When Mr. Mason wasn't counting crows, making mints, mounds, dots, or jars, he came up with a very handy surface to paint on, which, I'm sure, was not his original intention.
When I first started doing "important" paintings, defined as big and non-objective, I used Masonite because it was so much cheaper than canvas and stretchers.
It's a composite wood panel, formed using wooden chips, blasting them into long fibers with steam and then forming them into boards, which are then pressed and heated.(Thank you Wikipedia)
It comes in 4' x 8' panels, and the quarter inch board was used (then) primarily as floor underlayment for tile or linoleum, and was "untempered". The eighth inch "tempered" Masonite has oil in it, and can be recognized by a waffle weave on one side. Not suitable for fine art.
Home Depot and Lowes carry Masonite in 2' x 4' panels. As a courtesy they will make a free cut for you, so one cut will give you an 18 x 24" and a 24 x 30", for instance. If you have a table or saber saw, use a fine blade and you can get all kinds of smaller sizes.
Anything bigger than 30' or so should be cradled with wood strips.
That's how I learned to use the table saw and all kinds of mean and nasty tools.
My husband bought me a set of matching screwdrivers, not pink, for Christmas one year. Wow.
Anyhow.Lightly sand the edges of the Masonite, then seal both sides and edges with a 50/50 mix of shellac and alcohol. "BIN" is a shellac based sealer with white pigment added, an alternative.
Gesso to your hearts delight, but keep in mind that both sides should be done or the panel will not lay flat. Golden makes a sandable gesso, for hard surfaces, if you want even more control of your surface.
Nowadays I sometimes use Masonite to mount double-primed linen on, which is so difficult to stretch. There's no waste either. It also is useful if you have an odd-sized frame- you can cut the Masonite to fit.
I almost forgot. One of Mr.Masons' ancestors got together with a certain Mr.Dixon (the pencil people?) and together they drew lines. So there's your art connection.