The Painting Support
The main support I use is cotton duck canvas because it is inexpensive and I like the texture of the weave. I think canvas is one of the most beautiful materials and the Venetian painters of the 16th and 17th centuries knew this as well. There are many supports one can use, a canvas could be made of different materials such as cotton, linen, hemp, and jute. According to some, linen is the most durable of them all, but pricey, specially here in the US. The original support for oil painting is panel, a wooden board made of either of oak, pine, or birch. I have recently gotten into panel because the colors become more radiant with this support. I would paint on panels more often but the price of it could be quite high at times.
I prepare all my supports from scratch. I haven't bought any pre-made canvas in many years.
I start by stretching my canvas onto wooden stretchers. I usually spend a whole weekend stretching different sizes of canvas. I like to have a number of them to choose from when I'm ready to paint. After stretching and stapling the canvas onto the stretchers I seal it with two coats of rabbit skin glue. Many art supply stores carry this product but if you don't know what it is or how it looks like you're most likely to pass right by it and not know.
Rabbit skin glue is a traditional sealer and ingredient for making traditional gesso for panels. As much as I would love to get into the history of the material and its many uses I won't because I would like to keep this short. There are many art material books out there that contains information about rabbit skin glue.
I make a solution of 1 part rabbit skin glue to 10 parts water. I soak the glue over night in the water and then warm it up when I'm ready to treat the canvas. You must not over heat or boil the glue because this makes it loose it's strength.
After the first coat has dried over night I apply the second. Once the final coat has dried I prime the canvas with Lead White in oil and some chalk. Two coats should be enough. The oil primer needs to be thick, much more than regular oil paint. I apply this primer with a sturdy palette knife to fill in all the cavities in the canvas.
After this I let it dry for six months before I touch it again to paint. This is the way a painting begins for me, some might use ready made acrylic gesso to prime their canvas, something I used to do. I stopped using acrylic gesso because I learned that it causes oil paintings to crack faster than they should. I have been a witness to this. That's why the old way works better for me know and I can see proof hanging in museum walls that this method will make my paintings last for a while.
Here are some helpful books on art materials:
The Artist's Handbook by Pip Seymour
The Painter's Handbook by Mark David Gottsegen
The Painter's Craft by Ralph Mayer
Formulas for Painters by Robert Massey
The Materials of the Artist by Max Doerner