Plain Paint or Gesso?

Filed under You Asked!

Today’s question comes from Soroya and she asks:

“Is it ok to use plain paint prior on canvas or do you have to use Gesso? If so why. I am an American living in the UK and I find art supplies very expensive here. The gesso that is of a good quality is expensive, so I thought primer is not a bad cost why not? Thanks for any help in this matter.”

Do you have any information that might help Soroya?

Please leave your response below under the “Comments” Section. Thanks!

Comments

47 Comments on "Plain Paint or Gesso?"

  1. Lonnie on Fri, 26th Sep 2008 12:45 am 

    Soroya,

    If your plain paint is oil paint the oil will rot your canvas.
    Acrylic paint probably would not last as long as Gesso.

  2. Jeni on Fri, 26th Sep 2008 1:52 am 

    Hi Soroya,
    What a great practical question for us beginners,
    I do not use acrylics yet but I was talking to a friend the other day and she uses mostly acrylics and she said she covers paintings that she has lost inspiriation on and is wanting to use the canvas again with car paint and then starts and entirely new painting so it is propbably worth trying your idea or hers – we have similar product cost issues here living in Bali as every thing is imported ( except the car paint :)) Many of the local people here also paint with acrylic house paint ( the owner of an art supply store told me this as he had heaps of it in his store) so that may be another option – please let us know how shat you come up with that is a success and much joy in your painting
    Jeni

  3. john bowmamn on Fri, 26th Sep 2008 2:14 am 

    gesso or ordinary paint on canvas?
    I have used house acrylic paint for over 20 years and no complaints with it.
    the thing is to get a good quality acrylic
    I use a self primer acrylic at present
    Hope this helps

  4. Gill on Fri, 26th Sep 2008 9:24 am 

    My husband uses primer and it works just fine

  5. Joyce Smith on Fri, 26th Sep 2008 10:41 am 

    I live in Cyprus and art materials are not always easily available. I have been told the household emulsion paint is a good substitute for gesso – it is cheap and comes in a multitude of colours – good luck.

  6. Soroya on Tue, 30th Sep 2008 1:58 pm 

    OOPs what a goof I meant to write plain acrylic primer not prior hope everyone understood
    Thank you all for the suggestions and encouragements. I will let you know how it worked out
    ~Soroya

  7. Karin Wells on Thu, 2nd Oct 2008 5:25 pm 

    Gesso is archival. Raw canvas requires a “barrier” or the paint won’t handle properly, will sink in and eventually rot the canvas.

    Don’t use house paint -ever – if you are serious about painting and want your work to last.

    House paint is for houses, not canvas.

  8. Mike Walker on Tue, 14th Oct 2008 8:06 pm 

    Hi Soroya,
    I have used both acrylic primer and gesso on canvas. The primer is OK as long as you remember that the painting may not last as long. I normally gesso my canvases and use top quality materials for all my work so they will last well after I am gone. I also reflect this in my prices. I don’t see a problem with using “cheaper” materials that willl probably outlast yourself. Who knows how long modern acrylic paint will last when applied to canvas, & probably many professionals are using acrylic primers on their canvas. Go for it!

  9. seemore clearly on Tue, 11th Nov 2008 2:46 am 

    Until makers of “artists” colors put their formulations on the tube of paint, unless you are a chemist with a test facility, all you can do is take someone’s word that the paint will last. With acrylic house paint, Consumers and others test for longevity. If a good quality exterior paint lasts for 15 years under the harshest of conditions, on a properly prepared canvas and sealed afterword, a painting should last a pretty long time. Makers of artist’c colors have a bias–they want you to buy their expensive paint–and so won’t tell you that their formulation may be identical to Behr or Sherwin WIlliams or whoever.
    Elsevier has at least 2 books out with hundreds of acrylic paint formulations and they cost 150$ each and they are meant for professionals in the trades. Obviously there are lots of possibilities in making acrylic paint.
    Student quality paints may be house paints for all we know. When artist paint mfgrs start putting content labels on, then we can be sure of what we are getting. There is of course also the “snob” appeal of using Grumbacher instead of Sherwin-Williams. WHich brand did Pollack use? Oils crack, acylics can crack but they have plastisizers to prevent that so who knows. Acrylics don;t yellow.

  10. angus on Wed, 1st Jul 2009 7:58 pm 

    1.Plastic polymer paint is not Gesso. “Real” Gesso (which means ‘gypsum’ in Italian), is primarily rabbit glue and gypsum.
    2.Most “gesso” used today is a plastic polymer.
    3.Acrylic paint needs no “gesso”. Modern “gesso” was formulated by acrylic paint companies so they could sell more acrlic product. You can put acrylic paint directly on most grounds.
    4.Oil and egg tempera paints should be used with their traditional gesso formulas, and not acrylic “gesso”. Acrylic “gesso” is too flexible for these paints.
    5.All of the above only matters if a painting is expected to last a long time. You can use plactic under oil or cheap house paint primers if you do not care about eventual peeling or stretching. There have been cases where impoverished artists have used cheap materials, with unfortuate long-term results. On the other hand, if you use $100 a tube artist paint and are a hack, who will keep your acrchival-quality rubbish?
    6.Student paints are better than house paints. House paint is designed with very cheap pigments. House paint does not need to last much longer than a decade. Student paints of low pigment quality would give the manufacturer a bad reputation in ten years, and they cannot afford that. I know this from speaking with a factory rep from a major supplier of artist and student paints. Student paints have less pigment, and sometimes may have lower quality pigments, but any from a reputable manufacturer are designed with lightfastness and stability in mind.

  11. Jeremy Worst on Mon, 19th Oct 2009 5:36 am 

    Angus …That should be all people need to here! .. use Gesso if you want to be proffesional about painting..

    I stretch my own canvases and use the Liquitex Acrylic Gesso .. its awesome..and covered lots of huge canvases but it does cost alot if your not selling pieces on time….

    check out my work at jeremyworst.blogspot.com
    .-= Jeremy Worst´s last blog ..First Animal Painting … Bird =-.

  12. Redsam on Thu, 17th Dec 2009 6:32 pm 

    I have seen several sites where this discussion has the same two sides…the practical folks who recommend ordinary acrylic primer vs. the artist types who recommend ‘gesso’.
    What I don’t understand (the purists never explained) why or how the artist gesso is different. After all, it is acrylic as well and as far as I know, they must buy ‘acrylic’ from the same manufacturers that make Home Depot style acrylic primer. If it is different somehow, I would like to know. Just the facts please. Oil paint gets past the acrylic primer and rots the canvas? Really? How come Rembrandt’s paintings did not rot? Please show me the pictures where the canvas has rotted. Thank you.

  13. Jay Babina on Tue, 6th Apr 2010 10:56 am 

    Gesso has a harder ground and more of it than regular acrylic paint. Regular acrylic house paint will leach oils through whereas gesso will not. House primer will leach too unless you use Bin or one of those that specifically state they will not leach. If you paint on Gesso with oils, you can use a paper towel and wipe away to a white surface. If you use common house paint it gets absorbed and you cannot. If you’re painting with oils on canvas you want Gesso so no oil infiltrates to the canvas. With Acrylic you don’t have to worry about that but the Gesso surface will be harder if that’s what you like. There’s really not much price difference of any between Gesso and a good house paint.

    I paint oils on Masonite with a coat of Gesso and a 2nd coat of house paint. I like the absorbing quality when I paint plein air because my thin oil sketch dries fast but I have the protection of Gesso too.

  14. Trisha on Tue, 27th Jul 2010 12:01 pm 

    What about oil-based primers? would these be more effective on canvases?

  15. wes on Thu, 19th Aug 2010 2:17 pm 

    I used to use drywall primer, but my painting instructor made me try gesso. It lets the oil paint move allot better, and I feel it doesnt soak the paint up as much as drywall primer. Also, for acrylic paint it never made a difference to me.

  16. AJ on Tue, 23rd Nov 2010 1:40 pm 

    Gesso has glue remember? so all you guys have to do is buy oops paint from home depot couple bucks, add wood glue or simple paper glue and even chalk powder or gypsum if you would like and now you are a real artist because, real artist make their own crafts just ask Michelangelo, Picasso, and van.
    by adding glue to house paint the oil wont soak the panel or the canvas anymore.

  17. shajar on Thu, 6th Jan 2011 12:24 pm 

    I’m also have a same problem like you soraya.. I got 1 way from internet searching how to replace gesso… take a look at this article..Basically I mix up stucco with PVA adhesive. You can get stucco relatively cheaply from DIY and hardware stores and PVA adhesive is available from many craft stores. Stucco can be bought in either ready mixed or powder form and provides really the ‘meat’ for the texture. However, as it is quite brittle when used thickly it is advisable to add the PVA adhesive. This gives it a bit more flexibility on a stretched canvas in particular, which it will need so that it does not break off. I tend to use a 4:1 mixture of stucco to PVA. please inform me if u success using above method..

  18. Daisy on Fri, 28th Jan 2011 1:35 am 

    I have paintings from the late 60′s and early 70′s that are in excellent shape. I used flat white latex paint on cotton duck. No complaints here.

  19. Sparksrick on Fri, 4th Feb 2011 8:52 pm 

    Asked myself, “Whats the difference between gesso ($10 a quart) and a good primer, such as Kilz. No, don’t own any paint stock.
    Looked at the Material Safety Data Sheet for both Kilz and a couple of Gesso products. They’re all similar, variations are in the amounts and proprietary ingredients, that none of them will disclose.
    Background:
    Classis gesso: chalk (calcium carbonate) and hide glue.
    Hide glue cracks over time because it absorbs moisture and will expand and contract. This allows oils to penetrate and rot the linen or cotton fibers in the canvas.
    Enter acrylic polymer and modern gesso:
    Chalk (ditto), titanium dioxide or some other white pigment, and an acrylic polymer emulsion, now water-based, although Bocour offered a mineral spirits-based version in the 1950′s. The acrylic which is much more stable than hide glue.
    Enter Kilz: it has the same ingredients at half the price. A 2-gallon bucket at a familiar big box home improvement store near me is $25

  20. Sparksrick on Fri, 4th Feb 2011 9:15 pm 

    Oil of any kind will rot the fibers. Wad up a cotton rag saturated with oil paints in the bottom of a trash can, and you might even start a fire. The explanation for that is long, just don’t do that.
    Acrylic Polymer emulsions made with water as the solvent have been around long enough to qualify as archival, almost a hundred years. The original acrylic artist paints, made by Bocour in the 50′s were made with mineral spirits and were compatible with traditional oil paints. Liquitex came out with the first tubes of water-based acrylic paints in the 60′s.
    The purpose for priming or gesso-ing your support is to seal the canvas or seal the panel or whatever you’re planning to paint on, and provide a stable support for the medium you choose. The chalk and/or titanium dioxide and/or other pigment provides a nice surface for the media to cling to. Nope, artists acrylic paints do not have to be used over Gesso or primer. They stick to my clothes just fine for years.
    The basic principle of paint versus primer is that primer provides an opaque background, because the grains are big flat flakes that overlap in the layer of binder, and hide anything underneath. Paint has finer grains, but you get what you pay for: the best paints have a higher proportion of pigment to binder.
    Use a brand name “gesso” if it makes you feel more confident. Me, I need to save some coin, and I have a gallon of acrylic polymer emulsion water-based primer in the garage.

  21. Maria LaPeca on Fri, 4th Mar 2011 10:21 am 

    Wow, i am so happy to read all your comments. i do live paintings at my church. 8′x 8′. we reuse the canvas alot. i was thinking of saving my church lots of money by using regular acrylic paint primer instead of jesso. this art is created to match our pastors sermon and not intended to sell or last forever. i am so happy to read that i will be able to use regular primer instead for this. thank you all for your comments. enjoy painting. muah

  22. Mitch on Mon, 7th Mar 2011 9:54 pm 

    What about a first layer of regular acrylic primer and then 2nd or 3rd coats of acrylic gesso? I paint on hardboard and i would like to know if i could use regular to just get my board white so i dont have to use as much gesso.

  23. the maximus on Mon, 25th Apr 2011 3:13 pm 

    i was at joann fabrics getting some gesso well the framing lady told me that its just flat paint and that any flat paint will do, well i have one up on most of the folks here i think and i hope it helps, I use to own/run a painting company for about 15 years infact and i can tell you that a real good flat satin key word there satin or eggshell id say egg shell because satin has a shine and no, for the wizards out there satin and eggshell are not the same i have painted them next to each other they are not the same but to answer the question in bold print all you have to do is write a letter to the maker of the gesso brand you use and they have to under the consumers rights law give you a free copy of the chemical breakdown of there product because it is so widely used and yes toxic then compare the notes and see what is different id say that the gesso is more stretchy i think it has a silicone in it as to where reg house paint does not but unless your leaving your paintings in the rain id say try a couple what ya got to loose besides 20 bucks for trying there is an old saying try caus in 20 yr’s you can look back and say i know what would have happend because i atleast tried it!

  24. albatross on Tue, 24th May 2011 3:52 pm 

    Just to add a little confusion. I use ‘Dulux Weathershield’ Smooth masonary paint instead of Gesso. I had a conversation with a VERY knowledgable professional in the field of ‘paint research’. He told me that Dulux spend millions of $ or £ on research developing coatings. He catagorically stated that the acrylic polymer in the ‘Weathershield’ product is the best acrylic polymer available. I’m in the UK. I don’t know what is available in your countries. It is half the price of a cheap gesso. If you want to see the spec’s go to the Dulux website.

  25. Des on Wed, 6th Jul 2011 6:19 am 

    I have been following the discussion and would like to try some gesso. I have managed to get hold of some at a local art store, but there is no instructions on the jar. How do I apply it? Do I dilute it? I am planning to paint a carpet.

  26. linda on Sun, 30th Oct 2011 7:54 am 

    thanks for the great tips on gesso vrs acrylic primer. I’ll be testing this out myself shortly, and I’ll post anything interesting I discover.

  27. billy on Tue, 24th Jan 2012 6:12 pm 

    All gesso contains acrylic emulsion consisting of titanium white, calcium carbonate and liquid plastic. It’s important to use a gesso that does not contains vinyl as it will peel. The difference between gesso is the amount of ingredients a manufacturer puts into the gesso. An artist gesso would have more tooth and flexibility and better opacity than a house primer. Flexibility when dry is important. Check the canvas when dry and fold and see if the gesso cracks or shirrs at the end; can it be sanded or does it flake off? Are their air bubles? If so, this will lead to cracking. Gesso creates a barrier so the paint won’t soak through to the canvas so you don’t have to use as much paint. Also, if you use an oil paint the linseed oil can eat through the canvas, so it is not advisable to use a house primer as they aren’t archival.
    House Paint gives a “false hide” which works great on walls but not a flexible surface such as canvas or paper.

  28. Fred on Tue, 24th Apr 2012 12:13 pm 

    Folks, keep in mind that it is the art suppliers goal to keep coming up with new products that are a ” MUST HAVE ” to improve the quality of your artwork. In other words they need to keep the profits flowing. Do you honestly believe that paintings from the 17th and 18th century would still be hanginng in museums all over the world if all this new tech products were essential to longevity? The old world paintings would have rotted and cruumbled to dust by now if these products were NEEDED. Just have fun and enjoy your hobby without driving yourselves nuts over whether you are or are not using the proper materials. 99 percent of our paintings will probably wind up in a dumpster after we are deceased. The 1 percent that is truly talented will have plenty of professional help to make their work into a master piece. So, put on your smock and just enjoy yourself, other than you, who cares.

  29. grace on Tue, 22nd May 2012 10:13 pm 

    I got this gesso and the lid was very tight. but when i tryed to use it it was way to dry, what can i do to make it work. the gesso was very sticky and hard to put on the canvas. please help and let me know what to do. the gesso was put out by Artist’s loft white arcrylic gesso. I hope to receive help

  30. grace on Tue, 22nd May 2012 10:15 pm 

    thank you

  31. crystal adkins on Thu, 13th Sep 2012 9:28 pm 

    I just started using the Bob Ross wet on wet techinique and I want to paint a snow scene on a black canvas. I’m using oil paints. How do I get a black canvas? I don’t have gesso but I do have liquid black… could I use liquid black to complelty cover my canvas and start the snow scene? Thank you for any replies

  32. mtsnow on Mon, 1st Oct 2012 10:33 am 

    Most premade canvas is already ‘primed’ which I believe means coated with a gesso-like substance. To be certain, my art instructor has us go ahead and add 3 coats of ‘gesso’ in alternating directions,then the canvas is ready for your oils. Bob Ross’s liquid black is just a thin oilbase that you can used for dark scenes/landscapes. The big deal about gesso/acrylic primer is to seal the canvas, then you can apply your oils, from what I understand.

  33. Gail Knutson on Sun, 4th Nov 2012 12:03 am 

    Bob Ross has a Black Gesso, you can also buy pre gessoed black canvases at Dick Blick’ Michaels etc. Liquid black is NOT for preparing a canvas.

  34. Bruno Gellert on Fri, 1st Feb 2013 8:37 am 

    Go to a paint distributor or hardware store and read the
    Material Saftey Data information on KILZ. Specifically the alcohol-based version of KILZ. Please read it carefully.

    Now compare with the ingrediants (sp) of Gesso.

    IMO KILZ is superior than Gesso for acrylic. I have used the KILZ product on both canvas and wood. No problem in the past 20 years. Note: prime both sides

  35. lee davison on Sat, 23rd Feb 2013 10:51 pm 

    I guess Picasso never got the memo…he used HOUSE PAINT to create some of his masterpieces…but he may not have been a professional…just saying..

  36. Nancy on Tue, 26th Feb 2013 6:43 pm 

    My goal is to convert a black prestretched canvas to a white canvas in order to use it to project movies (dvds) onto. And also, to use it later on to paint on with atist’s oil paints.

    I usually buy imported Belgian linen to paint on that is pre gessoed. So, am not sure what to use to convert this black canvas to white. Is a medium priced canvas, not linen. Would like to do it cheaply.

    Any ideas?

  37. Lawsonarts on Sat, 20th Apr 2013 1:49 am 

    To put it quick and simple interior house paint is designed for solid walls with no use for flexibility where as gesso is designed to be flexible with the canvas.
    I started out myself trying all types of primer, house paints and gessos depending on budget but over the years the more I’ve learned I can strongly recommend to only use gesso, doesn’t matter how cheap and nasty the gesso it is better than the most expensive house paint based primers.

    I have a large acrylic painting in my front room which I painted back in 2006 and It was only the other week I discovered a cracked patch of paint which puzzled me as to what had happened. It was then that I remember the primer I was using at that time was low and behold household interior paint, ie no stretch so will over time peel from the canvas and crack, just think of old paint on old walls and that gives some idea as to why you shouldn’t use house paint.

  38. Tyler Durden on Mon, 26th Aug 2013 6:22 am 

    A lot of great advice here. Kinda sad to think my older paintings will be falling apart in, say, 50 years. I think im gonna just switch to acrylics. Im sure the old masters woulda been using it if it was available back then.

  39. bill lfc jones on Thu, 29th Aug 2013 3:49 pm 

    WHAT CAN I DO TO MAKE MY ACRYLICS LOOK GLOSSY BESIDES VARNISH

  40. J. Meridith Pratt on Wed, 11th Sep 2013 11:26 am 

    You certainly get on the internet and find out just how easy and cheap it is to make your own Gesso. I make my own now and it works great. Good luck and happy painting, Janice

  41. luke starky on Fri, 4th Oct 2013 12:54 pm 

    bill lfc jones on Thu, 29th Aug 2013 3:49 pm

    asks WHAT CAN I DO TO MAKE MY ACRYLICS LOOK GLOSSY BESIDES VARNISH

    answer: buy acrylic gel medium gloss….it can be mixed with the paint in the final stages or form start to finish

    recently i tried just coating the finished painting with it just usuing it like a varnish,and much to my delight it looks just like varnish and works a treat.

  42. mike on Thu, 5th Jun 2014 10:00 pm 

    I am relatively new to the art world. Frankly I am incensed at the price of art paint. I am no moron, I have practiced medicine for 36 years and I can smell a rip off as well as anyone. There is no way anyone in this world will ever convince me that a 4 oz tube of paint (Golden or Liquitex etc) should cost $6 – $13 dollars ! Outrageous rip off! I have heard the ridiculous “binder” and “pigment” arguments – NONSENSE !!! All you artists need to start a world wide revolt against these greedy snobs – Mark Golden and the bunch at Liquitex. Doing artwork is one of the great delights of this life and that small group of greedy people have created a false market (much like DeBeers has with diamonds) of profoundly and falsely elevated prices which you artists quietly go along with! Where is the entrepreneur who will start a paint company that sells paints for a fraction of the price that they are selling for today???? Come on folks, if there was ever a market opportunity this is it !! I am an old timer and were it not so, I would launch out there and make this happen. Too many aspiring artists are stifled by this rip off. By the way, there is one very famous (living) artist (whose name I will not mention) that uses Dulux 100% acrylic house paint to make their paintings (and they are outrageously vibrant and beautiful) – just like Pollack did in the past. Let’s get the truth out regarding paint and saving money. Lets get someone to develop art quality paints at a super affordable price! Lets not hinder aspiring artists any longer from proceeding because of falsely elevated paint prices. Beware of the art supply company spies who plant responses to these blogs with their rubbish arguments about “more pigment” in the paints and “better binders” made by the rip off companies? Do you really care about how much pigment is in your paint or do you care about how intense and beautiful the paints look on your canvas? “Better binders” ????? that cause paint to be $10 per 6 oz vs quality house paints that are truly 100% acrylics (Dulux) at $30 A GALLON !!!!! Come on folks – time for a grass roots revolt!

  43. robert on Wed, 30th Jul 2014 6:39 pm 

    I might be wrong, but if I understand correctly, when I go to the
    art store, and buy a canvas, any size I want, is already prepared,
    these can be on a board, or the wood frame. I just bought a couple
    size 12/16 2 for $7.50.
    All I have to do, when ready to paint, is apply the usual very light layer of liquid white ( nothing more than diluted Titanium
    white) that is it. I am of course taking advantage now of the water based Oils. No more toxic, chemicals to mix with. just plain
    ho2.
    Hope this help some one
    harpo

  44. melody on Mon, 4th Aug 2014 11:26 pm 

    Uh! still unsure what to use. I’m doing an art piece on a used acrylic covered canvas board on which I’m planning to cover over some previous art. I still need to know whether or not to use gesso or Kilz2. The Kilz2 label says that its a latex or oil based multi-purpose primer-sealer. I used the Kilz2 previously on the fachier board around my house with an acrylic top coat and after 3 years its peeling. I do live in an extreme hot, cold, & windy weather area, but still …..shouldn’t it last longer than that? And…what would happen if I primed my art piece with the latex and topped it with acrylic house paint. I’m visualizing a finshed piece of art that has a glossy ceramic appearance to it. Any tips are much appreciated.

  45. cali on Sat, 4th Oct 2014 3:54 pm 

    house paint is for houses??

    you can really use any type of latex and some acrylic based paints on raw canvas. the trick is not to over use on the first coat so it doesnt drastically soak thru. i love the ‘oops’ paint that they sell at walmart/home depot/lowes really any kind of general store. the only part is you cant really have a preference for the colors that you are going to use since these are usually very strange colors that someone didnt like. but they are under 10$ for a gallon of paint. you really cant find a better deal if you are passionate about painting yet watching your budget.

  46. shawn on Tue, 7th Oct 2014 12:07 am 

    house paints are just fine….. read up on Picasso….!

  47. jmeridithpratt on Wed, 15th Oct 2014 9:25 pm 

    Get on the internrt and learn now to make your own Gesso. It’s easy and a heck of a lot cheaper. And buy yourself a box of plain white chalk. Wipes off cleanly.

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!