Home Forums General General The Gesso Experiment

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    Avatar photoDarryl Smith

    Trying a bit of Gesso as a primer for my figures. A short blog post about my experiences thus far:

    The Gesso Experiment

    Buckeye Six Actual

    Avatar photoAngel Barracks

    It looks quite thick?

    Why not just prime with primer paint you brush on?

    Avatar photoNot Connard Sage

    It looks quite thick? Why not just prime with primer paint you brush on?

    That. Or use acrylic primer and make a mini spray booth.

    What you need for brush priming figures is a nice big brush. I find that when spraying them, it’s hard to get into all the undercuts, and usually have to give a few figures a go over with brush on primer to reach all the nooks and crannies.


    Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.

    Avatar photoRhoderic

    I’ve been a gesso-only man for most of a decade now. My living arrangements and the local climate make spray-priming (and spray-varnishing, for that matter) far more trouble than it’s worth – frankly I don’t understand why people use the sprays at all, I quite hate them myself and in my personal experience life has gotten much easier since I discovered gesso, which to me is a more basic, intuitive solution anyway. I don’t fully agree that it takes much longer to apply than spray primer, I’m able to do it quite swiftly and the end result is IMO more satisfactory. I apply it in a quick dabbing sort of motion using a relatively large brush, the trick is just not to overload the brush with the stuff, but to trust in the fact that it has very good coverage even in thin coats. I personally find the act of dabbing gesso on a figure strangely satisfying; blotting out the bare metal/plastic/resin surface in a thin but solid coating of matt white, one dab at a time.

    Of course, it can take every new user a bit of trial and error to figure out how to apply it best. Once on another forum I recommended gesso to someone and he came back absolutely furious that he had to (in his opinion) throw away his figures because they had been ruined by an overly gloopy coat of the stuff. But I would argue that it’s the same with spray primers – you don’t always get it right the first time, and yet evidently people still keep using them. The fact that countless how-to guides have been written (and filmed for Youtube, and whatnot) for spray-priming figures with the “proper technique” is rather telling of the fact that sprays aren’t just duck soup either. So let’s don’t judge gesso unfairly on that count, it does work well once one is accustomed to it.

    One other thing might be worth mentioning: I’ve only ever used white gesso, but from the accounts I’ve heard of other people’s successes and failures with gesso, I’ve gotten the distinct impression that there’s a difference between white and black in regard to how much it shrinks when it dries. I’ve seen that miraculous-looking video of black gesso drying from gloopy to perfectly thin on a Void Junker before, but I’ve never had my Liquitex white gesso behave quite like that. I suspect white gesso contains (by necessity) more pigment, ie. more non-liquid “bulk”, so it dries thicker. If one gloops white gesso on thick, then it will dry thick, but I don’t see why anyone would need to gloop it on thick. The whole point of it being so heavily pigmented is that a thin coat goes a long way in regard to coverage.

    Why not just prime with primer paint you brush on?

    The answer to that question depends a bit on what you mean by “just prime with primer paint”. Gesso is just primer paint, only a classic, venerable variety that was originally formulated for something other than miniatures (but still happens to work well with miniatures, at least for my crude and benighted sensibilities). If we’re talking about primer paints made specifically for miniatures, I’ve only tried two brands – one was Citadel from the late 90s screw-top paint pot era, I can’t recall the name of the other brand – and they were both absolutely terrible. Thin and watery, with very poor coverage. For me the question is why not just prime with gesso. Reliable old gesso.

    Avatar photoAngel Barracks

    I always thought it was a paste for canvas rather than a paint?
    I appreciate you can apply it with a brush, but then you can apply glue with a brush.
    Like this sort of consistency?

    Back in the day before I used humbrol spray primer (not car primer as that is indeed thick and icky) I just used to water down my citadel white and use that as primer.
    I have tried the Coat d’Arms primer, but if I recall correctly it was no better than the white.

    Anyway, if it works and you like it then to hell with what anyone else says!
    No less me than anyone.

    Avatar photoRhoderic

    It’s originally for priming canvases, yes, but I wouldn’t call it a paste. It’s perhaps a little bit on the thick side for a paint (at least by the standards of us who are accustomed to miniatures paints, which should ideally be the consistency of milk or thereabouts) but it’s still far more a paint than anything else. It’s not quite as thick as PVA glue, and certainly nowhere near as viscous. For that matter, my Liquitex Basics acrylic paints (which I use for terrain) are thicker than my Liquitex gesso. The Liquitex Basics paints are of a similar consistency to toothpaste (obviously I water them down when I use them) whereas the Liquitex gesso is of a similar consistency to ketchup of the smoother, runnier sort (not Heinz). And as for using gesso to prime canvases, the whole point is that after you’ve done it and it’s dried, you’re still getting the woven texture of the canvas showing through perfectly well. I’ve hardly ever done “classic” canvas-painting in my adult life but my impression is that classic painters generally want that woven texture for painting on top of, or else they would indeed use some sort of paste that covers it up.

    Gesso does have a good “grippy” quality though (meaning that once dry it’s gripping onto the surface quite well, which of course is desirable in a primer), so I suppose it’s vaguely glue-like in that respect, but I really wouldn’t read too much into that. Between the “grippiness”, the slight “tooth” it gets when it’s dry and the fact that with the right technique I’m able to apply it in thin coats with good pigment coverage, it’s as perfect a primer as I could hope for.

    Avatar photoPatG

    I use gesso as well.  Great stuff for all the reasons Rhoderic has laid out.  While you can’t just glop it on, you also don’t have to be overly concerned about getting thin coats to avoid covering up the detail. It really does shrink right down as shown in the video. I like the evenness of the colour and the tooth it gives for painting. For me at least it is also economical. A small pot that has done hundreds of 6,15,20,25 and 28mm figures in metal and plastic as well as terrain bits and whatever else needed to be primed costs about the same as two spray cans of good primer.  If your figures are not completely clean you can get pinholes in the finish as the gesso dries but these are easily fixed with a little dab.

    I have used spray primers specifically designed for metal. Most of these include an etchant to really bond the primer to the metal but these are usually formulated for specific ranges of metals and I have yet to find one for tin or pewter. The more general automotive primers are ok, I just find it easier to use gesso at the painting desk rather than take everything to the shed or outside. Frankly for four months of the year here you don’t want to go outside anyway.  😉

    Avatar photoOldNick

    Great fan of gesso.  Learned about it at the Cold Wars hobby university about three years ago.  Have been using it ever since.  Great stuff, works well.  Like was said get a big old brush to slop it on.  Dries tight and does not hide details.  I have used the white gesso at first but now use black gesso.  To me there is no difference.  After it dries I dry brush white over the figure.  When I paint it helps with shading.



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