Sunday, August 23, 2009

Making your own gesso may not be for everyone. If you can say what you want to say on an acrylic primed canvas board that's fine. For many painters it's hard enough finding to time to paint let alone prepare materials, but if you can work with good commercial panels and canvases so much the better. If your skills, however, are at a level where commercial products are keeping you from fully expressing what you have to say then you may want to look into preparing your own materials. The ground is the foundation of the painting, whatever is painted on that support will be affected by its strength and quality. The story of the three little pigs, as every young artist knows, is really a parable about preparing canvases and panels.
When you come to the final stage of preparation, the final glue and tone, you are starting to create your painting. The color you choose for the tone is the first color choice of your painting.

Earth colors are the most common choice. They are inexpensive and give you a gentle but solid support. Here I used raw umber. It is a warm, quiet color that will not overwhelm whatever I put on top of it. Ivory black works in the same way but is a cooler tone. They are like your best friends. Comforting, supportive but not intrusive.

If raw umber and ivory black are your best friends than terra rosa is more like a spouse. All the good qualities of your best friend but more exciting. It is a very jazzy, sexy, rich tone that wants to be part of the painting. It can drag down light colors if they are applied too thinly, but it can liven up a painting if it is allowed to show through from time to time.

Now if terra rosa is like a spouse then thalo green would be your mistress. It is a daring and dangerous tone, one that should not be used without careful consideration. Thalos are attractive but very strong colors and could easily overpower your painting. You might think you have everything under control only to realize later that the thalo ground has infected every color you put on top and ruined your beautiful painting.

Uh oh, this is starting to sound a bit too much like pygmalion and galatea.....

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's been a while since my last post. I haven't been painting, I've been preparing materials. A new batch of canvases are in the works, I described that process in an earlier post. I'm also preparing gessoed panels. Most of the commercial panels are prepared with acrylic gesso which I find to be too slippery and insensitive to my artistic touch. There are now some better products starting to appear on the market but I prefer to make my own. It is a lean ground made with chalk and glue water. First I decide on the support to be gessoed. Wood panels, masonite or paper all work well. I do not recommend this gesso for stretched canvas because it is not very flexible and could crack under stress. For this project I am using masonite and had two 4' x 8' sheets cut to size giving me 36 panels to prepare. All you need to make the gesso is a hot plate, a pot, a wooden spoon, rabbit skin glue, water and chalk. I use commercial whiting but gypsum or any other chalk should be fine, feel free to experiment, you may find that you are an inventor as well as an artist. Add 1 oz of rabbit skin glue to 20 oz of water and gently heat them together until the glue is dissolved. Stirring the water while heating will keep the glue from settling to the bottom of the pot. Then slowly add 20 oz of chalk. Like the glue it will settle to the bottom in a clump so continue stirring. When the chalk and glue water have completely combined the gesso is ready. Using a large brush apply the gesso to the panels (I like to keep the gesso warm and stir it ocassionally) and set them aside to dry. Allow them to dry overnight then lighly sand the surface and apply a second coat. Repeat the process adding a third and fourth coat. Finally make a pot of fresh glue water, also 20:1, and apply this with a bit of dry color as the finishing coat.....