Artist Andrea Hook makes textural acrylic paintings of the natural world and has tried many surfaces to find which works best with her various techniques. She wrote a review on jacksonsart.com explaining why she felt Belle Arti Cotton Art Board Canvas could be described as a cotton canvas panel and why she loves them. We asked her to expand on her comments and show her painting techniques.
Andrea Hook’s original review:
‘I love this product! At first sight, this ‘cotton art board canvas’ seems similar to other ready-made canvas boards that you can get, but it is actually very different.
This product has the canvas bonded to the front only of an MDF panel (rather than wrapped around the edges and corners of a hard-board core).
It would be better named as ‘cotton canvas panel’ rather than board!
1) It’s a lovely solid surface to paint on – without the spring of a canvas yet still has the canvas texture which you can choose to retain in your artwork.
2) The cotton canvas is pre-primed so you can get painting straight away. (Before finding this product, I had been buying my own board/panel and repeatedly gessoing the surface prior to painting.)
3) Unlike the traditional canvas wrapped-edge board – if you don’t like the whole painting at the end, it is fairly easy to crop this panel down to size using a stanley knife. If you have ever tried to crop a traditional canvas board you will know how that ends! (Answer: more than a bit messy!). As the panel edges are unwrapped, it is impossible to tell after cropping which edges have been recently chopped!
4) If you buy the 50 x 70 cm size, it is a good way to get a 50 x 50 cm canvas panel plus an adaptable offcut.’
Belle Arti Canvas Board for Acrylic Sgraffito, Washes and Impasto
by Andrea Hook
I’ve always been inspired by nature, and most recently I have been exploring the theme of wildflowers.
I’d been experimenting with different surfaces for quite a while. I love the textured surface of stretched canvas, but not so much the springiness of it as I paint a lot with painting-knives and prefer a solid surface – moreover cropping a stretched canvas post-painting isn’t easy!
Regular canvas boards work well and I do regularly use these too but they can be limited in the dimensions in which they are manufactured, and they don’t always fit standard frame sizes on completion (ironically stretched canvas had the advantage here as it doesn’t necessarily require framing prior to hanging!).
However, the Belle Arti Cotton Art Board Canvas is very different to other canvas panels and boards. This one actually IS panel. It’s constructed with fine grain 100% cotton canvas, bonded to the front only of a MDF panel (rather than wrapped around the edges and corners of a hard-board core).
It’s pre-primed so you can get painting straight away, and very easy to crop if you don’t like the whole composition at the end (using a Stanley blade and the usual safety precautions when cutting MDF). As the panel edges are unwrapped, it is impossible to tell the freshly cut sides from the original edges post trim. I have been ordering the 50 x 70 cm sized board, as this gives me the opportunity use it full-size, or to have a 50 x 50 cm square image and an adaptable off-cut.
I go straight in with the paint and no initial drawing. My go-to paint is artist-quality, heavy body acrylic and I usually start with a thin wash of paint applied to the top of the board, allowing it to run down the face of the canvas surface. I love the accidental hit and miss over the fine weave of the cotton canvas, and I do try to keep as much as possible of this in my finished wildflower paintings – but equally, the tooth the canvas provides means that it will take subsequent layers of paint; impasto paint; and smooth blending techniques too. For me, painting is as much about the qualities and behaviour of the actual paint (colour, texture, layers) as it is about capturing and describing the subject.
I then sculpt the flower heads in thick buttery paint (I fully intend to be brave enough to call it finished at this stage! I love it just like this and don’t really want to cover the washes, so I am currently exploring in this direction), but for now I continue and add layers of foliage using my painting-knife, scratching through the paint to reveal the initial coloured ground beneath. I love the way the texture of the canvas is still visible here. Doing the same over a smooth board gessoed surface gives a very different effect as the gesso tends to be more absorbent and the colour washes stain more deeply.
The sky retains a lot of the original washes. The cotton canvas texture is clear to see here and I think the layering and the ‘hit and miss’ of the paint on the fine grain weave adds to the interest of the finished painting. I like the contrast of the thick impasto paint and the thin glazes of the original, inconsistently applied coloured ground.
Here’s a side view of the Belle Arti cotton art board canvas – showing the clean edges as the cotton canvas is bonded to the top surface of the panel only, and not round the sides. This means trimming the board to size afterwards leaves identical edges. This would be impossible to do with a regular wrapped-edge canvas board. (I did try to do this once, only to discover that the board in question was filled with wadded cardboard – a rather messy ending!)
On other occasions, I cover the board more thickly with my applications of impasto paint, but my aim is still to retain as much as possible of the ‘hit and miss’ effect to create an interesting surface. Even when rendering my sparrow and its surroundings with the painting-knife, I am pleased to see that there are areas which the knife has missed and others where the paint is thicker – yet the texture of the canvas is still visible on the surface.
I am pleased with the differing thicknesses of paint on and around the sparrow.
Some areas have a consistency of paint coverage, others don’t – but the texture of the canvas weave is still visible on the top surface in this example.
Enchanted Forest (below) shows the whole range of techniques which are possible with this board.
Painted on a full-size board (50 x 70 cm) using brushes and painting-knives, this artwork has areas which range from being completely free of any paint at all (the white ‘speckled’ areas in the middle ground of the detail) to areas which are completely smooth (the smooth yellow light between the trees in the background).
Other areas are moderately impastoed (the blue under the trees). Sgraffito techniques feature here too – the grass is suggested in this way in the foreground of the detail and reveals the layered paint below – rather than the bare canvas in the earlier example.
Finally, because this board is canvas-topped this provides a really good tooth for paint. Sandy Bank (detail) is a completely impasto piece, painted alla prima. The paint has been applied quickly, thickly and relatively evenly across the surface of the board. In this example, it is difficult to see any of the original canvas surface, but the panel has taken a large amount of paint extremely well.
Over time I have been curious to see how these textural paintings would look in print, and so my floral and coastal images have been printed onto fabric and are available as super-soft cushions at the beautiful seventeenth-century gallery and artisan gift shop Seasons Green in Corfe Castle, Dorset. They also have a selection of my framed miniature wildflower paintings and larger original paintings.
I’m also pleased to say that my Dorset Wildflower and Coastal cards are in the Dorset National Trust Shops at Corfe Castle, Studland Knoll Beach and Kingston Lacy. The cards have recycled-paper envelopes and bio-degradable (potato starch) cellulose sleeves and the images are inspired by the wayside flowers and coast close to my Dorset home.
I’ve painted and sketched since early childhood and my favourite place to be was among the old orchard fruit trees in our garden. I studied for a degree in Visual Arts & Geography at Lancaster University and worked professionally as an illustrator and graphic designer in studios in London and Dorset. Latterly, I illustrated natural-history information boards which were displayed throughout the county. However, on raising a family, I felt driven to capture my children’s likenesses on canvas and began using paint much more frequently.
For several years, I challenged myself by entering Open Art competitions and I’ve been fortunate to have been selected for a number of these juried exhibitions. The full list is listed on my website but my personal highlights are: Winning the New Forest Open Art Competition in 2015 with ‘Eyeworth Pond’ and being one of only 50 artists to be shortlisted for Artists & Illustrators Magazine’s ‘Artist of the Year 2017’ Competition at the Mall Galleries, London. It fulfilled an ambition to have a painting selected for this prestigious gallery and was especially poignant for me as my entry was a painting of those old fruit trees in my former childhood garden.
Since then, I’ve taken the decision not to have framed paintings in exhibitions as my only goal, and I continue to explore the theme of wildflowers using impasto paint applied with a painting knife. I’m currently creating art for the sheer enjoyment of the process and to see where each painting will lead me!