Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gessoing Paper

Turner, pencil drawing on gessoed paper

Katherine asked about the gessoed paper in a recent comment. I would love to offer a great description or demonstration about gessoing paper but to be honest this is the first time I have gessoed paper to use for oil painting. In college I did a lot of experimenting with various materials and supports, but by my last year I had settled on gessoed illustration board, which I really liked and which has held up perfectly after 20+ years by the way.

Anyway, this time around I did some google searches, read through my art materials books and talked to other artists who work on paper. After my head spun around counter clockwise 35 times due to the conflicting information and overwhelming amount of process involved, I decided to keep it simple. I just wanted to do some studies on paper, a surface that would be similar to the prepped panels I normally work on, easy to store, and relatively inexpensive.

So this is what I did: I had a pad of 140lb cold press watercolor paper on hand, so I cut each piece in half and taped them down to my work table. I applied three coats of gesso (it dries very quickly), then pulled off the tape and applied three coats to the other side. The paper was still wrinkled (I will use 300lb paper next time) and so I put a piece of release paper on the surface and ironed both sides. This worked pretty well to flatten the paper and so I taped each piece down to a scrap piece of hardboard so that I could work on a firm surface as well as easily move them from my easel to the drying shelf etc.

I have since found some more recommendations concerning paper. I have a few pieces of this on order and will try it next.

Also, when I was in Vermont, one of the other residents introduced me to the wonders of (Gamblin) PVA Size. She said that could be used to size regular drawing paper, which could then be painted on, even with oil. She used it for her studies often. I tried it while I was there and at first the paper wrinkled like crazy. But the next day it was perfectly flat and so I used it for one of the figures that I did there. I have been meaning to use the sizing again, and now that I have said this maybe I will feel motivated to pull out the bottle and try it again. Not sure how archival working like this is, but really these are just studies and experiments so I am not going to think about the next 400 years for now.

Well, I can't imagine that I have been very helpful here at all! Plenty of you must know much more about gessoing paper than I do so feel free to leave a comment and offer all of us a few more tips. Google searches are good too; "gessoing paper" yielded the most info for me.

Oh and by the way, I use Utrecht brand, acrylic Gesso. Probably not the best gesso ever, in fact it's not even authentic gesso, nor is it oil based which many think should be used when painting with oils (again, my head is spinning), but I like its surface and Utrecht has been my first choice ever since college.


Kim Morin Weineck said...

Hi Tracy,

Excellent post about the chemistry of gessoing paper.

I have used PVA size from Gamblin and love it.

Painting on gessoed paper is fun---my problem has always been about framing. Does it need to go under glass with a spacer?

Have you framed your gessoed paper pieces?

Thanks for your blog posts, Tracy. Keeps me plugging away, too!

Giselle C. Gautreau said...

hello! I've primed paper in much the same way as you Tracy. I also just tape it to a rigid surface, and move that to my easel. I love having the studies, and even those tend to find homes with friends or as gifts.

Kim- re: framing. For works on paper, you want a buffer between the art & glass. A spacer will work, if the art fills the frame. A mat has the same purpose and will keep the glass off of the art. Hope this helps!

I'm excited about trying out the Gamblin PVA size. Thanks for the tip.

Making A Mark said...

Thanks Tracy - I had an inkling there was a little bit more to it than brushing some gesso on paper - and you've created a very helpful post.

The weight of the paper was one of the things I was interested in - I suspected heavier weight paper would work better

Have you ever tried mount board?

The framing issue is a good one - as any works under glass are as much about the fragilty of paper to the air/environment as anything else. I wonder how completely immersing it in gesso and oil affects that?

Tracy Helgeson said...

Really? What I wrote was good? Huh.:)

I have only done studies on the paper, none worth framing yet! But yes, a spacer or mat would be important. Does it need glass? Anyone know? I suppose it would, but I might look into framing w/o glass. Maybe mount the paper on board and then frame. Ugh, framing is a topic that also make my head spin!

Giselle, thanks and good luck with the PVA size!

Katherine, yes, definitely the heavier the paper, the better. What is mount board, exactly? I wonder if it is the same as illustration board?

Hattermad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hattermad said...

gessoing paper is practically a past time here for me...I do not even bother to tape it down, as when it dries if it is a bit rumpled I just put it b/t two heavy art books (big ones, usu Wyeth books..) for larger ones, just b/t mdf panels with same books on top.
I use 140 lb usu. but have found this stuff, the 200lb, rather exciting to use (yes paper can be EXCITING!)

In regards gesso brand/type, for paper stick with acrylic ones, esp for things regarded as just studies, anything to act as a barrier/sealer to keep the oil from the paper.

Have found no need to use glass in framing either if it is varnished...some million terabyte minded art pro might say different tho'...

by the by, your site/blog is one of the two or three I check regularly for inspiration and reminders to pick up the brushes and toss them at the panels...

Melinda said...

Thank you for the gessoed paper discussion. Having lots of materials available for experimentation makes the preciousness of any one work less so!

Sometimes journeling with drawings is a way to keep the river of art flowing. It's true that if you don't draw or paint for awhile, you'll "load up!" Not good...

Rick said...

Just surfing through - I really enjoyed looking at your work. Thank you for sharing.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hattermad, Glad to hear that glass maybe isn't so necessary when framing work on gessoed paper. I have heard conflicting info on that one too:)

And nice to know that I can still inspire a bit:) Thanks.

Hi Melinda, you are so right about the value of having a lot of materials on hand! I get a little too focused on my beautiful birch panels where hopefully, each piece will be a good one, which is why I am trying to stick to paper for these studies. Much less pressure.

Thanks for coming by Rick, hope you visit again. Did I qualify for a bookmark I wonder?:)

Melinda said...

I think this issue was talked about in The Artist's Way. I know my college work taught me that a rotten work usually preceded somthing good.
You've made my blog list!

Chris Rywalt said...

I've used Gamblin PVA before, but recently tried it in place of rabbit skin glue for making traditional gesso. The gesso wouldn't work for paper -- it's too brittle -- but it's great for panels.

I'll probably try paper after I run out of those panels you gave me.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Thanks Melinda!

Chris, did I suggest to you to try paper? I meant to but can't remember if I actually said it or not. Anyway, you should. Just get a gallon of acrylic gesso and heavy paper. And since you are just spitting the paintings out, I'd try the sizing on drawing paper too. Can't hurt, ya know?

Making A Mark said...

Mount board over here is what people use for mats over in your neck of the woods! ;)

Tracy Helgeson said...

That's what Katherine. So they would be similar in with probably to the illustration board that I used to use. That might be something for you to try as a surface too, Chris.

Chris Rywalt said...

I tried some illustration board with...some kind of coating. Acrylic gesso or something. I forget. Gawd, that was horrible.

lesley birch artist said...

Interesting discussion on gesso-ing paper + thoughts about framing. I am struggling with this. If you do mount the paper to board, what does anyone suggest? Illustration board using PVA or acrylic medium? I'm not sure.