dust mask and goggles when sawing or sanding MDF. Having wood panels cut to size at a DIY store such as Wickes or timber merchant such as Totton Timber costs very little. Bear in mind that the accuracy of the cut will vary by 2-3 millimetres.


Coverings such as: linen or cotton are ideal for oil paints because they form an additional semi-absorbent barrier between the wood and the paint. Natural fabrics are traditional, but polyester mixes could be used. However the coarser the fabric, the more wear and tear there is on the brushes.

It is advisable to seal/prime the wood panel to make the surface less absorbent and allow it to dry. Before you paint on a layer of gesso, cut the fabric cut to the exact size of the panel or with a border allowing the fabric to be wrapped around the sides. Stretch the fabric over the wet gesso and starting in the centre, smooth flat. Bubbles may appear in the fabric but it usually dries flat. Apply more gesso over the fabric and allow to dry. Cover with more coats of gesso as necessary.


Large aluminium composite panels (one trade name is Dibond) is the most expensive surface but it is very light and does not deteriorate. (Small ones are sold on EBAY).
Aluminium composite panels cut to size
Fine sanding block
Isopropyl alcohol

Peel off the protective white plastic covering and sand the edges and white surface of the panel. Clean and wipe with isopropyl alcohol using a sponge. The edges need to be filled with a suitable filler and sanded smooth if they are not going to be covered with a frame.
Allow to dry and paint on the gesso. Sand the gesso when dry and apply more layers to create a semi-absorbent surface suitable for acrylics and oils.

Hanging fixings: strips of pine (15mmx25mm @ £5 PER 2m) glued to the back with an epoxy glue (e.g. Unibond Repair Power @ £5 per 14ml.) or use a self-adhesive steel hanging plate (cost £2.50 each) at the top and spacers at the bottom.

Di Alexander ©2019   www.dialexander.co.uk


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