View Full Version : Another grounds/gesso thread!

03-06-2019, 01:00 PM
Have to apologize for bringing up an oft discussed topic here (and I have read many of those threads) but hope I can get some opinions on what to do.

In my slow progression in oil painting, I have started making my own panels. In preparing the surface I first used gesso, acrylic dispersion ground (from what I understand), sold in small tubs. The resultant surface was OK, but I wouldn't describe it as nice. This was a couple years ago but, as I remember, the surface was slippery and very absorbent. Plus, even the cheap brands I found were very expensive here. Maybe I didn't use the right brand, but it wasn't the surface I was hoping for. So I decided to try something different.

First I tried Rustoleum spray paint, as described by Stephan Baumann. I couldn't find the same product in Canada that he described, but found something close. It was OK, but the surface was incredibly slippery, moreso than the gesso I tried, and very difficult to apply paint over. Not at all what I hoped for.

I then saw a You-tube video by Trent Gudmundsen where he uses Zinsser cover stain as his ground. We had some Kilz cover stain remaining from a house project that, to my understanding, is the same product but by a different company. I have now tried it on a couple of panels. Initially I found it somewhat slippery on the first layers, but nicer with more paint applied. However, I have found it to be very absorbent and the paint dulled very quickly. The oil seems to be drawn out of the paint even as I apply it. Again, not what I was hoping for.

I thought of other surface preps, such a XIM as mentioned here by contumacious on this forum, but can't find that here in Canada. Given my experience with the Rustoleum spray, I don't want to try something close and be frustrated again.

So, I have decided to not be so cheap (! - I do admit that I am cheap!) and try a good quality gesso or oil painting grounds (such as Gamblin). I have a few questions about each:

Gesso - hoping for recommendations on a good brand. The ones I have tried, to date, were not good but I did pick up cheaper stuff.
Oil Ground - Gamblin appears to be one of the few I can find. Are there others to consider? Gamblin's video recommends mixing it a little with Gamsol, but I presume any OMS would work? I have Mona Lisa OMS.

Finally, in regards to a size. I have read that PVA glue (GAC100 - which I have used in the past), Shellac and Polyurethane can all be used as a size. I have also recently read that there is a different product better than GAC100 (the name escapes me right now) for a size. I may have read that on Wetcanvas but can't find it as I'm typing this. I think it might be necessary when using gesso, but Gamblin says it is not necessary with their oil ground. Is it still a good idea with the ground? Would think it is a good idea, particularly on the sides and back of a panel to protect it from moisture, at minimum?

03-06-2019, 02:05 PM
Got busy and hit the post button before I was done...

One further question - between gesso and oil grounds, which gives the nicer surface? That may be a subjective question, but appreciate any opinions.

Richard P
03-06-2019, 02:05 PM
So you want a non-absorbent and non-slippery gesso? You could try clear gesso which is an acrylic gel with silicia in for tooth. It's not as absorbent as white gesso and very toothy (which can be sanded down with a very fine sandpaper).

03-06-2019, 03:50 PM
Found an answer on the sizing question. Thought I had seen it before and remembered where to check. Ampersand mentions sizing on panels for both gesso and oil grounds. Sounds like the right procedure to follow.

Comes down to gesso or oil grounds and, if gesso, which brand(s) give good results.

03-06-2019, 04:34 PM
Wood Panels:

Oil Ground
Gamblin oil ground can go directly on a wood panel. No size need although some people do it. Wood fibers are tough and can withstand the oil oxidizing process.

Acrylic Ground
If you are using Acrylic Gesso on a wood panel size / seal panel first to help lower the chance of getting (SID) Support Induced Discoloration.


Oil Ground
Cotton or linen canvas needs to be sized first. An Oil ground will burn / destroy the weaker fibers of canvas over time.

Acrylic Ground
If you are using Acrylic Gesso on a canvas it might be a good idea to size / seal first to help lower the chance of getting (SID) Support Induced Discoloration. OR you could use many more coats of gesso if you didn't want to seal it.

03-06-2019, 04:46 PM
Found an answer on the sizing question. Thought I had seen it before and remembered where to check. Ampersand mentions sizing on panels for both gesso and oil grounds. Sounds like the right procedure to follow.

Comes down to gesso or oil grounds and, if gesso, which brand(s) give good results.

There are many good brands out there - but they all have a different feel and absorbency to them. Gets into the territory of what one person likes another person hates. They all take the paint differently. Might want to try a few small containers and see what you like.

Ones I've tried, liked and use regularly - but all are very different:

Golden Acrylic Gesso Regular
Golden Acrylic Sandable Gesso (sometimes I mix with the one above)
Liqutex Acrylic Gesso
Liqutex Acrylic Clear Gesso
Fredrix Acrylic Gesso (hard to find - so don't use it anymore sad to say)

Gamblin Oil Ground
Windsor Newton Oil Ground
Natural Pigments Lead Oil Ground

03-06-2019, 05:22 PM
Oil priming yields a much nicer surface to paint on in my opinion. The absorbency of the surface that you are noting as a problem may not necessarily be a result of the priming or gesso though. It could also be a result of the paint you are using. More specifically, some pigments dry VERY matte, while others have a glossy finish; Umbers are among the worst offenders of drying matte and causing any layer applied over it to dry more matte as well. There are so many factors that lead to a more matte finish.

The finish of the painting hardly matters though, just oil it out, allow to dry thoroughly and varnish it for a nice glossy wet look if you want. I like a matte finish for some things (like portraits, except on the highlights or areas that are supposed to look wet, like eyes and highlights). This means adding a significantly thicker application of paint on areas that I want to be glossy (with some amount of oil added to it).

Harold Roth
03-06-2019, 08:52 PM
Have you tried Golden's Hard Sandable Gesso? It has calcium carbonate in it. I used that on wood and hardboard panels and it was pretty nice, much nicer than the regular gesso. You can wet sand it with one of those sanding sponges and get it smooth as ivory if you want, or apply it with a mohair roller and get various textures.

Luis Sanchez
03-11-2019, 11:31 PM
Hmm.So, I assume you are painting on rigid panels. Right? What I'd recommend is prime the surface,GAC 100 could do the trick, I am sure there are cheaper options but I don't know which ones are available to you. Ideally, you want something that is very fluid so it can penetrate the pore of the panel and seal it. For illustrative purposes, this is what I use: https://store.verlich.com/pinto/4732-sellador-barniz-pinto-120-ml.html . It is a local brand, but I guess something similar should be available to you, as you can see it is already liquid and I thin it with 30% water. Apply a layer or two, avoiding to leave marks.

Then try either:

- Any decent gesso. I fear I'll be crucified for saying this, but gesso is one of the things where the "student" quality does the trick. It is just titanium white paint + "load". The load is usually calcium carbonate which is tremendously inexpensive. One pound/half kilo should be under a dollar. The trick is to find the exact amount of resin+titanium white+calcium carbonate as to not "overload" the paint since both titanium oxide and calcium carbonate are just inert loads. That's why I always advice against "self made acrylic gesso" from youtube videos. It is just asking for trouble in one of the most crucial elements of your painting and the savings are minimal since it is cheap stuff. Any half decent company has already determined (either by themselves or just asking to their suppliers) the proper load for the resins they use and that includes the student lines. For example, the Galleria gesso from W&N gesso is totally fine. If you sized the panel it will require less layers of gesso as the panel is already "insulated" from oil reaching it. Two thin layers can do the trick if you have decent sizing under it. Let it dry and sand. This is important. Acrylic takes at least a week (in our crazy hot weather) to cure. This will be somehow absorbent depending on how much gesso you use. But it can't be absorbed too deeply due the priming layer acting as a solid barrier. It shouldn't be slippery. Brand-wise? Who knows, Pebeo studio is very cheap and has never failed me. Local brands are even cheaper but are slightly overloaded and must be thinned with water (which is ok, but they don't state it in the label so a beginner will discover it the hard way). Want to go expensive? Lukas and Schmincke seem (from my remote perspective) to have the best chemists in business. In practice almost every single half decent art materials brand will do the work. Different resins will need different loads, so each brand will be somehow different but adequate (in principle).

- An alkyd primer. This is uncommon because most brands that offer it are expensive. It is slippery, think of enamel texture. It has some load so it won't dry ultra slippery as door paint, but it is still somehow slippery. With alkyd primer you MUST use a size as oil should not get inside of the panel. This depends a lot on the material, for sure, most panels won't really rot from oil as canvas do, but it will create an uneven surface. If you are into painting detail with tiny brushes this is a good option. A rigid panel+alkyd is probably the smoothest surface.

Finally. Some level of absorbency is almost unavoidable. Some pigments are really minuscule sized particles and will penetrate the sizing, specially if solvent is used. You can also try buying small panels/canvas boards from different companies and once you find one you like it will be easier to pinpoint what kind of priming layer you should aim for.