Ways & How

How to Use Oil Paints on Wood

How to Use Oil Paints on Wood

While pre-stretched canvas is readily available in art supply stores, some painters prefer using wood panels for two reasons. First, it is sturdier than canvas, which is good if your painting technique incorporates vigorous, bold, brushstrokes and you are looking for a support less likely to buckle or warp in the long run. Second, preparing wood panels yourself ends up being much cheaper, which suits those on a budget. Some artists also like incorporating the wood panel’s unique characteristics into their work.

As for oil paints, wood panels absorb them rather well. However, you need to prep wood before you can use it for painting so that pigments can adhere more smoothly and strongly to the surface without breaking down. The good news is that it is a cheap and fairly easy process. To do it yourself, follow this guide on how to use oil paints on wood using acrylic gesso.

1. Gather the following supplies: sandpaper, two to three-inch paintbrushes or a foam roller, acrylic gesso, matte medium, and the wood panel.

2. Begin by sanding down both sides of the wood until you have a nice, even surface.

You may need some rougher grit (e.g., 100) if you are using reclaimed wood. Wipe off the dust. Skip this step if you are using a pre-sanded panel.

3. Using your paintbrush, spread a generous layer of matte medium on both sides of your panel to seal the wood; otherwise, wood acids eventually leach to the surface and cause the pigments to break down and yellow. Although you will use only one side of the painting, you should treat both sides to protect it from warping. Let the matte medium dry completely. If you don't have a matte medium on hand, you can make a sizing solution by diluting some PVA glue with water. The tradeoff is that using diluted PVA glue does take more time to dry.

4. Taking a clean and dry brush, generously spread gesso all over your painting surface. Make sure it is a thick, even layer that covers every inch, including the sides of the panel. The gesso should dry fairly quickly. If you are having issues getting it to spread evenly, you can add a few drops of water to thin it a little, but only just for the first layer.

5. Sand down the now-dried layer of gesso and wipe it off. Apply a second layer of acrylic gesso. Repeat this sequence of drying, sanding and further gesso application until you have achieved your desired level of smoothness for your painting surface. The number of necessary gesso layers depends on the wood texture and how fine you want it to be. Most painters are satisfied with three layers.

6. Finish off the panel by sanding with some light grade sandpaper. Wipe it off one last time, and you are ready to start working on your masterpiece.

When properly sealed, Woods make a better surface for oil painting because it absorbs moisture and preserves its shape much better than canvas can. The steps above show you how to use oil paints on wood, and the procedure is the same, whether you are prepping newly cut wood or reclaimed wood. If you have the time, it is best to also prime the back of the panel with two to three layers of gesso as well as doing so ensures long-term stability.


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