View Full Version : Gesso instead of white paint?

05-28-2010, 08:45 AM
I'm sure this has probably been asked here before so forgive me. I searched but couldn't find it, and I know some people here are real experts on paint.

I've heard some people say they use gesso in place of white acrylic paint. Are there any problems doing this? Yesterday I ran out of white paint while working on a large painting and had to use gesso. I added some gel to give it a little more body. Is there any reason I shouldn't do this? Am I a chump for buying white paint in a little tube if gesso by the bucket works just as well?


George Servais
05-28-2010, 09:02 AM
I use gesso all the time in lieu of white paint but I have to say not all gessos are created equal. Some gesso is made almost like a whitewash and its only real use is as a primer. I wouldn't use just any gesso. My favorite is Grumbacher Acrylic Gesso. It is thick, creamy and very opaque. I use it not only as a primer but as my main white, my texture medium and it is great for blending and opaquing. A jar lasts me quite a while. Because it is very opaque it is great for covering over previously painted canvas (usually in only one coat).
I do keep a tube of Titanium White just for adding final highlights (for that extra sparkle)

05-28-2010, 09:57 AM
I've used it on occasion, mainly because for me it doesn't turn anything I may add color wise to an ashen tone like titanium white does. Titanium white is the most nearly neutral color but it's actually a slightly cool white and will and can turn colors grayish..ashen I call it, it quickly can turn grayish in pale color mixtures. The gesso doesn't seem to do this so it's useful when you want to long term avoid this in my thinking anyway.

I use Grumbacher gesso, and I agree it's full bodied but thins nicely as well and when I use it to coat a surface it's because it contains a marble dust compound that I like very much. I keep a regular tube of Old Hollands Extra Opaque White but in general I don't really use that much white when I paint, except for zinc white, I don't see anything wrong with using gesso at all.

For those who do impasto work or texture's I'd think it would work extremely well, I don't but I do use it on occasion like I said and never have had a problem doing so.


05-28-2010, 02:59 PM
I use Golden paint and gesso so I emailed their tech support and got the following response in case anyone else is interested:

Our Gesso can be used as a kind of white paint for fine art purposes, however, it has it's own particular consistency that is very self leveling and much thinner than our Heavy Body colors. And it has it's own specific characteristics built in that may or may not suit all artists or all working methods.

It is not really a matter of good or bad as much as understanding that, if you do use Gesso as your white, it will have the same limitations of a Gesso: namely, it must be used thinly, as very thick applications can crack while drying, and it will level, so is not conducive to holding brushstrokes. Also, keep in mind, that Gesso is very porous and therefore more prone to collecting dirt and dust, and as a very matte product is more easily scratched and marred. Beyond that, it is certainly a material you can use as part of your palette.

05-28-2010, 05:08 PM
I use gesso for my white all the time and only use titanium white when I want something real white as in highlights. A tube lasts me forever.:lol: The one person I took a workshop from also used gesso.

05-28-2010, 05:39 PM
Another, warmer option is Titanium Buff. Being a warmer color but still quite light it is a good color for mixing, especially the warm colors.

05-29-2010, 12:58 AM
I know this topic is all over the place here on WetCanvas or it used to be, so it might be a search glitch or some missing data from one of the crashes or upgrades (I know some of my previous posts just weren't there shortly after one of the upgrades, just poof-gone. Shrug.)

It depends on what you are trying to accomplish with the "paint", not the "color".

And not all gesso behaves the same, not all gesso behaves the same as paint in the same line, etc.

Like the tech answer from Golden indicates, gesso is usually made to be kind of porous and matte so that the paint that is applied on top of it will stick (among other reasons and purposes for gesso).

Usually, I want paint as my paint and gesso as the undercoat, depending on the substrate. To me, gesso is not paint and doesn't behave or look like paint on the surface. Yes, it can be white, but there is much more to a paint to me than just the 'color'.

YMMV, and it is your art. Just be aware of what and why you are doing something.

05-29-2010, 10:05 AM
I almost ALWAYS use white gesso in lieu of Titanium white. I like the flow better than Titanium. I use Titanium when I want to lighten thicker paint.

Shirl Parker
05-29-2010, 11:01 AM
Jerry Yarnell only uses white gesso for paint in all his training videos.

George Servais
05-29-2010, 10:59 PM
I use Golden paint and gesso so I emailed their tech support and got the following response in case anyone else is interested:

Grumbacher has none of the problems that Golden seems to have. I have used it in very thick applications and NO cracks, it does not level out, I use it much like modeling paste to create texture, it is not soft at all, in fact it seems to be harder than the paint when it dries and it is a matte finish but no more porous than the paint I use (Liquitex). Grumbacher is much different and obviously Golden's gesso is made just for priming.

05-30-2010, 11:28 AM
Thanks George. I may have to give theirs a try. If you varnish a painting I don't know why it being porous would matter anyway.

05-31-2010, 07:37 AM
I'm sure this has probably been asked here before so forgive me. I searched but couldn't find it...
I can see why you had difficulty since the internal WC search excludes the word instead if you try to search for "gesso instead white" :(

Here are a few of the older threads on the same topic:
Gesso instead of titanium white??? (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=294196)
Gesso vs. white paint (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=337836)
about mixing gesso with paint (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=480469)
Gesso as medium (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=185219)


05-31-2010, 11:39 AM
Thank you Einion.

06-01-2010, 08:55 AM
Welcome, hope the previous threads give you more info that you find useful.