It’s frustrating, but some art projects just won’t play nice. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones that start out with so much potential, promises of The Most Beautiful Piece of Art You’ve Ever Created dancing in your brain…then….Fail. Epic fail. Fail with a capital F. The composition sucks. You can’t get the colors right. Your subject idea was stupid. It’s lame. It’s ugly. You hate it.
Does that ever happen to you?
You’re a better artist than me. Teach me your secret.
So sometimes canvases end banished to Artwork Purgatory. In my world, that’s in the garage. But canvases ain’t cheap (even when you use the craft store’s weekly 40% off coupon like I always do) and since I’m not a multi-millionaire, I hate letting a good canvas go to waste. Especially a big one. A big empty canvas just holds too much promise and possibility to let it go. When a painting is past the point of salvation, why not just scrap it and start over? Let it die so that something awesome may arise in it’s place.
Enter our hero: spray gesso.
Gesso, in case you aren’t familiar, is the substance you use to prep a surface for painting. It has a slightly thinner, more liquid-y consistency than acrylic paints, and helps the canvas hold the paint more evenly. If you paint on a raw canvases which hasn’t been prepared with gesso (like a canvas you’ve stretched yourself, as most ready-made canvases come pre-treated) the canvas will suck up a lot of paint, and you may have problems getting nice even coverage. Gesso is also great (and cheaper than paint) for covering up a canvas you want to re-use. If you’re using it for this purpose, make sure you pay attention to what you’re buying and get the opaque kind, not the translucent one.
I discovered spray gesso at my local art supply store a few weeks ago, and decided to give it a try. It comes in an aerosal can (like spray paint or hairspray) and seemed like a quicker, less goopy alternative to regular gesso. Regular gesso is best applied with a large flat brush, and since the bristles are falling out of mine, I thought it might be cheaper to experiment with spray gesso than replace the brush. I had a big canvas in the garage that I was dying to cover, so what better time to experiment than now?
+ Nice Even Coverage
I only found a couple drip marks on my canvas, and I think they were caused by user error from holding the can in the same spot for too long. Other than that, I loved the fact that everything was perfectly smooth, with no brush strokes like you would have with traditional gesso.
- Overspray Worries
I was really paranoid about the overspray while I was using the product. To be safe, I decided to paint my canvas outside, against the wall of our shed (which is already white). I highly recommend using a spray box, or butting up several large pieces of cardboard behind your canvas. As you can see, I still managed to paint some of the lawn white. Also, it was a slightly windy day, and I was worried about the spray blowing onto my clothes. I would also recommend wearing clothes you don’t care about messing up, or wear a smock, just in case.
- Took Longer Than I Expected
The gesso went on really evenly, and the surface was nice and smooth but I had to build up a LOT of thin layers before I had complete opaque coverage. In my photo, you might notice that you could still see a little bit of the original picture showing through, but I figured my results were good enough, since I’ll be painting something new on top of it anyway.
+ The Price is Great
For eight bucks you can’t go wrong. I was able to cover quite a large canvas, and I still have plenty left over. According to the directions on the side of the can, you should get enough to cover an area of twenty square feet. That means I should get several more canvases out of it, which seems pretty good to me.
- It stunk
By that I mean it smelled really bad. I was glad that I used it outside. It was also tricky to not breath in the fumes. A mask, of course, would have solved this, but I don’t own one and didn’t want to buy one for this little 5 minute project. If you’re concerned about fumes, you may want one.
- All That Can Shaking
You’re supposed to shake the can vigorously for two minutes before you begin applying the spray gesso. My arm got tired. I realize that this is nit-picky, but it was a little annoying. Maybe you can get away with less shaking, but I didn’t want to find out the hard way by getting splatter marks all over my canvas.
Basically, my overall impression is that spray gesso is more of a pain to use than I anticipated, but the results look great. If I was using it to treat a raw canvas instead of using it to cover up an old painting it would have required a lot less spraying time.