What paper should I use for large format painting?
May 17, 2018 6:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking to get back into painting, and I have a few ideas for works planned out. I'm an abstract painter and I want to work on a large scale—on the order of square metres. Last time I painted someone else was bankrolling me, so I was able to use rolls of really wide, really sturdy professional art paper. I don't have that luxury anymore. What kind of paper can I get away with using?

For this project I plan to paint in acrylic. I'm not intending to put down heaps of layers of paint—hopefully two at max. I've been considering using butchers paper but am unsure whether it's simply too flimsy. If it is, what's an appropriate step up?

Also, can I tape several long strips (of whatever paper I end up using) side by side together to create a rectangular sheet of appropriate width? Or is that a disaster waiting to happen? Can you share any tips or tricks for hacking a large paper canvas together?

Also, if you think I'm missing a trick format-wise and should be working on some other type of material, feel free to chip in with your two cents there too. I've considered canvas and board but I don't have anything large enough and the right shape to stretch canvas across and board is too time-consuming to obtain and prepare.

Cheers (:
posted by Panthalassa to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's possible to find all white TYVEK (from reading about cheap sailboat sails). It's certainly sturdy, there may be some texture, but long lasting and well, sturdy.
posted by sammyo at 7:16 AM on May 17, 2018

You can buy rolls of white canvas for pretty cheap on Amazon!
posted by ball00000ns at 7:19 AM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you're open to using paper, I don't see why you can't use a big piece of unstretched canvas in the same manner. If you're not painting thickly, you could probably get away with something lighter than canvas.

Dharma Trading sells undyed extra-wide fabric in a variety of weights and weaves, including scenery muslin, and they have samples. I have vague memories of painting high school theatre sets on stuff like that, we used house paint and worked on the floor.

If you don't mind that it probably isn't archival, big rolls of heavy duty Kraft paper from the hardware store are cheap and will be sturdier than butcher paper. I usually see it sold as "builders' paper" near the paint department.

I would try really hard to find something that requires the least amount of joining possible. At the size you're suggesting, I'm having a hard time thinking of a tape strong/wide enough to support the weight of the final sheet of paper, short of duct tape. Glue with a wide overlap would be more secure, but then you have to worry about paper wrinkling or using spray adhesive.
posted by yeahlikethat at 8:45 AM on May 17, 2018

Go to a home improvement store and get a roll of red rosin paper. This stuff is used to protect finished floors, so contractors can walk on them while doing the rest of the finish work. It's fairly thick and pretty indestructible. It is, however a funky faded red color, so you are going to have to gesso over it (unless your work incorporates that red color). I've bought a roll at Menards for ~ $10 USD. I occasionally see it in a brown/kraft color, too.
posted by sarajane at 8:56 AM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

To be honest, unless these are meant to be throwaway experiments, this sounds like false economy; every time I've tried to cheap out on art materials I've ended up regretting it.

Butcher paper is definitely too light: this site recommends a minimum 140lb weight; butcher paper is only 40lb. Red rosin paper might be heavy enough but I'd still be concerned about buckling. (Plus there's the color issue.) Taped or glued joints will almost certainly crack or at the very least cause visible seams, I wouldn't attempt that.

Other alternatives you might consider:
* cotton drill or muslin plus fabric painting medium
* foam core board (can be found much more inexpensively at office supply stores than art supply stores)
* MDF or hardboard (also much cheaper at the hardware store than when sold for art)
* actual walls. Know anybody who wants a mural?
posted by ook at 11:34 AM on May 17, 2018

Look up "Seamless Background Paper"; it's used in photography studios and it's surprisingly heavy.

A quick Amazon search returned a 2x5meter piece for $44. You should buy from Amazon and use the free shipping (shipping stuff that's 2m long is expensive) or buy from a local shop.
posted by gregr at 12:42 PM on May 17, 2018

Hi! My job for years was to be a scenic artist for theatre and TV! I painted a zillion backdrops and would 100% recommend using medium-weight muslin instead of paper and latex instead of acrylic. The money saved on paint can go into fabric. Paper will inevitably get crinkly. If that's a thing you want, though, that's cool, and you can just line up strips of butcher paper or rosin paper or that photo background stuff and tape the back and flip it.

The paint we used in the fancy shops was usually Rosco brand, often purchased from Rose Brand. We mixed all the colors ourselves from the twenty or so colors on the shelf. Supersats is a part of the brand where you can really water the stuff down for more translucent layers and things. Otherwise, Off-Broadway is a good line. In smaller shops or projects, you go to the hardware store and have them match a color with science!

There's a specific way to staple down drops such that they stay square and you can size them. Sizing them is just like gessoing, but in a bigger way (and with watered-down paint). If you stick with paper, it's totally okay to tape all the bits, flip it to the clean side, and leave some overhang so you can tape it down to the floor or a wall, all the way.

Eh, MeMail me if any of this is useful. I ran a few different shops and know the craft of painting really big things really well.
posted by lauranesson at 12:58 PM on May 19, 2018

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