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Tracks & Trails

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Buy Gesso [BETTER]

Gesso is traditionally white, but nowadays you can also buy black, clear gesso and colored gesso readymade (these link to Blick Art Materials, and if you make a purchase I get a small commission that helps support this site). You can also tint your gesso to make any color you want. Just mix a little acrylic paint to the gesso, and you've got some tinted gesso!

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There are two different grades of gesso: Artist grade and Student grade. The difference between the two amounts to the different ratios of pigment vs. filler. The Student grade is cheaper because it contains more filler than the Artist grade. Artist grade has more pigment than Student grade, making it thicker and more opaque. These differences are reflected in the price, and also in the quality. Student grade is usually available only in white, but as mentioned earlier, you can add acrylic paint to the gesso to make it more pigmented.

The consistency and texture of gesso will vary from brand to brand. Some are more liquidy and others are more thick. Some apply more smoothly and others leave a more textured, toothy surface. You'll have to experiment with different brands to find the one you like best. Liquitex Super Heavy Gesso is great for applying sculptural effects to the canvas with a brush or palette knife.

Gesso comes in both squeeze bottle form and in large tubs or jars. With the squeeze bottles, you can squeeze the gesso right onto canvas and then smooth it out with a brush. You can also pour some onto your palette first if you want to mix the gesso with paint or water. If your gesso comes in a jar, you can stick your paintbrush right into the jar and apply it to the canvas.

Golden Gesso is formulated to be flexible and is highly pigmented for greater opacity. This bright white, ready-to-use formulation is designed for painting on most surfaces. It is flexible and can be applied in thin layers to conform to a variety of textures without cracking. For oil painting, at least three layers of gesso is recommended. Gesso can be mixed with acrylic colours to produce a range of coloured grounds.

Modern acrylic gesso is a combination of calcium carbonate (chalk) with an acrylic polymer medium (binder), a pigment (titanium white) and other chemicals that ensure flexibility, and ensure long archival life.

However, if it was for a portrait or to produce a masterpiece for your painting legacy I would use an Oil gesso purely for the fact it has been time-tested and the Oil will always adhere better to Oil than sitting on top of an Acrylic.

Yes, I am a big fan of working on a coloured ground and if you are pushed for time you can mix some paint into the gesso to tint it. You can also buy premixed black gesso, coloured gesso and clear gesso.

Hi Anna, The problem could stem from the differences in your gesso ground. An over absorbent ground, or too much solvent used in your paint mixture will be the cause of this difference in colour.

I have a beautiful painting, that is unfortunately oil on a thin, raw canvas. If I paint the back of the canvas with gesso or whatever, will it soak in and preserve the painting? Was done about 5 months ago by a friend in art school. They had no suggestions on how to preserve it now but it is too beautiful to just not try. Any suggestions are appreciated

Hi JJ, Due to gesso having a flexible consistency it will be fine if you roll the murual after you have finished painting it. Especially if you are using acrylics which stay flexible once they have dried.

Thanks Will for that info, there is also in a hardware store ,a powder gesso, which may be better. One more question please, what is liquid clear, and liquid white, these are mediums, so is there equivalent liquids in a hardware store for these items. many thanks for your assistance. Patrick.

I want to use gelatos on my canvas but I was told that they need to be gessoed first. My canvases say they have two coats of highly pigmented acrylic primer on them, they are made by Winsor & Newton, is this the same as gesso??

Hi, I paint with acrylics, and I already had a painting on the canvas, and did 3 coats of gesso. When I try a new painting on the gesso canvas it started to Pitt on me. I did sand it down before I applied the gesso. What happened?

Hi Lidia, The absorbency of the gesso is determined by the chalk content in the gesso. It can vary from brand to brand, so it would be worth experimenting with a different brand of gesso just to see if that makes a difference. You can also try working on board which will be much less absorbent than canvas.

2.) Also when you are thinking of painting, do you need to prepare a day before, so you can let the gesso dry, because I looked at other websites and they say that you need to add 2 layers of gesso and it takes a long time to dry, so you have to wait.

Oil primer(gesso)used specifically for oil painting takes longer to dry. Acrylic gesso is quicker to dry, you can usually apply two coats in the day, but ideally a 24hr wait before painting ontop.

Hello Mr. Kemp, I just received my very first piece of canvas and I am so excited to create an abstract. As I am no artist I have no idea what to do first except to use the gesso, do I stretch the canvas first or wait? What all should I purchase? Is there any preference on paint and brushes for the first timer? I would actually like to do a self body painting on this canvas, any suggestions as to what I should do? Thank you for your time,

What are your thoughts on using an acrylic medium in the place of gesso for priming a canvas? I am experimenting with leaving a raw appearance to the canvas, while maintaining a proper seal. My concern is that the medium is not of adequate strength to provide a solid, long-term base for the paint (ie might flake because not fully binding to canvas fibers). I am using acrylics with the occasional oil stick currently (to be used over the acrylic medium).

Im a total newbie. I want to paint both oil and acrylic, but doing acrylic for now.but the paint dries quickly and gets sticky. What can I use to keep the paint moist enough to work on for a lengthy it gesso?

It depends on the effect you are after with your painting, have a solid gesso ground will make it easier to apply paints to the surface. If you are using student quality paints these can often need more coats for the same coverage you would achieve with artist quality paints.

I am looking to paint a large canvas; 4 feet by 8 feet. If I buy a canvas painters drop cloth and size it and put on three coats of gesso and then stretch it on a frame, would that work for painting with acrylics.

Another question, could I mix something like sand or something into the gesso to give it texture? Something like beach sand? I have a little bit from Redondo Beach, California in small mason jars in the bathroom, and could use a little bit from that mixed into the gesso, if this could work.

What a wonderful website!!! So I bought a roll of 2.5m x10m raw cotton canvas. The plan is to make two painting with this using acrylic paints. I have black gesso.. 1) Do I have to stretch the canvas before I gesso and paint or can I do it as is and then mount, stretch or frame etc? 2) The size of these paintings is clearly quite large so I was hoping to gesso, roll away (hide from kids and dog), paint a bit, roll away, paint more, roll away, etc till I finished. Is this possible or do I really have to stretch and painting like that?

Hi Will, I am new to the world of acrylic painting. I have been spending my time learning and trying different techniques, and gradually building an arsenal of supplies/tools. My question is about gesso. I understand its purpose now, but wonder why would one tint it. What does one consider when choosing a tint. Thank you for the great website.

I work with oils on wood. When I paint I like for it to be slightly transparent for the patterns and the grain of the wood to show through similar to the work of Audrey Kawasaki. I was wondering how you gesso or prime the wood and still be able to get that effect ?

Hi Carolyn, if its acrylic painting she would just need to apply a couple of coats of gesso to the canvas, ideally stretched onto stretcher bars to keep the canvas taught. Yes, sometimes the first layers of gesso will drip through if it is a loose weave on the canvas, you can then just apply another coat on top. Hope this helps,

I have just stumbled across your blog in my search for help. I am thinking that you in your wisdom will be able to help me. I am a photographer, and am wanting to create some painted canvas backdrops. The backdrops would be rolled up when not in use. I have purchased a roll of pre-primed 10oz canvas from an art supplier. My questions are: 1. Do I need to prime it again with gesso to ensure that the paint that I paint on it does not crack when it is rolled up, stored and unrolled again? 2. What kind of paint should I be using? It will be a solid colour on the backdrop (not a design). 3. How many layers of paint should I be painting on? I have heard to get great coverage, I can do up to 7/8 layers (mostly for texture in the backdrop? 4. Do I need to seal it with something to ensure that the paint does not peel/crack?

To answer your questions: 1. Do I need to prime it again with gesso to ensure that the paint that I paint on it does not crack when it is rolled up, stored and unrolled again?

Dear Will Kemp, I have just been told that sanding my canvas after painting it with white gesso creates a serious problem. Apparently the Titanium white is toxic when inhaled . If inhaled over a long period of time is a carcinogen. Would it be safer to use clear gesso for priming the canvas? I use it on ready made stretched canvas to make the surface smoother to paint on. Is the Titanium safe if left contained in the paint and not sanded? If not what other white could I use,please.? Thank you, as always, for all your help and advice.I really appreciate you and admire your work and generosity . 041b061a72


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