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How to Prime a Wood Panel for Acrylic Painting

So you've filled out an art commission contract and are going to be doing your first ever acrylic piece on wood panel. Congratulations! Moving to new surfaces can be a super fun way to expand your artistic skills and style. Before breaking out the paints, you'll need to prime the panel so it's ready to absorb all the beautiful colors to come. Follow these steps to prime your wood panel and prepare it for painting:

Gather your supplies
In order to start this project; you'll need a wood panel. Not only does it take the paint well, but you can also use the grain as inspiration for your piece. Craft stores often have birch, oak, mahogany and walnut panels. These are the best options because they are hardwoods and are not prone to warping. The panel should be sanded smooth so your paint is absorbed evenly and you are not at risk of getting slivers while you work. You'll also need primer (gesso) and a wide brush (you can use a house painting one). Work in an area with plenty of light so you can easily see if you have fully coated the wood panel or if you need to add more primer. It's also a good idea to have windows open, to help reduce the paint fumes and any kind of breeze will help your primer dry more quickly. 

Prepare your surface
If you've ever primed a canvas or wood panel before, you've likely had some experience with accidental surface imperfections. This can happen if there is something on the surface, like pet hair or a loose thread or fiber. To prevent these from becoming problems once you've primed the panel or canvas, take a moment or two to inspect the surface before getting started. Look for any bumps or raised areas and blow on the material to remove dust particles or hairs. If you find an imperfection that is not fixable (such as a raised portion of wood), consider bringing it back to the store to trade it in for a new one. If the surface is clean and ready, move on to the next step.

Prime the panel
Now for the fun part - priming. Use your wide brush to spread an even layer of gesso over the wood surface. Look at it from various angles to be sure you coated the entire thing from edge to edge. Once it's dry, lightly sand the panel to ensure it is even and then apply another coat. For a uniform look, consider using only horizontal or only vertical brushstrokes. After the second coat dries, sand it down again. You may be satisfied and move on to painting at this stage, or you might prefer to add a few more layers of gesso. This depends on your personal preference and the color of the wood you're working with. Darker varieties like mahogany may require more layers.

Keep in mind that it can be helpful to prime multiple panels at once. You already have the primer ready and have to wait in between coats, so why not tackle several surfaces at once? Then you can start your next great masterpiece whenever you feel like it, since the priming has already been done. This is also a good idea if you sell your art online and may need to make several hand-painted copies of the same piece. Being prepared can save you a lot of time and get the art to your customers faster.