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When it comes time to prime a canvas, many artists reach for their trusty jar of white gesso. White is not the only option, though, and using a tinted gesso can add dimension and excitement to a canvas from the very start. Most acrylic white gessoes can be mixed with acrylic paint to create tints, but several companies offer premixed colored gesso that is consistent and convenient and makes for lustrous backgrounds. Just like untinted gesso, there are a range of consistencies and pigmentations in colored varieties, so finding one with the right properties for you may take some research. Once you find one you like, you’ll never have to stare down an intimidating blank white canvas again. Below are some options we think you’ll like.
Daniel Smith Acrylic Gesso, Iridescent Gold
Underpainting with gold can be used to achieve the ethereal effects of Japanese Buddhist paintings or simply to add a distinctive luster to any work. Daniel Smith’s Iridescent Gold gesso, available in a 16-ounce jar, is a warm yellow-gold that stands out from other, brassier options. In general, gold gesso is more translucent than other colors, which makes it particularly impressive that just two coats of this will provide a deep and flawless coverage. Applied correctly, this gesso will dry smooth with no trace of brushstrokes.
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Liquitex Professional Acrylic Gray Gesso
Priming with a gray gesso can be helpful for artists using a tonal technique. Liquitex’s Professional gray gesso is the same quality as the line’s more traditional white, a thin medium that manages to be highly pigmented. The consistency allows you to achieve a very smooth finish without needing to build up too many layers to reach opacity. Educators note: This gesso is nontoxic.
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Sennelier Acrylic Colored Gesso
Sennelier’s colored acrylic gesso is available in black, a neutral light gray, and red ochre. (Underpainting in red may seem like an unusual choice, but it offers sharp contrast for cooler paintings.) All three tones of this gesso are thick and heavily pigmented and can be mixed with water for a smoother, thinner finish. Undiluted, the gesso dries with a perfect tooth for oil paints. The decently priced primer comes in 500-milliliter jars, which will last longer than you might expect.
Golden Black Gesso
Golden’s acrylic gesso is highly versatile, confers a mid-range tooth, and is very consistent. The brand’s ready-to-use black is a handy choice, since a similarly deep, dark black is hard to achieve when mixing your own tints. Plus, black gesso can always be mixed with the white gesso most painters always have on hand to create a variety of gray tones. The black ground is offered in 8-, 16-, and 32-ounce jars as well as a gallon bucket. Both oil and acrylic paints adhere beautifully to Golden.
TOP OF THE LINE
Holbein Acryla Color Gesso
Most companies that make colored gesso offer just a few choices, but Holbein has a cornucopia of shades. The 21 colors in its Acryla line come in 300-milliliter translucent plastic pouches that are easy to pour and clearly display which color, and how much of it, is contained inside. The true hues make for rich backgrounds and finish to a refined tooth. The consistency is fluid, resulting in a self-leveling layer. One advantage of such a quality is that the gesso can be used to cover up mistakes; patches will blend seamlessly with the initial coats.