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
I 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
Have you tried Venetian Plaster?
Add a comment below to share what your experience using venetian plaster in place of encaustic gesso.