Making Perfect Panels




Those of you who regularly follow this blog will have noticed that I'm starting to do larger pieces. While I do sometimes paint on linen, panel is my preferred support. As the dimensions of wood panels increase, however, they do become subject to warping. Therefore, for my larger pieces I'm now starting to use panels mounted on a cradle, which is simply a reinforced frame that provides tremendous dimensional stability.

Cradled panels can be purchased from any number of good suppliers, but they are invariably more expensive than simple panels. I also enjoy preparing my own supports, and it certainly gives me more control over the process. Furthermore, I size my supports to my intended compositions, not vice versa. More often than not, this means non-standard dimensions. My next piece, for instance, will be 17x24 inches. Many manufactures will produce custom-sized panels, but of course this drives up the cost even higher.

I've created a few rudimentary cradled panels in the past which were satisfactory, but this week I did some research to find the best techniques and methods. I came across a generally excellent video on YouTube by Robert Farmer, who walks step by step through the process of producing them. It's in four parts, and even has a fairly amusing soundtrack:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90gUT0HNvcA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmDcVx4ob04
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbRJlG_8zOY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IljBDSIvVUk

I do have one very large warning about his process: towards the end he secures the panel to the frame first by gluing it (which is fine) and then by driving counter-sunk screws through the front of the panel and puttying over the holes. This is a terrible idea, and in my opinion one that will drastically shorten the longevity of the painting. Clamps and heavy weights should be sufficient to hold the panel to the cradle while the glue cures. One should never do anything that compromises the integrity of the painting surface.

So that caveat aside, it's otherwise an excellent and intelligent process, and very clearly presented. I followed it more or less exactly (obviously leaving the screws out) and am very happy with the result. I now have a beautiful 17x24 inch cradled panel that I believe will provide excellent stability and longevity for my next painting.

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