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FAQ: Priming
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Acrylic Gesso Under Oil Paint:

I am going to be giving a lecture that will be attended by primarily oil painters and am wondering if you can provide me with any information you feel appropriate for them. Oil over acrylic grounds and gels? Is there any new information on that?
Good luck finding information on the web or elsewhere for that matter. We have found most information to be either dated, guesswork, or just plain wrong. I'll tell you what I know about the oil and acrylic concerns and issues.

First, the main difference is one of binder. Linseed oil vs polymer resins. We have access to the same pigments and materials as oil paint manufacturers. There are several pigments, which are not alkaline friendly, and we therefore cannot use them, and we avoid pigments containing dangerous materials like lead and mercury.

Second, acrylics can be modified indefinitely. We can alter the viscosity, rheology, sheen opacity and many other attributes to suit the artist's needs. Perhaps the most elusive one for oil painters is working time. While retarder is the better known product for increasing open time, it's only one part of the factor. The Acrylic Glazing Liquid has been the product that I find most useful for mimicking oil-like applications. Read the recent Just Paint #8 Article about its use. We are working on creating better testing methods for the biggest controversy in this conversation: oils over acrylics.

There are finally enough respected older works of art, where the artist has used an acrylic gesso or sizing or underpainting in conjunction with oil paints, that with the help of the conservators and artists who created them, we can begin to assess long-term adhesion issues. However, I think the release of hard evidence of how these works are holding up are something we will not see anytime soon. It is something we have a great interest in and will continue to pursue this information with the help of these groups. We know there really isn't a chemical bond between the acrylic and the oil paints, as they are such different binders. So the key is the mechanical bond which develops between these layers.

GOLDEN Acrylic Gesso (I'll keep things to just our products because there are too many variables already) is toothy and rough and porous. When it has been allowed to sufficiently dry/cure and has been applied correctly, it is an ideal surface for subsequent paint layers to attach to. The use of acrylic gesso is generally not debated with oil painters, but there are some legitimate concerns.

Acrylics (in general) remain pliable while oil paints continue to lose their flexibility over the years. Acrylics swell and contract because of environmental factors more so than oils. And as stated previously, there is only a mechanical bond between the oil and acrylic films.

If the artist is concerned about flexibility differences, then they should limit their artwork to panels or other rigid supports, because regardless of the flex differences or even if they choose to use a traditional primer, oils are going to crack.

The swelling and contraction differences of oils and acrylics is actually less than traditional hide glues. So even though they are not perfect, acrylic sizes are more acceptable, and endorsed by conservators like Ross Merrill. Again, if this is of concern, the artist should consider painting on a panel or attaching the canvas to the panel after painting. The mechanical bond between acrylics and oil films seems to be good, as long as certain guidelines are followed. While we have done studies of the glossiest of our acrylics under oil paint films and have not seen any signs of delamination, we want to err on the safe side and suggest the films should at least be matte finishes. Even better is the use of GOLDEN High Load Acrylics, which are essentially a line of colored gessos. The new Matte Fluids are very promising for this as well. Many artists are only going to know about tube acrylics, and I think that this introduction to these materials as underpainting products will open some eyes.

Finally, I honestly believe that the "horror" stories about acrylics under oils are mainly a result of things like poor materials, oils applied on uncured acrylic films (I suggest at least a week of waiting before applying oils unless they are very thin and humidity is low and temperature is high in the studio), and products applied incorrectly. Oil paints need to be applied in the certain sequence and experienced oil painters should be able to elaborate on fat over lean and thin over thick. Some oil paints dry faster than others depending on manufacturer and pigments. I believe that these factors caused early delamination and acrylics under them were less a factor than a circumstance.

If you have any oil painters who would like to test products or contact us directly, please have them do so. We want to offer the best advice and we are working on creating new materials constantly.