Aluminum Panel As An Oil Painting Surface
Aluminum panels are seeming to become more and more popular as a surface to put art on. I first saw it being used to print photographic images on, and recently I have noticed it being offered as a painting surface by a number of manufacturers. I decided to give it a try, and in this blog post I will explain why aluminum may be a good choice of surface for painting, and ways in which it can be prepared for painting.
Why Use Aluminum As A Painting Surface?
There are a number of reasons why aluminum may be chosen as a painting surface over the more traditional surfaces like stretched canvas and linen, canvas panels, or wood panels. First, it offers a solid, smooth surface much like wood panels, however, unlike wood panels, aluminum will not warp in changing environmental conditions. Temperature and humidity levels can warp wood panels, as well as wood stretcher bars on stretched canvas or linen. Aluminum will not warp and remain flat in virtually any natural environmental condition. If wood, canvas, or linen surfaces are not adequately prepared, the oils in oil paint and oil painting media can rot these materials. This is not an issue with aluminum. It is also a cost-effective option as a painting surface. One can spend a lot of money on high-quality wood or canvas panels which have been designed to resist warping, but an aluminum panel can be found much cheaper and have no risk of warping. It is also a 100% archival material.
Preparation of Aluminum and Technical Stuff
Aluminum panels for painting surfaces are available from art supply stores (such as Jerry’s Artarama) and come in a number of options. They are available bare and also primed with gesso. I have access to a lot of aluminum at my day job, so I decided to prepare my own panel for painting. A lot of artists prefer to prepare their own painting surfaces because they have the freedom to make it exactly to their preferences.
At work, I found a piece of 1/8″ thick aluminum. At this thickness it is very rigid. I believe this particular piece is 6061-T6. I would not recommend this grade as its physical properties are overkill and it is significantly more expensive than other grades. If you are buying aluminum from a metal supplier rather than an art supplier to prepare yourself, I would recommend 5052-H32. This is a much cheaper grade, but still great as a painting surface. I would also choose a sheet thickness of .09″ – .190″ for rigidity and resistance to bending. Avoid O-temper (e.g. 6061-O), as this is a very soft and malleable temper which bends very easily. Although aluminum never rusts, it does corrode, but in a good way. Aluminum oxidizes on the surface, but once it does, this microscopic layer of oxidation protects the rest of the material from corroding any further. Many panels available from art supply stores are anodized. Anodizing is essentially creating a thicker layer of oxidation on the surface for further protection. Bare aluminum (like the piece I am using) is very stable and corrosion resistant at pH levels between 4 to 9. The gesso I am going to use on this panel has a pH level of 8.4, so I shouldn’t have to worry about any corrosive effects. I believe panels for painting surfaces from art stores are anodized just to ensure there will be no corrosion no matter what type of paints or inks the artist decides to use. Although you can paint directly on to bare aluminum, I chose to put a few coats of gesso on my panel. Oil paint will adhere to gesso better than it will to bare metal, and I like my paint to be slightly absorbed into the surface rather than sitting on top of it. Gesso is porous after it dries so it will absorb a small amount of paint, the aluminum is non-porous and will not absorb paint. I prepared my panel by going over the surface with an orbital sander using 80-grit sandpaper. This gives it a smooth feel, but also a very slight texture that will help the gesso stick.
I used a foam paint roller to apply the gesso. I wanted to end up with a very smooth surface, so I used a roller rather than a brush. Even with the softest brush, you still end up with a brush stroke texture. When preparing an aluminum panel with gesso, you can use as many or as few layers as you like to achieve the smoothness or texture you want. When priming canvas, linen, or wood panels with gesso, at least three coats must be used to ensure no oils are absorbed into the surface, which could cause rot. This is not a concern for aluminum, as oils will have no adverse affects on this material.
I am applying three thin coats of gesso to my panel. I am going for a very smooth texture, with just a tiny bit of tooth to grab the paint. The foam roller I am using in the above photo seems to do a great job at this. I let each coat of gesso dry for about 2-3 hours before applying the next coat. Thicker coats can take much longer to dry. No matter what surface you are preparing, I strongly recommend using many thin coats rather than a few thick coats. This will ensure proper drying and adhesion of the gesso, and although it may take a bit longer to prepare, you will be able to start painting sooner!
Aluminum has great physical and chemical properties for use as a painting surface. It will not rot or decay and will not warp in extreme environmental conditions like traditional surfaces are prone to. It is a 100% archival, museum grade material that will last a lifetime. On top of all that, it is a very economical option! I have a painting in mind for this panel, so keep an eye on my blog to see the finished artwork!