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Old 07-06-10, 02:08 AM
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Default Acrylic gesso

There are always so may questions about gesso. So I have another. I know some egg tempera artists paint on acrylic gesso. It is easier and quicker to make up. I have tried it too but am unsure about using it. It is really an unresponsive surface in that nothing you do to it short of hard sanding will actually move it. I worry about whether my paint will one day just fall off the surface leaving this pristine and unaffected gesso smiling complacently from the board. Maybe the only thing that will stick to acrylic gesso in the long run is acrylic paint. Any advice for me - should I give up this foul habit?
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Old 06-12-10, 02:54 AM
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sorry it took so long to respond. i didn't want to give you a response about acrylic gesso without going back and looking at some of my own paintings that were done in egg tempera over a period of four or five decades.

i found several tempera paintings that are at least 30 or 40 years old, that were done on acrylic gesso grounds, and they show no signs of flaking off, certainly no signs of peeling off.

what i have found is that several tempera paintings which were badly stored received a certain amount of moisture in the storage area, and the tempera painting came up because the ground failed - this being traditional gesso ground. but the problem there was bad storage practices.

i have not really seen any paintings of mine on an acrylic ground, even badly stored ones, that had the paint lift. of course, tempera is always susceptible to scratching and abrasion, but the great thing about it is that it's fairly easy to patch if you've noticed that you messed your painting up. and that goes for paintings on either traditional or acrylic gesso grounds.

i haven't been using clayboard grounds for more than a year or two, but i feel like the same things surely applies to that kind of ground also. consequently, i would like to assure you that either the acrylic or traditional rabbit skin glue gesso will support the egg tempera surface quite adequately as long as you control the moisture in your storage area, or hopefully in your client's storage area if you're fortunate enough to sell the piece.

and if there is some kind of time at which all of the egg tempera peels off acrylic grounds, with any luck, none of us will ever live to see it. how's that for a happy thought?

i have to apologize for not being really really old, because i can't give you 70 or 80 years of experience at this point yet, but if you check back with me in about 30 years, we'll see what we can figure out.

jim
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  #3  
Old 06-12-10, 03:42 PM
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p.s.

i don't know if you have any personal experience with the kind of vandalism we have around our neighborhood on occasional halloweens, but some of the delinquents of our neighborhood have been known to throw eggs at cars and houses in the process of their bad behavior.

if the egg is allowed to dry on an automobile car finish, it will almost never come off, at least as a stain even tho the mass of the egg can be scraped or washed off, but not without continuing unsightliness

we still have egg on our front door and screen from three or four years ago, when we weren't up late enough to hand out candy to our older scamps.

if this egg yoklk material will stick so wel to automobile laquers and polyurethane door finishes, i can't but believe that acrylic gesso grounds on a panel would not be even more receptive to the permanence of the egg yolk binder. especially if the painting itself were decently cared for over a period of years, rather than, say, left out in the rain.
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Old 09-12-10, 03:22 AM
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Salamander Salamander is offline
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I'm glad to hear that Jim. I always thought it was curious that it wouldn't stick for eternity. So I'm guessing' that the porous acrylic gesso would be even more OK.
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Old 09-12-10, 07:14 PM
Alessandra Kelley Alessandra Kelley is offline
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Nowt to do with tempera, but we had an egg thrown at our front porch this Hallowe'en and by the next day the squirrels had eaten it all. They ate our pumpkins, too, so we didn't have to do any post-holiday mulching cleanup. In fact, the first pumpkin we put out, they ate a hole in and devoured the seeds -- it looked so ghastly that we simply stuck a candle in it as it was.

It must be just our block's squirrels because everyone else seemed to have unmolested pumpkins.

As for acrylic gesso, I've always been rather hostile to it because it's so rough and hard on brushes. I honestly don't know if it really works for tempera in the long run.
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  #6  
Old 10-12-10, 12:28 AM
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Koo Schadler Koo Schadler is offline
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Hello Jeff,

Even though Jim has officially claimed the mantle of old fart I'm going to don it here and, as is my way on this topic, weigh in on the conservative side of the gesso question.

Ross Merrill (who was head conservator at the National Gallery in DC for many years) told me in no uncertain terms that the most archival ground for ET is true gesso. In his own words:

“Egg tempera should be painted on a traditional glue gesso ground on a rigid support….It is hard to improve upon what the early Italians perfected. As for egg tempera on acrylic gesso, it does strike me as the worst solution.”

Although commonly used as a ground for oil paintings, many conservators now caution against using acrylic gesso even under an oil painting, saying acrylic is too flexible for that medium. Perhaps the best ground for an acrylic painting is an acrylic based gesso; the best ground for an oil painting is an oil based gesso; and the best ground for egg tempera is an absorbent, aqueous based, rabbit skin glue gesso. Each ground’s degree of absorbency and flexibility is in keeping with the medium that sits on top.

If archival isn't high on someone's list, than I think its fine for people to opt for acrylic gesso, or clayboard (which I believe is an acrylic polymer with some clay added to it to increase its absorbency), or automobiles fenders and porch doors, or whatever... I'm not advocating purism or traditionalism just to make painting more difficult than it already is! And Jim's point is a good one - that, even on a true gesso ground, a painting can be doomed if improperly stored. I only mean to say that history and conservators weigh in pretty strongly on a true gesso ground.

Never mind the working properties of true gesso! That beautifully smooth, deliciously receptive surface - which in my experience is completely unlike the closed, slick surface of acrylic gesso. Hard on the brushes too, as Alessandra notes. Can't scratch and carve into acrylic as you can with true gesso either.

As it evident I'm a true gesso fan. And because I have seen beloved paintings, handed down to later generations, that are falling apart because they weren't well made, I think its important to consider the archival quality of a painting, even if it isn't a masterpiece and doesn't end up at the Met (maybe even more important, since the works at the Met at least end up with conservators tending to them).

Then again, I believe that Jim has paintings over 40 years old in great shape on acrylic gesso.....so - go figure. I guess do whatever ever suits you best, Jeff.

Koo

PS - When I was first painting in ET and didn't yet know how to make gesso panels, I painted on plaster of paris, because it seemed so nicely absorbent. Two of the pieces peeled off within two years, despite no adverse storage conditions. Not sure why, but it makes me think there's more to a ground that just absorbency.

Last edited by Koo Schadler; 10-12-10 at 12:31 AM.
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Old 10-12-10, 04:00 AM
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Koo, I think you are very right about using the materials that have been proven to work. I suspect that your problems with plaster of paris have to do with the nature of the material itself, and the way it chemically changes as it drys. I've looked at the True Gesso panel prices; very reasonable for something you might put 10-20-30 hours or more into painting.

Don't read Cennini; he'll just intimidate you, his multi-step recipes, with slaked plaster of paris, 3 different gessos, and linen embedments; sorry, it seems overwrought enough to be carpetfressing. (yiddish for chewing the rugs; nuts). Whatever recipe, work the first coat into, and then off the substrate; then you will have a base for brushing, or my choice, spraying gesso. Some salt or urea to retard the gel rate, allowing the gesso to self-level, and you're good.

It is work; when I do panels, I do enough at one go to last me a few years; though I am probably going to buy some of the True Gesso panels, just to try them.

My reading in conservation, tells me that there are some very serious issues with "plastic" paints, so I have to ask why bother? I'm not adverse to pushing the limits; I am the ET painter who uses an airbrush, horrors, but I see no benefit to using acrylic gesso over the known quality of HG gesso. Notice, I did not say RSG, that's a rant for another day.
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Old 10-12-10, 09:25 PM
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Bron,

"Notice, I did not say RSG, that's a rant for another day."

Explain, please! Is there something wrong with rabbitskin glue?

Thanks,

Phil
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Old 10-12-10, 10:49 PM
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Phil, There is nothing wrong with RSG, other than the name. This information comes from Eugene Thordahl, a chemist, and eventual President of the Peter Cooper Company, at one time the worlds largest manufacturer of HG products. Compositionally, HG and RSG are the same; differences are in Bloom strength. HGs for general woodworking are from 135 to 251. So called RSG is 400-441. Higher numbers mean faster set times, and stronger bond, though the last is modified by the mixture strength. Mr Thordahl sold glue under the name of Bjorn Industies, mainly to woodwokers. Not sure if the business is still active, but about 20 years ago, when I started using HG as my principle wood adhesive, I had quite a few conversations with him picking his brain.

Historically, I'm quite sure bunnies were made into glue, but I wouldn't want to bet that what you buy as RSG is not just HG of 400-441 bloom strength.

Gee, and no rants.

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  #10  
Old 14-12-10, 03:34 AM
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"Glue Bunnies" -- I'm sure I could get away with naming an exhibition that... just have to figure out how.

Best,
Jason.
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