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Subject: Grammar of Color

Grammar of Color

From: Michael Skalka <m-skalka>
Date: Thursday, August 16, 2007
Grammar of Color
Vol 3  No 4

"Over the Horizon" Part 3 on Solid Supports

As both a painter and a curiosity seeker, I cannot help but take
note of the progress in both the art materials world and the
commercial paint industry. In making solid painting supports, we
opened the door to using commercial products when polyurethane was
proposed as a moisture barrier for panels. Polyurethane is one of
the high performance commercial items that has applicability for
artists. Further, hardboard and plywood are not made exclusively as
a painting support. It is part of a much larger enterprise that
covers many facets of the building trade industry under the heading
of manufactured wood. We need to look further into the progress the
commercial coatings industry has made to test products that are
applicable to panel making. For example, polyurethanes come in a
variety of formulations. It is not a homogenous, generic product.
Hardboards and plywood are of different species, use a host of
manufacturing processes and contain resins that are not uniform
across the fabrication process.

Here is the direction that I am looking toward. I am being
purposefully vague because these ideas are in a gel stage and I do
not wish for anyone to experiment with commercial materials and come
back to me saying that I ruined their work of art because of a
suggestion that I provided.

We need to carefully examine the commercial materials we employ in
works of art to see if they are still performing to our
expectations. Formulations change and the resin, solvents or
adhesives being introduced now may not have desirable properties.
Modifications are being made to products to improve them from a
competitive perspective. While it may improve them in terms of
application, stability or delamination, the changes may have
cheapened them so that they will not have long-term durability.

We need to examine priming systems. My emphasis is on the term
system. Surface preparations for solid supports require commercial
products and professional painters recommend several preparatory
treatments that are standard protocols in the commercial painting
world. Priming of the surface is consistently emphasized in trade
literature. New primers, sealers and surface coatings have appeared
that require careful evaluation.

Moisture adsorption has been researched for decades. Some old
methods have repeated appeared in the literature for sealing solid
supports that still hold great promise. These materials might
provide better moisture fighting properties than the coatings we
commonly use today. The key is to find a solution that is
environmentally friendly, put the artist's safety at the forefront
and does a superior job with minimal effort. Some of the old
standards cited in wood research literature could play an important
role in creating high performance solid painting supports. One of
the most promising additives that has been written about and tested
is aluminum flake powder. It was the darling of the coatings
industry for moisture suppression. That was big news nearly 50 years

New substrates are appearing and gaining a foothold in the artists'
market. Hardboard is one of many engineered wood types that are
available. Products that have been in the commercial market are
gaining popularity but have little exposure or testing in the art
world. We need to understand these products better before endorsing
them and counting on them to perform as required.

In summary, well made hardboard and a few selected plywood types
show great promise for long-term stability, especially if prepared
correctly. Polyethylene is one of the top performers for blocking
rapid moisture transfer. It can be improved with additives that are
fairly easy to obtain. A number of specialty primers applied over
the wood sealing polyurethane may offer a means of better adhesion
for acrylic grounds than the traditional method of light sanding.
Testing has been done to gauge the compatibility of primers with
acrylic grounds. This work is especially important to those who wish
to paint outdoor murals where priming is critical to adhesion of the
acrylic ground and subsequent layers of paint. The application of
primed canvas to engineered wood is fairly straightforward. Better
adhesives might be available that not only provide good bonding of
the canvas with the wood board, but offer some long-term protection
of the canvas due to chemical changes in the glue.

There is lots of work to be done. I hope we can share in this
dialogue and collectively find solutions to the changes taking place
in the solid painting support world. Our painting legacy may depend
upon how we act now as changes in commercial materials force artists
to make critical choices.

Stay tuned. Need something to read between Grammar of Color issues?
See my blog

    "Anatomy of Art Materials"

More Grammar of Color issues and blog entries will be coming as we
start our fall lecture season.

                  Conservation DistList Instance 21:22
                Distributed: Monday, September 10, 2007
                       Message Id: cdl-21-22-016
Received on Thursday, 16 August, 2007

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