How To Prime Ampersand Wood Panels

How To Prepare Ampersand's Unprimed Wood Panels with Oil Painting Ground or Acrylic Gesso

Ampersand's collection of unprimed wood panels, the Natural Wood Panel™, Unprimed Basswood™ and Hardbord™ are excellent substrates for all types of oil primers and acrylic gesso grounds. When properly sealed, a wood panel is a better painting substrate than canvas because it is not as subject to expansion and contraction as it absorbs moisture. Here are some basic guidelines and tips for properly preparing our unprimed wood panels for use with oil painting grounds and acrylic gesso. For best results, always consult the directions provided with the product you are using in addition to the information provided here.

Instructions for priming with oil painting grounds:

Gamblin® Oil Painting Ground is our first choice in a good quality oil primer. However, these instructions are virtually interchangeable with a number of other oil painting grounds if there's one you like better or have more readily available. Gamblin® Oil Painting Ground contains an alkyd resin vehicle that allows it to dry within a matter of hours. A number of other pre-made oil primers are also available and generally, they are made up of a white pigment, linseed oil and driers or solvents. Primers that use alkyd resin binder instead of linseed oil dry faster and are non-yellowing and more flexible than traditional grounds. Both may be applied in the same manner with either a large putty knife or a large stiff bristle brush. If you are using a traditional oil primer, it may need to be thinned with Gamsol® to a workable consistency enabling easy application over the sized panel. Never add oil to a primer! Its leanness must always be preserved.

STEP 1 - Size and Seal the Wood
A size is a thin solution (often a weak glue) that is brushed directly onto a support. Sizing or sealing is recommended to protect Ampersand's uncoated panels from any harmful oil absorption from the linseed oils used in some primers and oil paints. If wood is not sized or sealed properly before applying the oil painting ground, it can slowly disintegrate over time depending on the type of ground you are using. In fact, it is extremely important to properly seal any and all un-primed wood substrates to prevent support-induced discoloration that can cause your paint film to yellow over time. Hardbord™ is manufactured using Aspen fibers, a wood with a very low acid content, but still needs to be sized and sealed. The Natural Wood Panel™ and Unprimed Basswood panels are made with a thick basswood plywood top that has been sanded ultra-smooth. They are both seamless and knot-free and provide a perfectly smooth and uniform painting finish. When you apply the size and primer to the basswood surface, you won't experience the raised wood grain fibers that can happen with some other rougher types of plywood; the surface stays nice and smooth. The basswood panels have solid wood cradles and braces that may be more susceptible to moisture and environmental changes than the birch plywood cradles we use on the Hardbord™. Therefore, Ampersand recommends that you prime both the front and back of the Basswood top to ensure long-term stability of the panel. The best products we have found to seal wood are Golden® GAC100 [2 coats] and Gamblin® PVA Size [4 coats]

Apply Golden® GAC100 directly to the basswood or hardboard surface with a 2" paintbrush or putty knife. Apply to the front and back if applicable. Allow the GAC100 to dry completely and follow with an additional coat. Do not sand between layers. Before applying oil primer or the painting ground, allow the GAC100 to dry for 1-3 days so that the sealer can coalesce into a uniform film for maximum protection. If you're using Gamblin® PVA Size, use 4 coats and follow the same application instructions as for the GAC100.

STEP 2 - Prepare and Protect the Cradle
Ampersand Hardbord
™ is available in either a flat 1/8" panel, with a 3/4" cradle, or with the 2" DEEP cradle. The Ampersand Natural Wood and Ampersand Unprimed Basswood panels are available in both a 7/8" cradle and 1.5" cradle profile. You have the choice of painting all the way around the cradle or leaving the natural wood showing for framing purposes. Be sure to size and seal the bare wood if you want to paint completely around the edges of the cradle. Or, to protect the wood from paint and primer, cover the sides of the panel with painter's tape up to the edge of the surface. Do not remove the tape until the painting is finished. Painter's tape does not leave a sticky residue like many household masking tapes that can be difficult to remove, and will leave a pristine surface underneath when the painting is complete. For more instructions on different ways to prepare your cradles for presentation, click here

STEP 3 - Apply the Oil Painting Ground or Primer
Begin by mixing small amounts of Gamsol® with the primer to thin if necessary. You can test the right consistency by picking up the paint with a knife and shaking it gently. If it falls from the knife like soft butter, it is ready to use. When priming with a putty knife (or wedge tool), begin by placing a portion of the oil painting ground or primer in the center of the (already sized) panel. Spread it in one direction, and then in the opposite, and finally in a diagonal direction. Clean the putty knife and run it over the ground to smooth and even out the surface. Also, prime the edges of the panel and the cradles if applicable. Don't forget to apply GAC100 on the cradle edges first if priming them for painting. Allow the front of the basswood to dry completely, then, prime the reverse side.

When the first coat of oil painting ground is completely dry (about 7 hours), lightly sand the surface with a sanding block using light grade 400/grit sandpaper. A second coat can be applied the next day or any time after the first coat is dry. If using basswood, for each additional coat to the panel face, apply the same number of applications to the panel back.

If priming with a brush, use a large bristle brush, at least 2"-3" wide (proportionate to the size panel you are using), and apply the ground or primer with quick alternating strokes, working it well into the surface. After evenly distributing the ground or primer over the entire surface, finish by going over it lightly with a clean brush, carefully in straight lines, or use a short-nap [cotton] roller. Let the first coat dry, then sand and apply a second coat. At least two coats of ground or primer should be applied. The more coats of ground or primer that are applied, the smoother the surface will become. For basswood panels, follow the same instructions, but also prime the back. For each additional coat to the panel face, apply the same number of applications to the panel back.

STEP 4 - To Finish
Eliminate any unevenness
on the finished primed surface by lightly sanding the panel after it has thoroughly dried. The finished primed panels should be allowed to dry completely at room temperature before painting. If you prepare several panels at a time, then you will have stock on hand that is dry and ready to paint when needed.

Materials List:

Instructions for priming with acrylic gesso:

Golden® Acrylic Gesso is our first recommendation. However, these instructions are virtually interchangeable with a number of other brands if there's one you like better or have more readily available. Gesso is a flexible liquid ground that seals, protects, and gives "tooth" to wood panels, which promotes good paint adhesion. It comes ready-to-use, but can be mixed with water for thinner applications. Golden® Gesso is available in Black or White, and can be mixed with acrylics to produce a range of colored grounds. Gesso can be applied with a brush, roller, putty knife, or sprayed on. Dilution of the gesso is only necessary for spray application, but may be desired for brush or roller applications as well. When diluting with water, use a maximum dilution of 25%. Any mixture within this range offers little risk of cracking or other adverse effects.

STEP 1 - Size and Seal the Wood
Follow the same directions as listed in Step 1 above
for priming with oil ground. The sizing process is the same in both cases.

STEP 2 - Prepare and Protect the Cradle
As before, either seal and prime any cradle edges for painting, or mask off with painter's tape

STEP 3 - How to Apply the Acrylic Gesso
Thin the gesso with up to 25% water for the first coat so that it will flow more evenly on the (already sized) panel. Use a 2"-3" brush for the first coat and a foam roller for subsequent coats. Begin by working the gesso back and forth with the brush in one direction and then in a cross direction with a little pressure so that the gesso penetrates the panel better. Apply gesso to the side edges of the panel and the plywood cradle if applicable. Don't forget to seal the cradle with Golden® GAC100 first if you are going to gesso the edges for painting. The basswood panels have solid wood cradles and braces that may be more susceptible to moisture and environmental changes than the birch plywood cradles we use on the Hardbord™. Therefore, Ampersand recommends that you gesso both the front and back of the basswood top to ensure long-term stability of the panel. Allow the front of the basswood to dry completely, then gesso the reverse side.

STEP 4 - To Finish
After the first coat of gesso is dry, smooth out any rough spots with light grade sandpaper. Apply a second coat of gesso with the foam roller (or brush). Allow it to dry and then sand again. For best results, apply a minimum of 2 coats of gesso and sand in between. Subsequent layers of gesso will produce an even smoother painting surface. For spray application, you may have to apply more than 2 coats to achieve a film similar to a brush application. For basswood panels, follow the same instructions, but also prime the back. For each additional coat to the panel face, apply the same number of applications to the panel back.

Materials List:

  • Ampersand Hardbord 1/8", 3/4" Cradle, or 2" Deep Cradle
  • Ampersand Natural Wood Panel or Ampersand Unprimed Basswood Panel 7/8" or 1.5" Cradle
  • Golden® GAC100 or Gamblin® PVA Size
  • Golden® Acrylic Gesso
  • 2"-3" flat bristle brush
  • Small foam roller (optional)
  • Sanding block with fine 400 grit sandpaper
  • 1"-2" wide painter's tape (optional)

 Did you find this post helpful?  Have you ever primed your own wood panels before? Tell us about it in the comments below!


A Jerry's Online Street Team Art Project with Brian Neher

Why does professional portrait artist Brian Neher use LUKAS 1862 Oils?

Brian Neher is an award-winning portrait artist who has captured the likenesses of clients of all ages. His work has been shown at the Portrait Institute in Manhattan, N.Y., as well as in American Artist magazine. He has received recognition in the National Portrait Competition as well as the West Coast Society of Portrait Painters. He has appeared on national public television as a guest on the magazine format show Paint! Paint! Paint! He has had the unique and rare opportunity to study under one of America's finest painters, renowned portraitist Joe Bowler. Learn more about Brian in his Jerry's Artist Spotlight blog post and by visiting his website at

Portrait Painting with Brian Neher

Featuring LUKAS 1862 Artists' Oil Colors

I recently had the opportunity to try out the LUKAS 1862 Professional Oil Paints and chose to take them for a "test drive" on one of my portrait commissions. I was extremely pleased with how the paint handled and the effects that I was able to achieve as a result of using them.

Learn More About LUKAS paints

From the moment that I opened up the first tube, I could see the high standard of quality that goes into the making of each color. The generous pigment content produced beautiful, bright colors straight out of the tube, allowing for a wide range of flesh tones and grays that can be mixed when painting portraits. There were a couple of noticeable differences that I found when using LUKAS 1862 as compared to other well-known brands. The first is that the LUKAS brand has a slightly more fluid consistency than the others that I have used over the years, allowing for some beautiful wet into wet transitions and soft edges that can be made during the painting process.

The other distinguishing quality was the actual drying time of the paint itself. As with other brands of oil paint, some colors may take up to a week or so to dry to the touch, but the LUKAS brand paint set up in just a matter of days, allowing me to continue working on top of these previous layers. This was very helpful in the refining stages of the portrait. I often use my fingers when softening certain areas of a face and it's important to be sure that you're not removing paint when working this way, so the previous, quick drying stage worked to my advantage in this situation.

This portrait of Will was painted on Claessens #13 SP linen using LUKAS 1862 oil paint.

With LUKAS 1862 Oil Colors, you will find the high quality and consistency that you would expect when using a professional grade oil paint, but at nearly half the cost of other major brands. I would highly recommend LUKAS 1862 to other artists who are looking for a top quality product at an economical price.

To follow Brian's process, watch this enlightening time-lapse video of various stages in the painting of Brian's portrait of Will, and let us know what you think of his amazing artwork in the comments below!


Artist Spotlight - Brian Neher

Professional Portrait Painter Brian Neher

Brian Neher is a professional portrait painter whose work has been featured in American Artist Magazine as well as their Portrait and Figure Painting Highlights edition and on National Public Television. His paintings can be seen in both private and corporate collections throughout the United States.

Born in Alexandria, Virginia in 1972, Brian began drawing at the age of three and through the encouragement and example of his grandmother, a commercial artist herself, knew at an early age that he wanted to pursue a career in art. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Pensacola Christian College in Pensacola, Florida and it was there that he had the opportunity to study under Brian Jekel, an accomplished painter who would greatly impact his life. "By introducing me to the Old Masters of the late nineteenth century, Brian Jekel set into motion a series of events and study that would forever direct my course as an artist," says Neher.

Brian has had the unique and rare opportunity to study under one of America's modern day masters, renowned portrait painter Joe Bowler. "Through critiques, demonstrations, encouragement, and the constant study of the Old Masters, Joe gave me an early start on what true painting is all about. Much of the progress that I have made as a painter has been a direct result of being under his guidance. I hope to someday be able to give back to others what Joe has given to me."

In addition to painting commissioned portraits, Brian enjoys sharing his passion for art with others and has produced a series of instructional art videos which focus on teaching the foundational principles of representational art by demonstrating how to apply each one to the art of painting. By understanding these principles, the artist is then given the freedom to better communicate his message to the viewer.


Why does professional portrait artist Brian Neher use LUKAS 1862 Oils?


For more information about Brian or to see examples of his work, visit

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