Do we really need Gesso?

Liquitex Gesso White Clear Coloured

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In short yes, but depending on what paint you are using there may be an alternative to canvas or linen if you prefer fabric supports. According to Liquitex, “Surface Preparations are used to seal, prime and add tooth (for color adhesion) to all surfaces such as canvas, wood, paper and metal. This same preparation is used for both acrylic and oil paint.” Fair enough, but you’d think that given the nature of acrylic paint, which is polymer based and doesn’t rot canvas like oil does there wouldn’t be such a need for gesso? If you thought that you’d be wrong. It’s not just a case of the polymer e.g. why not apply acrylic paint onto raw canvas/linen? It’s a case of structural integrity. One of the obvious properties of acrylic paint and mediums are their flexibility. Linen freshly stretched and then gesso applied will initially tighten in response to moisture, but will then relax. If you apply acrylic paint in the same way, without a gesso prep, it will relax more. Over time canvas and linen begin to lose their structural integrity and slacken. Gesso helps keep the natural ageing (relaxing and so ‘bagging’) of the canvas or linen at bay, temporarily. “Tests conducted on samples naturally aged in the Tate Gallery London revealed that in only 24 years linen canvas samples had declined to practically 1/3 of their original strength” (Excerpt from Artists Canvases: Their History & Future). It’s suggested that an alternative to using canvas or linen would be a polyester type material. From the same book comes, “Polyester fabrics would appear to be the most satisfactory synthetics which are readily available. The fibres have high tenacity and relatively low elongation at break, they are thus fairly stiff.” The question as to whether polyester fabric would need surface preparation before the application of acrylic paint is something I’ll be investigating.

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