Aluminium is, hands down, my favourite surface to paint on and I get asked a lot about the ‘who, what where and why‘ of working with it. So here are my top tips for painting on aluminium.
Why paint on aluminium?
I paint mainly with oil paint, in thin layers. I’m particularly careful to leave areas where there is no (opaque) white paint. Using aluminium allows the light to work through the layers and it seems to illuminate it – sort of like it is backlit, or like looking at it on a screen. The resulting paintings ‘sing’ with a depth of colour quite unlike a softer surface such as a linen or canvas; which tends to absorb the light and defuse it.
Surface priming, painting on aluminium
Priming an aluminium surface is vital to make sure the paint sticks! I have neither the skill or time to do this so I always buy my panels ready primed for painting. Depending on the ground used for priming, I find that oil paint acts very differently on aluminium to the other surfaces I use regularly. I opt for a sprayed gesso ground that creates a surface not unlike a heavyweight cartridge paper. It’s quite absorbent with a good ‘bite’. The paint is harder to brush out than that of canvas, it ‘sticks’ more than a softer surface, so I find I have to work quite quickly. If you use high pigment paints, you won’t find a nicer surface to show off the colour!
I have also bought aluminium panels which are smooth primed so there is absolutely no ‘tooth’ to the surface at all. Once a first layer of paint is on, there is a texture to the surface so if I do buy these panels, I prime them with gesso before painting and lightly sand the primed surface to make it less shiny.
Where to buy
I usually buy my large painting panels from Artists Surfaces – mainly for the gesso surface. They are quite expensive but can be hung unframed (they’re either on a subframe which can be hung directly on the wall or a beautiful wooden frame) so when you take that into account it’s not much more than buying a canvas and then having it framed. Worth buying just to marvel at the care given to the wrapping of them for transit! The packaging is a work of art in itself!
Jacksons online also sell panels which are more affordable but would need framing in order to hang the finished artwork. They are also a smoother finish, ready-primed but the paint tends to slip around in a completely different way to that of the spray gessoed panels. Jacksons also sell bespoke panels similar to Artist Surfaces. You might like to read this Jackson’s blog about painting (with all media) on aluminium here.
If you’re reading this and have another company to recommend for painting on aluminium, please get in touch!