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arbrador 20-05-17 02:20 PM

Pin holes (air bubbles) in gesso
Hi All,
I was just rereading Koo Schadler's book, "A Comprehensive Guide to Painting in Egg Tempera", 2005 edition.
On pages 34 and 35 Koo addresses the issue of air bubbles in gesso leading to pin holes in the finished panel. There are many many great ideas for dealing with this problem.

I have one more fix that I often use which is to "spackle" the pin hole in the finished panel. I use some gesso which I save from gesso-making day or just make a tiny fresh batch. I make it fairly thick and use a palette knife as a mini trowel to fill the pin hole. Once the gesso is dry I sand it. This is similar to the idea of rubbing the finished panel with a wet cloth which brings up some gesso but I find it a little more direct and effective.
Any other ideas or experiences?

Koo Schadler 24-05-17 03:51 PM

Hello again Lora,

This is a great point to make, and works well. The challenge for me is that I make 2' x 2' panels to cut down to smaller sizes as needed; by the time I get around to cutting and finishing a smaller panel I don't generally have gesso made (and making it from scratch each time I finish a panel becomes time consuming). However, this topic (and a potential solution) reminds me of something else....

Natural Pigments recently released a new ground, made from a synthetic binder, specifically designed for egg tempera. It's called "Rublev Tempera Ground". I've done three small paintings on it and consider it, by far, the best of the various alternative grounds for egg tempera. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 giving the best working properties for egg tempera), I give traditional gesso a solid 10; Natural Pigment's Tempera Ground an 8;and alternative grounds marketed for egg tempera (Clayboard, Art Board Gesso, Sinopia Caesin Gesso) a 2 or 3. I'll continue to work on traditional gesso as I think it gives the best working properties to egg tempera, but it's nice to have a viable commercial option that can be applied straight from the jar.

And - back to your original post, Lora - it works really well for spackling pinholes in the way that you note. Instead of making gesso from scratch (if you don't have it on hand), you can fill in holes with NP's Tempera Ground.

Thanks for all the recent posts - nice to have some activity on the site.


arbrador 26-05-17 03:30 AM

Thanks Koo!
Using NP Tempera Ground is a great idea for having gesso on hand for spackling purposes.

Also I'm envious of artists who do a preliminary drawing, transfer the drawing and then make very few changes on their ET painting. I make a ton of preliminary drawings and paintings and then still proceed to make major changes as I go along. Sometimes I use Fritsch scrub brushes to make corrections and wear away my gesso in spots. Then I trowel (with a palette knife) in fresh gesso in areas that I've sanded down to the hardboard. I'm thinking maybe this time I'll put 9 or 10 coats of gesso to give myself more room for "erasing." So Rublev Tempera Ground would be good for that too.

BTW, I'm wondering what the historic Rublev would think about someone appropriating his name for instant gesso. He or his apprentices would probably have loved it.

Thanks again,

Koo Schadler 26-05-17 12:59 PM

Ha! I hadn't thought about the original Rublev in relation to the new ground...most great painters were innovative and creative and he may well have approved of this next step. Then again, some traditionalists (which many icon painters were/are) might be skeptical of a polymer-based gesso!

To be clear, I still think traditional gesso gives the best working properties to tempera, and I'll be sticking with it for now.

In your other posts I recommended fewer coats of gesso to reduce the weight of the panel, but having read this one I agree that more coats would give you room for "erasing". However I am also wondering why, when you erase, you don't erase just to the level of the gesso, instead of going all the way through to the panel?


arbrador 29-05-17 04:50 PM

erasing in egg tempera
Hi Koo,
Good question about why I destroy all the the layers of gesso down to the hardboard when I scrub or sand out a section of my painting. I'm not sure and will need to pay attention on my next painting.

It might be because I often don't use sandpaper to make corrections but rather use a wet brush to remove some paint to reveal what is underneath. Sometimes the paint does not come off easily especially if it's a staining color and then I may use a scrubber (such as Fritsch brushes used by watercolorists.) They can be harsh but are very effective and come in many different sizes and amounts of harshness.

It can be hard to shape areas with sandpaper although I've collected a variety of sanding tools- sanding sticks used by manicurists, a tiny belt sander (not electric), tiny delicate metal files and even a dremel tool (with a nice pointy attachment but I have not yet had the courage to use it).

This still does not answer the question of why I sometimes destroy my gesso surface but troweling in new gesso does correct the problem. I'll pay closer attention as I start my next painting.


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