Venetian Plaster an Alternative to Encaustic Gesso

Last month Georgia Ferrell shared a post about her experiments with Venetian Plaster on Jute and Burlap for encaustic surfaces. In this post, Dianne Jean Erickson demonstrates how to use Venetian Plaster as an alternative to Encaustic Gesso when preparing a panel substrate.


Introduction to Encaustic

It was about 8 years ago, after a couple of workshops, that I fell in love with encaustic. After the first workshop I was sure I’d never go there….hot wax and fire in my studio? Surely I would burn it down! Yet eventually I couldn’t resist this wonderful medium. I did fuse with a heat gun for a few years until I used the butane torch in a workshop and didn’t look back. So far the studio stands.

3 Ways to Prime a substrate for Encaustic Painting

There are many ways to prepare a substrate before beginning an encaustic painting. Here are just a few…

Venetian Plaster as a primer

Encaustic ArtI have to admit that using venetian plaster was not my original idea, so I had to backtrack and find the book that tipped me off to this undercoat medium. The book is by Lissa Rankin, Encaustic Art (a classic and must have book). She has a section on ‘Types of Grounds’ if you are looking for alternatives.

In the video below, I explain how to apply venetian plaster to a wood panel substrate.

After experimenting a bit, this is the method I’ve found that works for me. I love the velvety white mat surface. I gently sand after each coat (two or three) and then start with a clear coat of medium. You can then apply white wax for a whiter base.

One could also use venetian plaster to make texture on the surface. But, in my experience with texture: you have to live with it and it’s hard to make go away! So hopefully you’ve thought it through. I have not been tempted as it locks you into a path, and I’m always veering off the path.

Encaustic Gesso as a primer

Encaustic Gesso is more expensive than venetian plaster, but I haven’t used it so can’t give my opinion or compare. Since I started using venetian plaster when I started using wax and it works so well, I haven’t been attempted to use anything else, except wax medium.

Beeswax primer layer

Of course you can use wax. However, wax, especially white wax, is a bit more expensive than venetian plaster in the long run. When using as a base I put down a layer of clear wax (making sure to heat the surface before applying), then a layer of white or alternatively, paint a bunch of color down as an undercoat using different colors or the wax container where you throw all the scrap wax. If you are going to use wax transparently, I’d probably go with white. And if I’m in a hurry to start a painting, I use wax because the venetian plaster needs to dry a few hours or overnight. I usually spend a day preparing substrates with venetian plaster so they are ready to use. One of my favorite substrates is an old painting that already has layers.

Tips for working with Venetian Plaster

  • On the West Coast I purchase Venetian Plaster at Home Depot (and Lowe’s), but not as available in some Eastern locations, check online for suppliers. Behr Venetian Plaster, and Valspar brand as well. Note that someone on FaceBook said they bought it and it was clear. Never heard of that before, but make sure its white.
  • Two or three coats are better than one, sand lightly between coats (not too much but to get off pieces that could come off at a later date).
  • Sometimes if too thin when you put on the first coat of medium, the wood will show through. Add at least two/three coats and let dry a few hours between coats, then overnight to make sure it’s dry.
  • Some artists use joint compound. I haven’t used it so can’t compare the two.
  • Venetian Plaster comes in a gallon can and runs about $35.
  • Both Venetian Plaster and Encaustic Gesso have some acrylic in the mix. However, it does not affect the adherence in this case. In most cases, you don’t want to use acrylic mediums under wax.

Women With Attitude Encaustic Portraits

My recent work has been a series of portraits I lovingly call “Women With Attitude.” See them all on my website. View my other videos on my YouTube channel to see more of my painting process.

Have you tried Venetian Plaster?

Add a comment below to share what your experience using venetian plaster in place of encaustic gesso.

About Dianne Jean Erickson

Each day working in my studio I start not knowing what image will emerge. I allow myself the freedom of indecisions, improvisations, and impulsiveness in my work, and that leads to exciting discoveries. Subjects of my encaustic (hot wax) work are non-objective and figurative painting and printmaking. I’m impatient by nature, my process is intuitive, I most enjoy the journey of creating, figuring out what works, what to keep, and what to abandon, until the piece works for me. I have no compulsion to save every work I do. Many become the layered history for a new piece. Creating art energizes me, its a place where time is altered, where all my feelings and emotions appear at some time or another; pleased, tired, upbeat, excited, harried, surprised, and hopefully at some point, satisfied.

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How to use Venetian Plaster as an alternative to Encaustic Gesso for preparing a wooden panel substrate for painting

7 thoughts on “Venetian Plaster an Alternative to Encaustic Gesso


  1. Hi Diane. I have a question that may sound silly to you; why do you choose to Gesso or plaster your board?Unless it is important for you to have a white background, is there any other advantages to work on a prepared wood (vs. just the wood exposed)?


    1. The main reason is to have a white background to then apply the wax. The white keeps the colors true, if that is a concern. Using white wax is more expensive, and also the white wax can easily mix with the wax you put on top of it, which may not be the desired outcome. If you do use white wax, layer a couple of coats of clear medium may help. I have also found, when using substrates that may have tree resin or glue that can’t readily be seen, the plaster seals and protects from any bleed through of those products.


    2. And a word of warning about substrates. I ordered a few Da Vinci Pro Birch Wood Painting Panels from Jerry’s Artorama. When I went to frame them, they varied from the 18″ x 24″ by as much as 1/2 inch, and some were cracked on the back and sides. The panels are from China, so beware…


  2. Thanks for the information Dianne. I really like your art – very original and refreshing. Do you use the plaster as a feature in your art, as texture perhaps? Or is it always used as a primer?


    1. Thank you! I’m not using the plaster for texture in my newest artwork, the portraits of women, but it certainly can be used that way. If you want to experiment I would use on some smaller substrates first to see how you like it. Thicker plaster will take longer to dry so be sure it’s completely dry before adding wax.


  3. I have been using Venetian Plaster, but I saw some was authentic and some had acrylic. Knowing acrylic was not good with wax I chose authentic. But it is 75$ for a 5 kg tub. But that is still less than encaustic gesso at 23$ a pint on amazon. I find it cracks sometimes. Like crackle paint. I’m not sure why.


    1. I read you must use an adhesive. Roll on? What is that.

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