Our Favorite Painting Surfaces

Today, I'm going to share our favorite painting surfaces and when we use them.

1. Stretched Linen
(For Larger Studio Paintings)

The first time I painted on linen instead of typical cotton, I knew I would never go back. To me, the difference between linen and cotton is like the difference between fabric car seats and leather car seats (heated ones). Simply put, I love how linen receives paint from my brush. Furthermore, some believe linen is longer-lasting than cotton.

Because linen is more expensive, Andrea and I purchase it the cheapest way possible—by the roll. We also wait for sales and coupons, which online art supply stores issue frequently.

Here are the three types of linen we use:
  • Claessens Double Oil Primed #13 (very fine texture)
  • Claessens Double Oil Primed #9 (fine texture)
  • Claessens Double Oil Primed #15 (medium texture)

Generally, we prefer the smoother #9 and #13 linens for subjects that are softer, more delicate, and require more detail, like a young lady's portrait. We like the coarser #15 linen for more textural subjects like landscapes. However, this is totally a matter of preference, so please try a variety of surfaces to discover what you like best.

We use stretched linen for most of our larger studio paintings. However, when we travel, we use another surface that is much lighter and takes up less room…

2. Linen Mounted to Gatorfoam Panels
(For Traveling)

In case you're not familiar with Gatorfoam, it's like foam core board, but much more dense and durable. It is also very lightweight.

Before switching to Gatorfoam, Andrea and I used hardboard (HDF). However, hardboard is heavy, and when you're traveling (especially flying), every pound counts. Gatorfoam helps us avoid those overweight baggage fees!

The best price for Gatorfoam
we've found is at FoamBoardSource.com.

The shipping is expensive, but overall, the prices at
FoamBoardSource.com seem to be lower than at most other suppliers.
In addition, FoamBoardSource.com pre-cuts the Gatorfoam
in various sizes, including 8x10 and 11x14.

You can enjoy the texture of linen without the bulkiness of stretcher bars—just mount linen to Gatorfoam with a glue like Miracle Muck. However, if you have to prepare a large number of panels, mounting linen to each one can be time-consuming. This is why Andrea and I frequently use another solution…

3. Primed Gatorfoam Panels
(For Traveling with Little Prep Time)

For one particularly long painting trip, Andrea and I prepared 80 panels (below)!

If we had mounted linen to each of these panels, it would have taken forever! To save time, our preferred method is to simply prime Gatorfoam panels with acrylic gesso or Gamblin Oil Ground.
Helpful Tips:
  • Many acrylic gessos are very absorbent, which makes your paint dry and become matte very quickly. We like Utrecht Artists' Acrylic Gesso because of its low absorbancy.
  • Both acrylic gesso and oil ground can be sanded to the smoothness of your liking. 
  • Apply primer with various rollers and brushes to find the texture you like best.
  • Gamblin Oil Ground can take several days to dry, but adding a few drops of drier medium can speed the process.


Choosing the perfect surface is one thing. Creating a compelling painting is another! In my online video course, I'll show you how I communicate the beauty of portraits and figures from start to finish.

The course will launch in Fall 2018, but you can start the course today for free! For more info, please click the button below.

Learn More About Online Video Course

Finding your favorite linen is only half the battle… Next time, I'll share 6 Steps to Stretch Linen Successfully!

See you then!


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