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Painting/acrylic gesso or oil primed?


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 an oil ground? And don't most professional artits who paint in oil paint on an acrylic gesso ground?

I'd appreciate any information about this.

ANSWER: Dear Jim,

While I was trained how to prime a canvas with the above mentioned method including rabbit skin glue, I have quite honestly never utilized this method in my own paintings nor do I teach and/or recommend it.  The fact is that today's artist-grade gessoes much easier to apply.  If you are a serious painter and are looking for a superior gesso, I recommend and personally use Holbein Acryla Super White Gesso.  Allow me to mention that I have used other brands such as: Grumbacher, Winsor & Newton, and Sennelier and found them to be quite good; however, my personal preference is Holbein.

The following is information about Holbein Acryla Super White Gesso and related gessoes:
(Product Information supplied by Holbein) Holbein Acryla Super White Gesso is the ultimate artist-grade underpainting ground for waterbased colors, oil-based colors, and pastels.

Available in four textures, this gesso dries to a perfect matte finish without brushstrokes. It also offers exceptional covering power, dense pigmentations, and a superb lightfastness rating.

Each of the four gessoes can be tinted with acrylic colors.

White, Coarse Texture This gesso creates a surface with a fine sand texture.

White, Extra Coarse Texture This gesso creates a surface with a rough sand surface.

White, Medium Texture This gesso creates a matte acrylic surface.

White, Smooth Texture This gesso creates a surface with an eggshell appearance and feel.

You should be able to find this product at your local art store but if your can't, Dick Blick sells this product at a very fair and reasonable price.  Their contact information is as follows:

(By the way, if your are still interested in utilizing the rabbit skin glue method, Dick Blick sells this as well under the brand name of Enkaustikos.#

Dick Blick Art Materials

P.O. Box 1267

Galesburg, IL 61402-1267

Phone #800# 828-4548

Fax #800) 621-8293

Robert M. Vincent

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Since I read that I can size my raw canvas with acrylic gesso, that's exactly what I did. However, the gesso soaked through the fibers of the linen canvas and much of it shows on the back of the canvas.

That just doesn't look right. Perhaps I needed to apply something like PVA glue as sizing first, before applying the gesso. The canvas was very expensive and I may have to discard it. What do you think I should do? The canvases that are sold primed don't look like gesso has seeped to the back, so I'm sure they apply a sizing before the gesso.

Dear Jim,

I am not sure I understand. If the front of the canvas appears to be fine, why the worry about the back?  If you have ever seen the back of paintings that were painted prior to 1900, they would look very different from the primed canvases for sale at art stores.

If I have not addressed your concern(s), please let me know.

Robert M. Vincent


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Robert M. Vincent


Past/Present clients include several galleries and specialty retail shops in Louisiana, Texas, and Florida. Also, several commissions in Watercolor, Oil Paintings, Glass & Tile Mosiac, Charcoal, and Metal Sculpture from large corporations to private collectors.

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