So when recent graduate Tenold Sundberg visited the Aristides Atelier last week to talk about his experiences in the real world, the conversation took a brief turn toward materials and expenses. Tenold showed a few paintings that he'd made on "door skin," or thin plywood, and he answered questions. He said the plywood was an effort to save money. Paintings on wood panels also last longer than paintings on stretched canvas.
Coincidentally, in another class I was just starting work on a still-life painting that has a long, horizontal composition. After discussing plywood with my instructor, and getting the green light, I went to a lumber yard Tenold recommended and bought a piece of plywood. Normally I would buy panels at the art-supply store, because they're thin, lightweight, archival, and ready to use. They're more than twice the price of good plywood, however, and only come in standard sizes. For my new painting, I needed a panel that was 9 inches by 18 inches. My instructor, John Rizzotto -- another atelier graduate -- wouldn't allow me to squeeze my composition onto a standard panel. (It's good advice, and one of the many reasons I attend school rather than figuring things out on my own. Just to clarify, I'm not an atelier student; I was there for a workshop. I take classes at Gage Academy of Art.)
I got the plywood home, sanded the edges, and coated it with acrylic gesso on all six sides. After it dried, I sanded the layer of gesso and added another coat. After that dried, I sanded it again. My studio now features a thin film of gesso dust. Oy vey!
I'm glad to know that I can save money and use better materials to make paintings in any shape I need. On the other hand, preparing my own panel was a lot of work, and it made a mess. So, I'll continue to use plywood for paintings in custom shapes, but for standard shapes, I'll probably stick with store-bought panels.