by Janet Glatz
It took me years to realize that what you paint on affects the end product in many ways. (You must remember, I'm a self taught artist who began when I was very young.)
I started out painting on student grade stretched canvas, or canvas board at times, both of which have a pronounced, fairly rough and "thready" finish. I would struggle so hard to get clean edges and wonder why my attempts at realism looked messy. In my ignorance, I didn't realize my brushes had to "jump" every little thread when trying to form a line. At the time, I thought everybody had to suffer this little pain in the neck. Wow--that was a long time ago. If I'd been applying heavy layers of paint, this would have been less of a problem, but then-realism is hard to achieve with thick layers. (I know, the old masters did it with many layers and a ton of expertise.) So I went on like that until I finally learned how much better my paintings could be on different surfaces.
My favorite is linen canvas, extra smooth. This type can be rather expensive, but worth it. Your brush glides along unimpeded by "tooth", and blending turns into an astonishingly easy thing to do.
Next below linen would be wood panel for me. You can't get anything a lot smoother than a well sanded slab of wood. However, it has no "tooth" and requires me to use light layers (which dry quickly on this surface) in order to create my own foundation. After that, it's pretty much like painting on linen.
Next down would be higher quality regular canvas, designed to make the surface have a lot of tooth, yet be smoother than student grade. This is what I use for my classes.
Of course there are many surfaces on which to paint, ranging from wildly expensive to the cheapest of cheap. Try to find one that feels right for you and doesn't send you to the painter's poorhouse. Cheers!