Monday, January 30, 2012

Gesso Woes

I've been having gesso problems. I use gesso with my elementary students to prime papier-mache projects. It blocks out the newspaper print, provides some additional strength to the structure, and also provides a nice painting surface.

I'd been using this stuff from Nasco for umpteen years:

But last spring, I opened up my container after not using it for a couple of months and what was left was all ORANGE (and didn't smell good either). So I called the company, and they replaced it. The new bucket was opened and used toward the end of the school year, but we didn't use it up. I went to use it this fall, and again... ORANGE. So I threw it out.

Because I was worried about a repeat of this problem, I ordered something else. Our district wants us to order from School Specialty, so I ordered this:

I opened it to prime my Laurel Burch papier-mache cat prototype, and it was disappointing. It would probably take 3 or 4 coats to cover the newspaper print, so it's not practical for our use. We need to get the priming done in one session. I can't think of a possible good use for this stuff.

So I ordered this:

In the catalog it was shown in a bucket, but it arrived in a bottle, like the Sax one in the previous photo. So I opened the bottle up and stuck my finger in, hoping to see its opacity. But what I found was a solid rubbery lump. EEK. The whole bottle!!! I called School Specialty and they sent me a replacement immediately. It came right away, and so I opened it immediately. Here's what it looked like after I cut the bottle in 1/2.

Yes, the top half of the bottle was another solid rubbery lump. The bottom half is like a thick rubbery spackle. It can be smeared onto a surface with my hands, but it won't spread with a brush at all; it is on it's way to being another rubbery lump.

I called yet again and they offered something different for replacement. But most of the gesso was way pricier than the stuff I'd ordered, so the only thing I could find at the cost I'd had approved was this: Rheotech Gesso. It's listed as 'economy' so I hope it will have some density and coverage. We shall see.

Do you use gesso at school? What kind do you prefer? Have you ever had spoilage problems?

22 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh! What a run of bad gesso. I don't use much of it and only order it in bottles that are probably 24 oz or so. I've never had it do the odd things that your's are doing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. WOW...that is just crazy. I tend to by my gesso local(small quantities)..so I know exactly what I'm getting.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have to requisition all my materials - usually done this time of year for next year, as our budgets are being set now. Annual school budget vote is in May and the orders usually go out right after the budget passes. So if I buy stuff locally it's coming out of my own pocket rather than the school budget. And remember, I live in a small town so there's not really a good art supply store. The little one that is here is very limited and extremely overpriced.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Of course I'm not doing ANY requisitioning this year. I assume they'll set aside a budget amount as per what I usually get and let my replacement use it to place her order.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have this week off, but will probably be over at school sometime during the week. I'll check what I ordered. We use SAX, which is School Specialty, so you've got me nervous. I haven't looked at my gesso lately. I have some here at home by Art-Alternatives. It is great, but perhaps pricey. I got it at a local small art store. I'll let you know what I find out.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Phyl--Will you be keeping your blog open after you retire. I sure hope so! I really enjoy your posts and your inspirational projects.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @ Unknown - yes I will continue to blog. It certainly will change but I enjoy it too much to stop so we'll see what it becomes!

    ReplyDelete
  8. PS-I get my gesso at Jo-Ann Fabrics. I'm on their mailing list(40%) off and teachers get an additional 15. Somestimes I take my husband( over 60 yrs old) and he gets it for 20 % extra.

    ReplyDelete
  9. why don't you make your own gesso?

    it's super easy, here in mexico is ultra expensive and I make my own, it's more or less this:

    http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Traditional-Gesso-Using-Acrylic-Glue

    ReplyDelete
  10. I have buckets of sax gesso that is old, "pre-me" at the school. I recently used it and it was fine. With paper mache I use paper towels for the final layer. The cheap kind from the paper towel dispensers in the school. My custodian used to save me roll ends,(the custodian who did his job and replaced before they ran out.) I have purchased the same type fairly cheap and the local hardware store. My money, but only a few dollars once a year. Sometimes it is brown but I have also found white.

    ReplyDelete
  11. what about white house paint from the local hardware store? I live in a teeny town and have found it works. of course, i've never used it over newspaper. I've just used it for a base for my paintings.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Utrecht has great gesso that comes in a small bucket. I have a bucket that I have used in my personal studio for years - it just gets a rubbery layer on top after not using it, but you can avoid this by covering the surface with plastic wrap when you shut the container up for longer storage.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I usually order Liquetex or one of the other name-brand ones. I find that the generic brands of anything usually aren't as good. I wonder if when the product arrived it had been frozen outside. That can change the consistency. Probably ordering in smaller quantities would help too. I've never had any problems with gesso though!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Oh my, I didn't expect so many comments on this! So let me respond the best I can.

    First of all - like so many of you, I spend my own money on a LOT of stuff for school, including everything from popsicles and popcorn for the winners of the pop-pop party, plastic Ziploc bags, aluminum foil, stickers, plastic eggs, art prints, books, and much much more. What I'm not going to do is spend my money to buy enough gesso or house paint to prime approximately 50 large cats, and several other papier-mache projects that will happen before the end of the year.

    I'm also not going to make it myself. I'm in my classroom hours after everyone else leaves as it is!!

    I bought the Liquitex BECAUSE of the good reputation. Whatever the problem with the product, I believe it was a factory problem, because it happened twice. The caps on the bottles did not have a good seal, so I'm sure that was a contributing factor. I've got no doubt that Utrecht is probably great but it is a budgetary issue. The Nasco, which in hindsight I would order again, is inexpensive, creamy/thick and opaque.

    Meanwhile, the funniest part of the whole saga happened today, when a package arrived that should have carried the Rheotech Gesso. I opened it up and inside was...drum-roll...two small bottles of Sax Gloss Gel Medium. HUH?? It's gotten so ridiculous that it's just laughable now. So I called AGAIN and they are sending the Rheotech. I think.

    Meanwhile, during the call to School Spec, my 5th grade entered and had to be patient for 2 minutes while I finished the call. And one boy in the class was a total brat, throwing things, disrespectful, rude, etc. I positively SCREAMED at him, something I rarely ever do. He's going to have to find someplace other than the art room to be in our next class, because I might grab him by his scrawny neck. Not the best way to end the day..

    And then the kids in grade 5 are always coming and going to band lessons, so some kids don't know how to make their cat head, others missed a demo on the tail, and it's getting a little crazy. BUT some of the cats look awesome.

    About the white paper towel idea: our school paper towels are brown, so I'd have to buy white. But anyhow, I really like the primed surface for painting, and I like the extra strength a coat of gesso provides.

    But thanks anyhow for all your opinions/ideas/etc!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hello Phyl! I just wanted to say that I have been following your blog everyday for the past 2 1/2 years since I completed grad school (no joke, I check it everyday!). I was hired this year after 2 years of subbing on and off (NYC doe hiring restrictions played a big role in me not getting hired sooner). Your blog is my go to blog for advice and encouragement. I'm so happy to hear that you'll keep blogging even after retirement! I love reading your take on things. Maybe you can even have an advice section for us newbies one day =o) Anyway, just thought I'd let you know how grateful I am for your advice, and that also goes for ALL the art teacher bloggers out there too because I sure do learn a lot from each and every one of them.

    P.S. Sorry about your gesso problems =o/

    ReplyDelete
  16. Phyl,

    I have never used Gesso. Ever. I always use white acrylic paint over my paper mache' projects to hide the newspaper. I tell the kids that even if a little newspaper still shows when it dries, the colors we use will hide it. I guess spending 3 years in the pottery and glaze lab in college didn't leave a lot of time for painting classes (which I wasn't interested in anyway)where I might have learned to use Gesso. I am curious now, since you've had good luck with it prior to this latest spate of defective products. I have a Blick 40% coupon burning a hole in my pocket!

    :)Pat

    ReplyDelete
  17. Just last week my student teacher finished some "junk sculptures" that had lots of tape, glue, cardboard, and plastic- all sorts of surfaces. I don't usually buy gesso for my elementary, have just used layers of acrylic paint. This time I didn't have much acrylic paint so we used Kilz primer with bright colored house paints mixed in that I had leftover from numerous projects. One coat with just a few touch-ups. Worked like a charm. I convinced the kids that we were recycling paint, which is a good thing, and none of the 180 kids complained that the colors were bold pastel colors instead bright intense colors.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Wow! Lots of great comments when I get a chance to order supplies in the future. I usually have the kids cover the project with a layer of paper towels, I even save the ones the other class dries their hands on to reuse. If you put a little mache on the surface, you can cover the piece with small pieces of paper towel and it makes a nice surface to paint on.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I saw on ArtSmudge the other day how she mixes tempera paint (white) with Elmer's glue to make Gesso (she was making 3D sculptures using clothes hangers bent into amorphous shapes and covered with panty hose). She says this combo makes a wonderful base coat. It doesn't seem like it would take long to mix up...I know you don't want to make your own, but these ingredients you may have on hand...I'm sorry you are frustrated! I send you a big hug from NH!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Who would have thought that this little silly post would have generated SO many comments??!!

    As I said before - our brown paper towels are not a good painting surface. As for the Elmer's and tempera idea, it would probably work great but then... I'd run out of Elmer's and white tempera, right? Don't worry - I actually have some available to use and the new stuff should show up soon and all is well in the art room, if only I could keep my 5th graders from driving each other crazy.

    @ Mrs. Alba, I'm flattered that I'm your daily 'go-to' blog! Since you appear to be in NY, why don't you try to spend some time at the NAEA conference in March? I'm really looking forward to meeting people that I've only seen in cyberspace thus far.

    ReplyDelete
  21. One more word about my 5th graders. It's like someone turned a switch on them in the past week. They argue with each other, do little mean things: water on someone's back or head, stealing a roll of tape, etc, then they tattle on each other and get all upset when I don't know where it is coming from. And they have ASSIGNED SEATS but it still happens. There's a meanness I'm not liking.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Just came across this post and I had to laugh. I had a similar experience when I ordered liquid watercolor. One had opened in the bag so I called the company. New one arrived, also opened and I just called to tell them "Tighten the lids, no need for a replacement" I was too embarrassed to chance a third shipment! haha

    ReplyDelete