Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gessoing Panels

Panels to be gessoed, gesso, a sponge brush (a hardware store brush works well, too), a covered surface, and something to prop up the boards (here, a jar lid)
photo © 2011 Karen Lynn Ingalls

Hardboard or masonite panels are a nice alternative to canvas, canvas paper, or acrylic painting paper as a painting surface.

Their advantages? They are inexpensive and untextured (nice when you're painting small). If you buy a large sheet of masonite and cut them yourself, you can also cut them to whatever size you want. You can also buy panels at art supply stores in pre-cut small sizes.

Their disadvantages? Larger sizes needed to be reinforced with cradling, so they don't warp. You need to make sure that the panel is thick enough to be a good support for a larger size, too. Panels also need to be primed with gesso.

Gesso on the panel, waiting to be spread out
photo © 2011 Karen Lynn Ingalls

How to gesso your panels:

It's easiest to gesso several panels at once. Set up something to cover the surface.

Lay down something (here, I've used jar lids and lids for large yogurt containers) on which you can set each panel. This prevents gesso on the side of the panels from sticking to your surface cover.

Squeeze out (if it's pourable, like the gesso shown in the photo) or spoon gesso (if it's thick and comes in a jar) onto the panel.

Use a brush or sponge brush to spread the gesso across the panel. Do NOT use your good painting brushes, if you can help it. Gesso contains both pigment (here, white pigment) and glues that attach firmly to the surface, and allow your paint to stick to the surface well. It can be a little tougher to clean out of your brush – something you need to do right away once you're through.

You may need to thin the gesso a LITTLE with water.

Closeups of two gessoed panels
photo © 2011 Karen Lynn Ingalls

Here, on the top you see gesso thinned with too much water.

On the panel below it, you see gesso pulled across the panel in one direction, creating a brush stroke texture that is consistent. (When you gesso the second coat, pull it across the panel at a 90° angle to the first coat.)

Closeup of a gessoed panel
photo © 2011 Karen Lynn Ingalls

Here, you see irregular brush strokes, creating an interesting texture without the strokes all going in the same direction. You can choose which you prefer. I prefer the irregular strokes. The second coat on this would also consist of another layer of irregular strokes going in all directions.

The gesso will flatten out a little as it dries, depending on how thick or thin it is. (I've exaggerated the texture in the photos above, so you can see it more clearly.) You can also sand each coat smooth once it's dry. You may then want to apply more than two coats of gesso to get the kind of coverage you want.

A series of panels with the first coat drying
photo © 2011 Karen Lynn Ingalls

Then let the first coat dry. I always wait at least a day before applying the second coat. If you wait until it's dry to the touch, the gesso is only dry on the surface, but not yet dry underneath – it's best to add the second coat once the first one is fully dry.

Add the second coat, let it dry, and then you're ready to paint.

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