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  1. #1
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    Being a cheap ass with primer

    Eh, I didn't want to open a new thread, but I figured it was better than waiting for a dead thread to ressurect

    I have some white house paint (the label says latex satin) that my mom gave to me, and I was wondering if you good folks have any opinion about using it as a primer on paper. My plan was to coat this 98 lb paper a few times and use it for oil studies and sketches. However, in the past people have bought oil sketches of mine - I didn't charge a lot because I was concerned about yellowing, but I want to be mindful of archival work in the event people want to purchase some more of my sketches in the future. I'm on a student budget, so I thought it would be advantageous because it's cheap, doesn't take up space, and I won't care if I mess a painting up. Still, I want it to be somewhat durable in the event someone wants to take it home. I also have some clear gesso to coat it with again, but I really don't like how rough it is. Thoughts?

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  3. #2
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    One of the old-timers is welcome to correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I know latex paint is 100% fine. It might be a bit slicker/plasticy than a proper gesso, but I don't think there are any permanence issues.

    And hell, for student work? Make it cheap as possible. Nothing wrong with that.

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  5. #3
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    That's good to know! There were a lot of conflicting opinions on google searches, so I figured asking the pros would be best. My teachers kept gallons of house paint in art studios for students to use, but the traditional methods of painting are stressed in a lot of places. Thanks!

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    Housepaint is not an art supply.


    Tristan Elwell
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  8. #5
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    Gah, that's what I'm afraid of. I really don't want to sacrifice the durability of these sketches, but it is so tempting to just go ahead and use it... By any chance, would you happen to know if possibly mixing acrylic gesso with housepaint would help it out a little? Or a cheaper recipe to make one's own? Painting oils on paper is less common so it seems like there's more limited info out there. Thanks!

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  9. #6
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    If you want cheap but still reliable, you can get a gallon of Utrecht Student Gesso for under $20. That's less than a lot of housepaint costs.


    Tristan Elwell
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  11. #7
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    What Elwell said. Gesso's cheap. If you still don't want to deal with it, tracing paper's a good surface to do studies on too, and it doesn't take up a ton of space. (you do need to get used to the slippery surface)

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  13. #8
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    You can use acrylic paint, too. There are big buckets for less than $20 as well, and as a bonus you can pick a color as a base.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell View Post
    Housepaint is not an art supply.
    Tell that to the abstract expressionists...

    But yeah, if you get the Utrecht student-grade gesso, that's pretty cheap (the fancy grades might be more pricey than you'd like, so look for the cheapest student grade.) Or any student-grade white acrylic, you can usually get that in large quantities for cheap, too... Pro tip: wait for sales on the Utrecht or Dick Blick websites, and stock up. Some of the online sale prices are amazing.

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  17. #10
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    I use Behr Lead Oil Primer for my class studies. It's cheap as hell and I haven't had any problems with it, yet.

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  19. #11
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    What a great price on the student gesso, Elwell! I never wanted to buy anything huge online because of shipping prices, but luckily for me, I am moving soon to a city that has a brick-and-morter Utrecht.

    Is acrylic gesso usually cheaper than gesso? It was my understanding that what they call "gesso" is really low-grade acrylic paint these days. HOWEVER, I bought a liter of Liquitex gesso and found the consistency so thick that it was difficult to use. I ended up trying to dilute it, but it didn't mix as easily as I wanted.

    Sidharth, I like to use the Canson mixed-media paper. It's incredibly cheap and the thickness of the paper makes it easily to go crazy on it. But if I get tracing paper in the future, I'll try it out is it just the regular thin kind, or am I thinking of something else?

    Jacob - do you get that at Lowe's? How much does it run you?

    Thanks for all the advice everyone!

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    Quote Originally Posted by bodied View Post
    Is acrylic gesso usually cheaper than gesso? It was my understanding that what they call "gesso" is really low-grade acrylic paint these days. HOWEVER, I bought a liter of Liquitex gesso and found the consistency so thick that it was difficult to use. I ended up trying to dilute it, but it didn't mix as easily as I wanted.
    Almost all "gesso" you can buy is acrylic gesso, more correctly acrylic ground or acrylic priming. True gesso is made from chalk or whiting and animal glue, and is too brittle to use on canvas. It's sold in powdered form, and has to be mixed with water and heated so that the glue dissolves, and applied warm. When acrylics were introduced in the '60s, some manufacturers decided to call their acrylic priming "gesso," and the name stuck.
    I'm surprised about your experience with the Liquitex gesso, it's actually one of the more fluid brands out there. Thinning any sort of acrylic priming down shouldn't be a problem, just add water and mix thoroughly. You don't want to thin it too much, though, or the binder can get overdiluted and you can get powdering or cracking.


    Tristan Elwell
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  22. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jacob Kobryn View Post
    I use Behr Lead Oil Primer for my class studies. It's cheap as hell and I haven't had any problems with it, yet.
    Jake, I don't know exactly what you're using (is it this?), but I can guarantee you that, if it's sold as a commercial housepaint, it's not lead based (don't be fooled by the ridiculous California lead warning that's required on anything with titanium pigments). Lead housepaint has been illegal in the US since the '70s.


    Tristan Elwell
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  23. #14
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    Thanks Elwell. It may have been that the store I bought it from (Michaels, the only art store in town ) did not handle it properly. It was so thick and pasty I'm surprised I stuck with it for as long as I did. Pouring it was a nightmare, I had to cut the plastic bottle to scoop it out. Plus... it smelled like a hair salon! Because of that, I hesitated to get another bottle. Now I'll just try a different store.

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    I used to work in a giant puppet shop and all puppets had been painted with latex house paints. Some of them were over 20 years old and while they were scratched, they were not peeling. I'm not sure how true the colors were because I don't know what colors they were originally.

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  26. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell View Post
    Jake, I don't know exactly what you're using (is it this?), but I can guarantee you that, if it's sold as a commercial housepaint, it's not lead based (don't be fooled by the ridiculous California lead warning that's required on anything with titanium pigments). Lead housepaint has been illegal in the US since the '70s.
    Welp, you are probably right about that. Oh well. Still works well enough for painting shitty paintings over even shittier paintings and saves me money on having to buy new canvases all the time.

    I'm considering getting some Natural Pigments Lead Ground. You know, just to have a taste of the good stuff...

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  27. #17
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    I use a cheap primer called Liquitex Basics acrylic paint

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    Qitsune - was it all with latex paint or did they go over the latex with oils? By the way, what was that job like? Sounds interesting!

    I went and picked up a gallon of the cheapest stuff Hobby Lobby had. It was called Primo and I got it for fifteen bucks, so I'm gonna give it a try tomorrow. I'm still thinking about keeping the latex though, for still lifes and other cheapo paint emergencies. If anyone has had good or bad experiences with different primers/gessos, please share!

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  30. #19
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    Bodied, it was latex housepaint over latex primer over super toxic fiberglass like stuff, finished with acrylic paint for the details. Some of them had 4-6 coats in them because we would reuse the bases for different puppets.

    The tasks were great but the pay was shit and the management shittier.

    By the way Jake, if you know how to stretch canvas, you can just cut off the canvases and reuse the stretchers. Or do like Greg Manchess and paint on unstretched canvas.

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  32. #20
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    Here's the deal. If you want to learn how to do something do it right. Why "learn" and try to understand your media with inferior materials? Then have to get used to and re-learn with professional grade materials?

    It's a "when in Rome" thing...what do the pros you admire use? Use that.

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  34. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    Why "learn" and try to understand your media with inferior materials?
    Because when you're a student you have no money? Dumpster-diving and creative recycling was a way of life in our school...

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  36. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by QueenGwenevere View Post
    Because when you're a student you have no money? Dumpster-diving and creative recycling was a way of life in our school...
    Sure - I understand that. But it means you aren't really serious then about learning your craft at that point either. If you want to dabble then yeah, dabble away on whatever comes to hand, but if you're actually selling or giving work to friends along with trying to actually develop some skills, you're best off following the lead of those creating the kind of work you want to create.

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  37. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    Sure - I understand that. But it means you aren't really serious then about learning your craft at that point either.
    When I say no money, I mean NO. MONEY. Sometimes you have to compromise on art supplies... use the good stuff for this assignment where materials are crucial, use whatever else for that assignment where materials are less crucial or you're almost sure it's going to get tossed in a few weeks anyway... you know.

    If you're learning general overall painting skills, then yeah, better supplies are better. If you're just knocking out rough throwaway sketches in order to work on value or composition or something (or you're making your umpteenth set of grayscale swatches,) then it doesn't much matter what you use.

    Although if you're making stuff you think you'll keep or sell, then I agree, better to use decent supplies. You definitely wouldn't want to sell something and have it go to pieces in a year.

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  39. #24
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    Agreed that in a dead-broke situation you might need to skimp on something or the other as a student, but to be fair to Jeff here... that learning process is made much harder when you're fighting with those shitty, 99 cent sandpape- err, canvas panels. Been in that position several times though, so I don't know that it's fair to say it doesn't make you serious...

    Now, if for some reason you're going after the best paints you can buy, but you're skimping on brushes and surfaces... that's worthy of a glare. (I'm just assuming this wasn't endemic to my school)

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  41. #25
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    Jeff, it really can be a matter of sacrifice sometimes as a student. I want to use durable stuff, but I'm not at a point where I can buy the finest paints and brushes - it's simply out of my budget. Doesn't make me any less of a serious learner, and in some cases you can just sell very cheaply done sketches quickly. And when you experiment with cheaper materials, you don't feel as bad when you make a mistake. However I would still like to use the good stuff...when I can afford it

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  42. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    Here's the deal. If you want to learn how to do something do it right. Why "learn" and try to understand your media with inferior materials? Then have to get used to and re-learn with professional grade materials?

    It's a "when in Rome" thing...what do the pros you admire use? Use that.
    Can't agree with this. Whether you're painting on acrylic primed cardboard or expensive linen you're still learning. By your mentality he should simply not paint at all until he can afford what the pro's use. If a beginner is only using really nice materials they will feel like they have to paint a masterpiece every time to justify the cost. I say buy some stacks of those cheap ass panels and go nuts...paint everything!

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  44. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blackthorne View Post
    Can't agree with this.
    That's ok.

    Quote Originally Posted by Blackthorne View Post
    Whether you're painting on acrylic primed cardboard or expensive linen you're still learning. By your mentality he should simply not paint at all until he can afford what the pro's use. If a beginner is only using really nice materials they will feel like they have to paint a masterpiece every time to justify the cost. I say buy some stacks of those cheap ass panels and go nuts...paint everything!
    I never said "don't paint at all until you can afford what the pros use".

    Simple logic and common sense provides the answer. Pros use professional grade materials, equipment and process...why? Because they make their job easier with less hassle and provide better results or product.

    So why make it harder than it has to be? Materials and equipment are by far the easist part of the process to control. Art materials are not all that expensive in the scheme of things. Like I said, if you're serious about it you'll do what it takes to make it happen...anything else is just an excuse.

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