In recent years there has been growing interest amongst professional artists alike to find an alternative to wood when preparing one’s own painting panels. Natural material like wood has a tendency to warp and or buckle even when properly sized, especially larger panels. In come Gator board; a unique and lightweight panel consisting of a rigid polystyrene core with an outer moisture resistant veneer panels. Gator boards are tested for their flatness prior to packaging. They are available in most art supply stores like Dickblick, or Curry’s if you’re in Canada.
The foam core and the man made wood sheets are permanently bonded together to make up the gator board panel; A great, economical alternative to traditional supports for all painters alike. Gator board can be purchased ranging in thickness from 3/16 of an inch all the way to 1.5 inches thick and come in various sizes. Furthermore, the panels can be bought with a white or a black foam core.
To get a precise cut of a gator board use a circular saw or a band saw with a fine tooth blade. Even though the board has a woodlice exterior, using hand tools like a box cutter is satisfactory as well. Make sure to mark your line and use a metal ruler. Going over the same line a couple of times should do the trick.
Gator boards are strong and moisture resistant panels. Even when exposed to prolonged moist conditions Gatorfoam or the veneer showed no tendency to buckle. Care should be taken to not expose the gator boards to direct sunlight for too long, as it can cause bleaching or slight bowing. UV rays degrade unprotected foam, especially if it is a black color.
Gator board needs no special preparation prior to be painted on, but a light sanding is recommended using a 220 grit paper. Remove any dust and sand grit before continuing on to the next step. Due to the aforementioned UV concern, the gator board should be treated on all sides using a good quality water based size. Apply two or three coats of gesso directly on the board. Alternately if you are making your own painting panels, gator boards make a great support.
If primed correctly any enamel, water or oil based paints can be used. For watercolor Karen Sioson has a great post on stretching paper on gator board. If you paint in oil or any other solvent based paints, caution should be exercised not to make contact with the polystyrene foam as it may degrade it. After proper preparation, any of the common paint application like brushing, spraying or rolling can be used.
Gator boards are a great alternative for a good deal of painting and mounting options as it is both light weight and relatively strong. Check with your retailer if your painting is to be mounted in an archive setting as the gator board may not be acid free. Having said that, similar foam bards have been used in the framing industry for decades and have shown resilience and durability.
If you have any questions or concerns, send me a word and I’d be happy to answer them as always. Happy painting.