An oil painting support is any surface that oil paint can be applied to. There are a variety of different surfaces that artists use to paint on. Everything from certain woods, canvas, can serve as supports for oil paint.
Linen is made from the fibers of the flax plant. The plants are harvested and then left to soak in water until the outside of the plant rots away leaving the fibers underneath. The fibers are then processed into yarns or threads which are then woven into canvas. The fibers of the flax plant are long and quite strong and make for a very interesting and durable painting support. Paintings executed on this surface have withstood the test of time. It is for this reason that linen canvas is a favorite amongst professional oil painters. Unfortunately linen canvas is rather expensive and may not be the best option for beginners. There are a variety of different linen canvases available, from rolled canvas to pre-stretched. It comes primed for acrylic and oils, or you can get it unprimed as well.
Cotton canvas is the most popular support for beginner oil painters. It is a relatively strong material and much cheaper than linen. It has a very even and mechanical weave. There is a big debate going on in the art world over which is the better painting support, linen or canvas? What support will last longer? This is really a matter of personal opinion and taste. I know many artists, including myself, who use cotton canvas exclusively. Other artists swear by linen. If the surface is sized correctly, then your painting will be well protected from rot and will last a long time. So when deciding between linen or cotton, I feel your decision should be based on how you enjoy working with the material itself and not whether or not it will be around in three hundred years. If you are really concerned about the durability of cotton, then purchase a heavy grade cotton canvas and try stretching it yourself. Cotton canvas is available in rolls or pre-stretched, primed or unprimed.
For those artists who may be on a tight budget but still want a descent quality surface to paint on, then canvas pads are a good choice. Canvas pads come in a variety of different sizes and are great for beginners who are just starting out. Canvas pads are great for practice or doing studies. Make certain you get a heavy weight canvas pad suitable to hold oil paint.
MASONITE OR HARDBOARD
Masonite is another popular oil painting support for artists. Masonite is actually a trademarked name for a synthetic hardboard made from wood particles. Hardboard is inexpensive and rigid. If you plan to use large hardboards, it is recommended that you reinforce them with a frame, as they can bow or bend. You can purchase plain hardboards or other varieties like canvas boards, which are hardboards covered with a ready to paint canvas material.
The earliest known oil paintings were created on wood panels made of oak or poplar. The wood was covered with a uniform ground made of animal skin glue and chalk. The ground was then polished smooth to create a surface suitable for oil paint.
Pure hard wood panels are not the most popular ground for oil painters today. They are costly and rather difficult to lug around. A good alternative that oil painters use is plywood. There is good quality plywood available made of birch, poplar or mahogany that is suitable for oil paints if prepared correctly. Do not paint on soft woods such as pine because they contain more resins and do not resist moisture very well.
Your choice of oil painting support really depends on your style of painting. Experiment with the variety of painting supports available, well at the end for me the canvas is the best.