Gesso, pronounced “jeh·sow”, has many uses beyond just sealing your cotton canvas. Yes, gesso can be used as a base coat, but it can also be used to add texture to the canvas! Try laying down some undiluted gesso and put some bubble wrap on it then lift it up and see what you get! Play around with a straight edge like a cake knife, palette knife, trowel, or just about anything can be used to add texture to the gesso (feather, leaf, string of beads, etc). Keep in mind the thicker the gesso, the longer it will take to dry. You can also use gesso to adhere things to the canvas like sand, fabric, and other materials which add dimension to the canvas.
Personally, I like to have my canvas ready to paint on when I'm inspired to paint. If I had to prep the canvas, then begin my painting, I'd never get a painting started! So I always have a stack of Ready-To-Paint canvas available. I use 2 base-coats of gesso then another coat with color. I do several canvases at a time, assembly-line fashion, let them dry for a couple hrs while I do something else like paint a new painting. Then go back and put another layer on and repeat. I keep all my Ready-To-Paint canvas together so I can easily see when I'm running out. I also keep the new canvas together so I can see when I'm getting low and need to reorder. I use this process for Oil and Acrylic, floral and landscape paintings. Portrait work is different as you need a smoother surface. You can use Gessobords or sanded canvas. If you plan to use canvas for a portrait, sand each gesso layer after it drys to create a smooth surface to paint on.
There are gessos for other uses too! I use Golden Absorbent Ground for Watercolor Painting and Golden Pastel Ground for Charcoal/Graphite artwork.
The Golden Absorbent Ground is an acrylic liquid that dries to a porous, paper-like surface. I use it over gessoed canvas, making it a Watercolor Canvas! Oooo! Such an exciting product! You can also prime less conventional surfaces like wood or metal with this too. The product really opens the doors to different display options for Watercolor paintings without using glass to cover this moisture sensitive medium. With that said, you will need to use a fixative to seal the painting.
The Golden Pastel Ground is a translucent acrylic ground that can be used on paper, board, or any surface you'd like. It provides a rough, "gritty" tooth, which makes it perfect for graphite or charcoal. It actually contains finely ground sand! You can use this with canvas, wood, paper, or almost any surface! The product really opens up possibilities for artwork that is typically confined to standard papers.
Although I may change my mind in the future, I currently use gesso as a base for my Oil Paintings because it is archival acceptable since it can keep oil paints and solvents from penetrating the cotton canvas. Know that some artists think acrylic gesso is not a reliable base for oil painting because it could, eventually, separate from the other components. They truly believe that using the traditional formula of Italian gesso (glue gesso) or more modern oil primers is the best way to preserve the future value of an oil painting by because it creates a 'permanent bond' which may increase the longevity of the artwork. The Smithsonian Museum currently does not permit the use of acrylic gesso under oil paint. If you are of this mindset, you can use products like Gamblin Oil Painting Ground. It's a strong, bright, non-absorbent foundation. It's fast-drying, stiffer and stronger than acrylic gesso while having a nice tooth that permanently bonds with the oil paint. Winsor & Newton also makes an alkyd-based primer for an oil painting. Life is all about choices, isn't it?
The construction of a building is reliant on its foundation allowing it to exist for hundreds of years. So too the quality of materials you use for your artwork will establish the life of your artwork.
Happy Painting Choices!
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Loves COLOR in any Medium! It's all about the feelings that are invoked by the beautiful, rich colors!