View Full Version : Tinting Gesso or replacing it completely?

03-01-2005, 04:23 PM
I'm rather new to oils and have been using an acrylic white gesso for my canvas even though it has already been "primed".

My goal is to have a soft gray or pale green background to flowers I am painting. No texture, just tone down the white background.

Can I tint the white gesso with any of the acrylic paints out there, i.e., Delta, Jo Sonja that normally would be used in tole painting?
Can I replace the white gesso with the tinted acrylic paint completely?
If I can do this with acrylics, do I need to use artist quality or will the decorative paints be enough.

Thanks in advance for your replies!

03-01-2005, 05:03 PM
Hi John and welcome to the oil painting forum.

1. Pre-primed canvases have the minimum amount of gesso required. Adding additional coats is always a good idea. I usually add 2-3, but you may want more if you prefer less canvas texture.

2. You can tint acrylic gesso with any tube acrylic color before applying it to the canvas. I would doubt that it has to be artist-grade especially if you plan to cover it up anyway.

3. I would seriously hesitate to substitute acrylic paint for gesso because there are issues with oils adhering properly to acrylic paints. The gesso, however, is correctly porous enough for adhesion.

If you already have a canvas ready for paint, you could skip the tinted gesso and simply paint an imprimatura of the tint you want. Use lead white or titanium white plus your chosen color to make a tint; thin it with some turps or oil of spike; use a bit of cloth or disposable HandiWipe to spread it on your canvas; wipe away excess to achieve the tint you want. Since you are spreading it thinly, the tint can be stronger than you might think you need.

Hope this helps.

03-01-2005, 09:18 PM
I agree with Robert, from what I've seen of acrylic-primed commercial canvases a couple of additional coats applied by the artists would probably be a good thing to do habitually (particularly when the surface has a slight sheen).

You can tint acrylic 'gesso' quite easily with acrylic paints but I would be wary of using craft paints unless you know that they're lightfast. That said, black and most earths will probably be pigmented with reliable pigments so there's unlikely to be anything to worry about with those colours and you might be able to spot a blue made using phthalo blue even if the pigments are not listed and that should always be reliable. I wouldn't recommend replacing the 'gesso' with acrylic paints as they probably don't provide enough tooth for good adhesion.

Again as Robert said you could tone your primer with thinned oil paint. There are a lot of mixtures that can give you 'soft greys' - many red earth/blue pairings work very well, black and a touch of Raw Umber might also be worth considering - and for pale greens - black with Yellow Ochre, Chromium Oxide Green, Viridian + a touch of crimson - and I'm sure others will have their favourites. If you have a lead white it would be a good choice for tinting any of these, as in addition to being naturally low in oil it will make them fast drying of course.


03-01-2005, 09:50 PM
While I would also not recomend replacing gesso completely, I will question the statement that oils will not stick properly to acrylics. I have known many people to build up layers of acrylics as underpaintings, or used it as a cheap way to build up texture before switching to oils for the final layers of blending/detail. I have done this myself without any problems (yet?). I dont mean to attack I am just wondering if you know something I don't, or if you are just making an educated assumption.
Also for what its worth, I have tinted gesso with acrylics without any problems so far. I find these techniques are a good way to start with a dark background (or as mentioned before for thick texture). If you wish to use a bright or light colored background, I would say that the traditional oil/terp wash is still best.

03-02-2005, 09:47 AM
I just finished posting this to the "Acrylics" forum on this same topic:

Acrylic Primer Tinting... (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?p=3269539#post3269539)

03-02-2005, 10:20 AM
Additionally, (just to put another option out there) there is black gesso available. You could mix a little into the white gesso to tone it down a bit.


03-02-2005, 03:54 PM
Bob Ross sells a grey gesso. Dick Blick probably sells it.

Is there a reason that you want a tinted gesso? Have you considered just tinting the canvas for the initial layer - using a tinted ground? I have really enjoyed trying different colors for this first layer.

Barb Solomon :cat:

03-03-2005, 09:21 AM

Thank you for your responses. I see a few ways to approach this and will try them all out and let you know the results.
Thanks again!

03-05-2005, 05:13 PM

Just had the chance to review your post regarding gesso and thanks for that link. Also, the art on your website is incredible! The drawings are awesome! And using old pockets from jeans to hold brushes at the easel is ingenious, (article about modifying a French easel).

It is such a privilege to communicate with so many talented artists here at wetcanvas, and I thank you all for your genuine interest.


03-05-2005, 07:19 PM
It is such a privilege to communicate with so many talented artists here at wetcanvas, and I thank you all for your genuine interest. John
I tried to go from one room in my house to another just now and my head wouldn't fit through the doorway. I'm glad it wasn't the "john" I was trying to get to! (That's my way of saying THANKS for all the kind words!) :wave:

06-30-2007, 05:24 AM
Thanks for the prompt response and advises.