A bunch of finished MDF painting panels drying in the garage
In an earlier post, I mentioned that I am one of these DIY'ers when it comes to cutting expenses without cutting corners on quality. And, I also like to try new things and experiment. For artists whom money isn't much of a concern, and/or are selling most or all of the paintings they create, this post probably won't be of much interest to you. But for those that either have more time than spare money, or simply like the idea of making your own painting supports, I thought I'd share my experience in doing so. I'll post updates with my experiences for materials or techniques that that Do Not Work.
I have included a list of supplies throughout the post that are bolded, as well as important things to note.
First off, what are the advantages making your own panels?
1. Significant savings
2. Customized sizes
3. Your choice of materials, and local availability
4. Simple to do
How much savings? Here is a comparison of what it cost to produce 40 9x12" triple-primed panels, vs. what you'd pay retail for the same number.
4x8' sheet of MDF [medium density fiberboard] untempered: $8.00 @ Home Depot
Cutting fees no charge (may vary)
Alkyd Oil Primer, 1 qt. can: $11.00 @ Ace Hardware
2" paintbrush, for oil paints: $5.00 @ Ace
OMS: $7.00 @ Ace
TOTAL COST OF MATERIALS
and COST PER PANEL: $31.00 @ $0.78/ea
Cost to purchase 40 9x12" hardboard panels @ Dick Blick: $90.00 @$2.25/ea.
That's a savings of almost $60 and a couple hours of your time, and the $90 doesn't include shipping charges. For me, I think of other art supplies that I could buy with that money, and that makes me happy. Not only that, but this incorporates the entire cost of the primer into the initial batch; even with triple priming, not even half the can was used.
Here is how I made my panels, and some recommendations based on my experience:
My local hardware store, who I use whenever possible, did not carry any type of hardboard or MDF, so I had to go to our Home Depot. Importantly, they also will cut the board for you, which is what puts this project in the "simple" vs. "tedious nightmare" category. I brought along a schematic sheet of the sizes I wanted from the panel, but had to modify that since their saws can't cut anything less than 12" in width. I'd hoped to get some 6x8" panels, so instead, I have 4 11x15" panels that I can cut by hand into smaller sizes, along with those I wanted.
Important: go in with a carefully drawn schematic diagram of the sizes you want; you will absolutely need it to refer to when marking for the cuts.
Important: when you or the employee is measuring the cuts on the board, make all your marks at the same time from one end. We (the employee who helped me) did not do this, and as a result, an inch was lost due to the saw blade cuts, resulting in the final panels that were an inch shorter. Measuring all at once spreads the "blade loss" evenly for each panel, and actually facilitates easier framing. Home Depot states that it charges $0.25 per cut beyond the first two, but they didn't charge me anything for the multitude of cuts that I required.
While I gave the #'s for 9x12" panels, what you can get from a 4x8' sheet is totally up to you, depending upon what sizes you like to paint. Here is what I originally planned:
4 18x24" panels
4 12x18" panels
16 9x12" panels
6 6x8" panels
I ended up not doing the 12x18" panels, and couldn't do the 6x8" on their table saws, so I have 20 9x12" and the 4 11x15". I will experiment with cutting smaller panels from these later.
Next, you'll want to quickly sand off the flash from the panels to give them nice, smooth edges. I used both #220 grit and #320 grit wet/dry sandpaper. To be prudent, use a dusk mask. I found this took about 20-30 sec/board to do. Have the stack next to you, and you can knock them out in no time.
brush, alkyd primer and Painter's Touch primer
Note: I added an extra step for some of these panels by using Painter's Touch primer. This was necessary when I was painting in oils on resin sculptures, as it sealed the surface and allowed the subsequent gesso and oils to adhere properly. However, the purpose of an oil or alkyd-based primer is to seal the surface and thus protect against future seep of chemicals in the fiberboard that could later discolor the painting. In this instance, it is acting as a sizer and primer in one.
IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE: Alkyd primers, whether purchased from the hardware store or a specialty art product (like Gamblin), contain compounds that are not good to breathe! It is imperative that you do this in an area where there is good ventilation, and follow the instructions for safe usage on the can. VOC's [volatile organic compounds] can cause neurological damage. Of course, if you paint with oils, you probably already know this and take precautions - OMS, Turpenoid, Liquin, blending and glazing mediums, varnishes, etc., all contain these compounds and should be used with care.
After the board edges are all sanded, use an old towel or rag and wipe off the dust from each, and give each a firm tap on the ground to get rid of anything larger clinging to the edges.
Next, lay down either several newspapers, or better, a plastic dropcloth for painting. This can get messy and to avoid getting paint on your hands, wear rubber gloves.
Have your panels all in a stack, and after your primer is well-stirred, you are ready to begin painting.
After some quick trial and error, I found the quickest way to paint was to hold the edge of the panel with one hand and paint it at an angle, rather than painting it flat on the ground. When painting, don't worry about brush-strokes or the inevitable debris that will find its way onto the wet panel - insects, pet hair, etc. Work quickly and make sure the panel is covered, including the edges. After it's finished, carefully lay it down on the plastic or newspaper to dry, and run the brush over the edge where your glove may have been.
After the panels are dry, which will be anywhere from 30 min to a few hours, depending upon the brand, you can add a second coat of primer. Two might be fine, but I wanted to err on the side of caution as far as preventing future discoloration, so I used 3 coats over the course of 2 days.
The final step: a light sanding with #320-grit sandpaper. This will quickly remove any foreign junk that has found its way onto your panels, and can level any uneven areas or brushstrokes on the panel. I don't need my surfaces mirror smooth, so I spent maybe 20 sec. on each panel, if that. For safety concerns, use a dusk mask or respirator and wear an apron or use an old towel on your lap (what I do) to catch the dust and keep it off your clothes.
I would recommend waiting for 1-2 days for complete drying and release of the volatile compounds in the primer before proceeding with the oils. My panels, just completed a few days ago, are now sitting under heavy weights to flatten them out a bit. I'm hoping they'll be ready to use when I run out of my existing canvases.