Many famous artists, including Picasso, Miro, Vuillard, Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas, among others, painted pictures on cardboard. Cardboard is economical and readily available. While not the best material for an oil painting support, or backing, many fine art paintings executed on cardboard have survived in museums for over 100 years.
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The material a painting is done on is called a support. Cardboard is a generic name for a number of paper products. They range from expensive, finely made, 100 percent cotton-rag museum and illustration board to cheap, run-of-the-mill, brown corrugated boxes. Higher priced, archival quality cardboard, called cartón, is acid-free and treated with epoxy resin or other compounds to increase its stability and longevity. Inexpensive cardboards contain lignin from wood pulp and acids from the manufacturing process that cause them to break down.
Cardboard is used for painting quick studies and detail sketches in oil. The studies are useful reference materials and visual aids when painting large, complex compositions. Cheaper cardboard makes a good support for practicing brush strokes and testing new materials. Cardboard is good for throw-away experiments, color swatches and value scales. Children can learn the basics of oil painting using cardboard from cereal boxes or packing material.
Most artists prime their cardboard support to prevent buckling and over-absorption of the oils in oil paint. Too much oil in the paper will hasten its destruction. Buy treated cardboard, or prime it yourself with acrylic gesso. Apply the gesso in a thin coat or the water in it will cause curling and waviness in the cardboard. Size the paper by brushing on a coat of gelatin, resin, shellac or polyvinyl acetate glue. Apply sizing to the back of the cardboard to prevent warping.
Many French Impressionist artists used cardboard to paint finished works. They used it for its texture and warm brown background color. The cardboard was allowed to show through the layers of paint and was incorporated into the elements of the painting. The oil in oil-based paints is absorbed by an unprimed cardboard support, giving the paint a pleasing, smooth, matte finish. Artists sometimes use pieces of cardboard glued to oil paintings to create papier collé, or paper collage artworks.