Tuesday How To: Priming Over an Oil Painting.

Every artist at some point has a scrap pile, burn pile, do-over stack, or dark corner relegated to castaway works.

I have my fair share of those. Some are my own atrocities, others are old abandoned student works from my time in college, or the occasional thrift store find – paintings that I collected for their scrap value in canvas and stretchers bars.

Well, those horrible creatures lurking in dark corners haven’t been paying their share of the studio rent, so it’s time to put them to work.

The thing is, priming over an acrylic painting is not a big deal. You can find gesso just about everywhere that has an arts and crafts section. But to cover an oil painting is a little trickier because regular gesso will not form a proper bond  with the surface of the oil painting, and eventually your hard work will come chipping and flaking off over time. This is why you must use an oil-based ground or primer to cover up an old oil painting.

Make a used oil painting surface new again by following these simple steps:

What you will need:

  • An oil painting that you’ve salvaged for the canvas and stretchers
  • 150 grit sandpaper 
  • Can of Oil Ground (mine is made by Gamblin)
  • Gamsol or other Odorless Mineral Spirits
  • A shallow bowl or dish that is solvent-proof and only for use in the studio (I prefer to repurpose tuna cans because they are wide and shallow)
  • Pallette knife (or butter knife, only for studio use )
  • Hog or Synthetic Hog Brush with firm springy feel, about 1 inch wide or whatever is best to cover the size canvas you have.
  • Patience – you must let the ground dry for about 1 week before you can start your painting.

1. Use 150 grit sandpaper to scuff the surface of the oil painting to be covered. Run your hand over the sanded surface to make sure the canvas feels smooth and any brush strokes or texture has been smoothed evenly. Use a clean dry rag to wipe away any excess dust when you are done.

2. At an estimated 2:1 ratio, scoop out some oil ground with a clean knife and place it in your bowl. For 2 parts oil ground, we’re adding 1 part Gamsol or Odorless Mineral Spirits (OMS) to the bowl and mixing them to a brushable consistency. 

3. Coat the painting until it is covered. If you like, you may add a 2nd coat after the first layer tacks up a bit. See the directions on your can for recommended drying times.

You now have a painting surface that will be ready to use in about 1 week.

You may add oil color to your ground if you wish to tint your 2 coat. This could affect drying time. 

Gamblin’s oil ground is faster drying than some other brands, and uses an alkyd resin instead of linseed oil, so it has great adhesion properties for long term durability and conservation.