How to prep with Oil Ground

I’ve been working on cradled wood panels lately and thought I’d share some quick & dirty instructions on how to prep a board with oil ground. First step is taping off your edges with a thick painter’s or drafting tape. I like having the natural wood as my clean edge, you can choose to prep and paint your edges, if you wish, but I like the look and feel of a crisp clean edge. Any excess tape I just fold around the back of the panel since you’re just going to take this off when you’re done painting anyway. Be sure that the tape edge facing the front of the panel matches up to the edge and that you press it down hard. I’ve learned the hard way– don’t settle for cheap tape!! It either won’t stick and you’ll have paint seeping through everywhere or it’ll stick too much and literally pull pieces of your wood off…I never thought that was a possibility but it is!


Above is a look at my panels all taped up.

I like using Gamblin Oil Painting Ground (they have a pretty cool video there and tons of technical info if you want to read further). Now, don’t get confused… oil ground is very different from gesso. Gesso that is commonly used today is an acrylic base; oil ground is linseed oil based. Acrylic gesso is good, quick, and pretty nice but oil ground trumps it for me because oil ground has a luminosity that really shows through your paint. Since I’m painting in fairly thin layers, I want a ground that will showcase the colors that I’ve mixed. Oil ground also requires less application of layers and less material so don’t be fooled by the price when compared to gesso. If you’re prepping on canvas or linen you’ll need to size the material, first, with PVA or your choice of sizing. Since I’m painting on wood, there is no need to size.
The only materials that you really need for this job is your painting surface, oil ground, latex gloves, a stick of some sort (I use an old pencil), and an old credit card or gift card. I emphasize old because you’re not getting it back from the oil Gods. “Why a credit card,” you say? Do you think I’m not going to explain, I will, I will. Oh, and open a window, damn it! This is oil based so you need to properly ventilate your studio.
So put on your gloves and take that pencil/stick and dunk it into the pot of oil ground and then drizzle it all over your surface. It’s ok if you put too much on, you can always scrape it off and put it back in the pot during the next step, which is my favorite step.

Take the old credit card and use that to scrape the paint really thinly over the entire surface. A new painting tool!! How cool is that? Be sure to keep the bottom of the card clean in between swipes once it gets a little cakey– just wipe it off on a towel. A credit card or an old gift card or an old forgotten to be returned hotel room keycard (I swear I thought I returned it) work great because you can put even pressure on it, it’s flexible, and you don’t have to pay for it! You can also use a roller or a flat sponge brush or something but I really love using the cards for a smooth finish.

Keep doing this until your entire surface is covered with oil ground in a very thin coat. You’ll be amazed at how little you use. Let dry for about a day and then put on a second coat in the same way. You can sand with a super fine sandpaper and dust between coats if you’d like a very smooth surface. Let your second coat dry for at least 2-3 days; remember, this is oil paint so it will take some time to completely dry. Then you’re ready to paint!
Once your painting is complete, simply remove the taped edges pulling the tape towards the front of the painting.
An extra optional step: If you like having a color to your ground, you can mix any dry painter’s pigment into the ground first! Customize the color ground you want to use.
And a word of advice: to keep your can of ground lasting a long time, cut a piece of wax paper to the width of the can and place it on the top of the oil. That’ll keep the air in the can from drying it out. Then seal it tightly. This also works for home paint and is a tip I probably learned from This Old House. (If it’s latex or acrylic paint, then use a piece of plastic wrap to do the same trick.) I am all about saving you money.
Let me know if you have any questions!

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