Discover Jackson's own-brand linen boards as artist Max Hales puts them to the test in this review.

To paint on canvas in acrylics or oils is a joy and affords the artist a range of expression and mark making that is unlikely to be available on other surfaces. Canvas boards – canvas sized, glued and primed onto a rigid support such as card, compound or wood – are convenient and affordable. I use boards when painting en plein air as they can be easier to carry and will also fit neatly into my pochade.

The surfaces

Rough jute, fine and super-fine linen

Jackson's manufacture and supply a huge selection of canvas panels and boards (panels have linen wrapped around the board). They are handmade and varied in their material and texture, and weight and rigidity.

The greatest difference between linen and cotton is that linen has a less regularly patterned texture than cotton with a particularly sophisticated feel under the brush – quite individual, I would say.

Jute is a heavyweight rough-textured material with an open weave, ideal for any painting where detail is less important or perhaps the artist's style reflects a looser approach. Linen, available in rough and fine, is more suitable for general subjects; super fine is ideal for portrait or detailed painting. Where Claessens linen is used, there is a scale that will help you to identify the grade, as the higher the number following the description, the finer the weave.

The choice continues with the material onto which the linen is mounted. Jackson's offer a superb selection and combination of boards using lightweight, medium or heavyweight substrates from which to choose and, of course, you can pick the surface you wish, depending on your task. This was the one element that I felt was clever in as much as your favourite linen surface can be purchased in a range of options to fit your practice or your convenience. I'm sure a painter has had input into this idea. There is also a choice of universal or oil-primed surfaces across the range, along with white or clear primer.

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The substrates

The different weights and thicknesses of a selection of boards from the Ultralite 0.8mm compound, the Ultralite3.2mm compound and the 4mm MDF.

Ultralite board is just 0.8mm, a thin composite that is pure genius in my opinion, and especially useful for travelling.

It’s not quite as rigid as the more common thicker board, it may require some support if used on an easel; it’s better than a paper, especially as it won't curl up when you paint. This is a gem of a product that not only gives portability but the feeling of something significantly substantial when painting. Do be careful when ordering as there is a heavier 3.2mm panel that also carries the designation Ultralite. This is a more general-purpose thickness suitable for using en plein air or in the studio. The stable continues with a substantial 4mm MDF that is available with many linen surface options, a very nice product indeed.

One element I do like is that the boards fit easily into a carrier or pochade – wraparound canvas boards can be too thick for the slots, so this is a definite advantage and the boards look smart, too.

Painting experience

Country Track, acrylic on Jackson’s rough-grain jute over MDF, (20x30cm).

I painted on each type of surface starting with the rough jute – which is like a fine sacking – and I found it suited my loose style, especially in acrylic. It makes for wonderfully broken swathes of colour if your brush is used at an oblique angle and gives lots of opportunities to have a 'broken' image where the texture doesn't allow the paint to move into the hollows in the weave. Likewise, going back over or returning to the section to scumble over can cause interesting results as the texture gives selective pickup. The paint can be directed where required by pressing or heavily charging the brush with the medium.

The rough texture of the jute produces a very pleasing result. The board was underpainted with a neutral mid-tone and completed using Jackson’s Artist acrylics.

Five Bottles, water-mixable oil on Jackson’s fine linen over MDF, (30x40cm).

The fine and super-fine textures were superb and gave the smoothest result I could imagine from a canvas. Perhaps someone who paints finer detail than me might make more of the very fine linen than I did during the evaluation, but I am looking forward to trying it out at my next portrait session – my bet is it will prove to surpass anything I have used in a cotton variety.

This canvas feels wonderful to paint on. Results from wiping-out are excellent as the surface is so resilient and flexible, even on such a rigid support.

Like all Jackson's own-brand products, these well-made linen canvas boards offer good value for money. It’s likely they will change your view on texture of support, as well as give you an opportunity to experience a superb product at an affordable price.

For more information and how to buy Jackson’s linen boards and panels, visit their website.

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Max Hale studied at Harrow School of Art. He teaches workshops and painting holidays, and offers personal mentoring, for more information visit Max's website.

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