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Careers: Arts/acrylic gesso or oil primed?

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Question
I will need to prime a raw canvas. The traditional way, which I've heard can last a thousand years, is to size the canvas with rabbit skin glue (I prefer PVA) and prime it with an oil ground. However, doing it that way will cost much more.

I've heard that chemists think oil will not bind well with an acrylic ground, over a vast number of years. But is an acrylic ground really much worse than oil? And don't most professional artits who paint in oil paint on an acrylic gesso ground?

I'd appreciate any information about this.

Answer

Hi Jim,

If you really want your paintings to last a thousand years, you would paint on a rigid support such as birch plywood and either paint directly on it, or stretch a canvas over and secure it. Over time,  oil paint is going to crack if flexed, so why give it the opportunity? The use of a panel also ensures less exposure to moisture from the backside of the canvas. Not only does this reduce the chance of swelling of acrylic polymer or rabbitskin glue sizing, but it prevents the elements from breaking down the fibers of the fabric.

Many art conservators suggest not using rabbitskin glue because it has a lot of movement due to constant swelling and contraction due to moisture in the atmosphere. Acrylic primers are a good choice for oils because they become water insoluble and their slight swelling and contraction is far less than rabbitskin glue's movement.

It's perfectly acceptable to prime a canvas with an acrylic gesso if you are intending to paint in oils. Be sure to use a quality primer, such as Liquitex (Liquitex recommends that you apply three thin coats when using oil).
The gesso needs to be thin enough to penetrate the weave of the canvas, and it needs to be made with a proper solid to binder ratio. Also, an acrylic primer needs to have been fully cured before painting with oils. Acrylics actually can take several days or even weeks to cure to the point where all of the water and additives have escaped, though it will feel dry to the touch. Because there are two very different chemistries involved between oils and acrylics, it is important that you make sure the primer gets into the canvas's interwoven threads, and that you give sufficient time to allow for proper curing (at least two or three days). Before you begin painting with oils on an acrylic gessoed surface, wipe the surface of the canvas with a cloth dampened with mineral spirits or turpentine. Acrylic gesso contains additives to enhance its performance, and some of these materials will migrate to the surface as the water evaporates. Wiping the surface should remove these additives. Let the cleaned surface dry before starting to paint on it.

You might find this site helpful:

http://homepages.ius.edu/DCLEM/ptgguide/ptggd3b.htm

I hope I've been a help.
Feel free to get back to me if I can be of further help.

-Patti  

Careers: Arts

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Patti

Expertise

I can offer tips of how to use materials as well as different techniques to try out. I'd be happy to answer questions regarding illustration, technique, materials, offer tips or questions about art in general.

Experience

I've worked professionally as an illustrator for over 25 years. I've illustrated numerous children's books, classroom games, textbook/workbooks, posters and educational materials. My work has appeared in such noteworthy publications as Highlights for Children, Scholastic Magazine, and the New York Times. Publishers I have worked with include McGraw Hill, North Atlantic Books, Hachai Publishing and MacMillan UK to name a few.

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I'd be happy to answer questions regarding illustration, technique, materials, offer tips or questions about art in general.I will not answer questions about art appraisal, or identify artwork or artists of work you own. My only request is that you write me using standard English and punctuation.

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