Oil Painting on Watercolor Paper

Donna T

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I have some heavyweight rough-pressed watercolor paper that I won't be using for watercolors anytime soon. I would like to learn to use oils and am wondering if I can use this paper if I put a few coats of gesso on it first. How many coats should I do? Since I have the paper I'd rather not buy canvases or boards until I get a little experience unless you tell me that painting on paper is not a good idea. I know I'll have to tape the edges of the paper to a board while I paint. Any other words of wisdom on this subject would be greatly appreciated!
 
Donna,
As you know cotton rag paper would need to be sized before applying oil paints. A good 100% Acrylic gesso would be a good sizing. If it’s not too thick I would think one coat would be enough because paper is so absorbent. However, most gesso has some grit so you may or may not want to sand it smooth, unless you want to sketch with pastels first. You could also use PVA glue or clear acrylic medium if you want to retain the surface characteristic of the paper.
I have a 12” x 16” pad of Arches Paper thats made for oils. One thing i liked about it was the lack of grit. The paint evened out well and dried almost mat. However, initial layers sunk considerably and it was a bit of a struggle using more paint and oil than I normally do. If I use more sheets I will futher size them with something without grit.
I did not have to tape the edges of this Arches paper made for oils because it is a block. I do not know what Arches used to make the “barrier”, as they call it, to make the paper ready for oils. I don’t think they want anyone to find out.
 
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Thanks Patrick. I have some Utrecht gesso that is really thick - too thick to use right out of the jar. I'm hoping two coats will be enough for what I want to do. I'm sure my paints will sink in but I'm not too worried since it's just practice. The Arches paper for oils sounds nice. Maybe someday I'll try it.
 
Your right about taping the paper down, better before gesso application.
How is that Utrecht gesso? The last acrylic gesso I got was Jerrys Worlds Best Gesso. Best my foot! It has little lumps of grit that dont brush out and have to picked off. I’ll never get that again.
 
2 coats of clear gloss medium to seal the surface, followed by primer/gesso of choice, for your desired surface characteristic, tooth, etc.

Gloss acrylic is the least porous type. Gesso is not a true sealer.

PVA can probably work too, but it's moisture sensitive and can sometimes peel, so unless you have some lying around for free, I wouldn't bother.
 
Your right about taping the paper down, better before gesso application.
How is that Utrecht gesso? The last acrylic gesso I got was Jerrys Worlds Best Gesso. Best my foot! It has little lumps of grit that dont brush out and have to picked off. I’ll never get that again.
Besides that, I found it very thin and required more coats to get the same opaqueness of gesso as Utrecht and Golden.
 
AES, thanks so much for telling me about gloss medium. That is news to me and it makes sense that it would seal the paper well.

Utrecht Gesso is very very thick, Patrick. I'd say it has the consistency of sour cream. It's a little bit of a chore to dilute it and mix it so it's spreadable but I think it's worth it because it's very opaque. It sounds like Jerry's Gesso is not such a good deal. I don't find any grit in the Utrecht and it doesn't have a noticeable gritty texture when it dries.
 
Wow -- I buy the gallon size and never had a problem in 10+ years. If I ever do get a batch like that I'll stop using it too. If you bought it recently I would take a picture and contact Jerry's customer service.

I use a 2 1/2" bristle brush to apply gesso. Sometimes I get little bits too - that I have to pick out - I've thought it was bits of dried paint - I wipe the brush on the rim of the pail - and it could pick up some dried (drying) paint there. It's like one or two lumps every other panel - a bit annoying but I"ve come to deal with it.
 
I use oils on paper a lot - usually just cheap sketch paper. I just splash on one quick coat of gesso (mine is W&N). That works fine for me for practice - I'm lazy, so the faster/simpler I can make the process, the more painting I get done.
 
I, too, use/have used oil on paper, usually watercolor, and often, 90lb. I do apply a coat of gesso. For me, it's fine for practice, for studies. I've also used cardboard and paperboard--cereal boxes, etc.
 
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Thanks everyone - it's good to hear what works for you. Triss and ntl, don't you find that some of your best work happens on surfaces that aren't quite adequately prepared? Some of my best work is done on scraps that are in no way archival!
 
I'm only a beginner, so one of the perks is not having to go to the effort and expense to care about archival issues. The bin is always my favourite storage solution for wet oil paintings!
 
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