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Preparing a stable surface for painting

Paints and Tools, Tips and Ideas

There may be certain instances when an artist is not concerned with their work lasting a long time; maybe for a one time installation piece or possibly they want their work to speak to the temporary nature of all things. However, most of us would like our work to live on as a legacy of who we were or what we had to say. Me? I’m just hoping my kids don’t throw it all in a trash bin some day! 

         priming1            priming2

So what can we do to ensure that our work will stand the test of time? We can start by using the best professional grade art materials available. Ah-hem, Liquitex anyone? But is that really the start? No, think of it this way; a good painting surface is just like the foundation of a house. You can build me the most beautiful house, but if the foundation is weak it will fall apart sooner or later and I will not be happy! Keeping that in mind let’s discuss the best surfaces for painting with all those great Liquitex products you’ve amassed over the years.

Acrylics are quite comfortable on almost any surface, from paper, to canvas, to brick, wood and more. But that doesn’t mean you should start painting on any old dirty surface. Substrates (the fancy word for surfaces) that are greasy, oily, or shiny are the exceptions. Plastic surfaces should be sanded before painting; while leather surfaces should be degreased with rubbing alcohol. It’s also important to remember that on a smooth surface, paint will dry more slowly and move more freely, while a more porous and absorbent surface will have the opposite effect. Absorbency is key to preparing your surface so let’s use the most popular one, canvas, as an example. Painting with oil on raw canvas is not recommended because the oil will eventually weaken the canvas fibers. Acrylic allows you the freedom to do this, but the paint will act as a stain rather than a vibrantly colored paint film because the canvas will be too absorbent. That’s where Gesso comes in.



Let’s be perfectly clear on something. True gesso is rabbit skin glue with calcium carbonate added for a white, opaque color. It’s used only on very rigid surfaces like wood panels because it’s brittle and would crack if used on canvas which flexes. It acts as a sealer for the wood panel to temper its absorbency. Today, when most artists use the term gesso, they’re referring to an acrylic primer like those made by Liquitex. Liquitex Professional Gesso is used to seal, prime and add tooth to all surfaces such as canvas, wood, paper and metal. They are flexible, non-cracking and do not yellow over time, plus, they also come in a number of varieties.

Liquitex Professional Gesso can be used or mixed with an acrylic color to create a tinted ground. One of my personal favorites is Liquitex Professional Clear Gesso. I love it because of the tooth (roughness) it adds to a surface in my mixed media collage work. Sometimes I may use a found paper object as my surface that tend to be quite slick. That’s not such a bad thing but if I want to draw on that surface with charcoal or pastel, you can imagine that either of those drawing materials would not leave much of a mark if any. Liquitex Professional Clear Gesso will provide the tooth needed for charcoal or pastel work but still allow me to see the image underneath. It too can be tinted with an acrylic color if desired.

If you like a gray ground for grisaille work, Liquitex makes Neutral Gray Gesso or Black Gesso if you prefer a really dark ground. Both of them have amazing covering power, no kidding; this is one artist speaking to another here! Finally, if major texture is your thing you may get a kick out of Liquitex Professional Super Heavy Gesso. Dollar for dollar it’s cheaper to build texture in the beginning stage of a painting with Super Heavy Gesso than acrylic paint which contains expensive pigments.

Beginning your work with a stable ground is one of the most important things to do when seeking to create art that lasts a lifetime. There’s a lot more that can be said on this subject so thankfully we’ve got some resources that will set you on the right path. Be sure to visit for information on all the varieties of Liquitex Professional Gesso but to get even more in depth information on their proper use download the Liquitex Acrylic Book here



June 01, 2013 < Back To News

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