Painting and ModellingTabletop Gaming

Priming with Gesso

Everyone knows that Priming is one of the most important steps before you start painting a model. If you have a good solid primer base, that makes the subsequent painting so much easier. Conversely, if you have a crappy prime base, sometimes all the painting in the world won’t save it.

I’ve been using spray primers for a while, and everyone knows that spray primers are notoriously fickle sometimes. Everything, from temperature to humidity, to brand of primer, how long it’s been sitting there and how much you shake… everything contributes to how it goes on. You can get nice smooth coverage, or you can get the nightmare of patchy coverage, obscured details and chalky, grainy finishes. Lord knows it’s happened to me enough times.

So when I heard about the supposed miracle priming material of gesso, you can bet your britches I’ll go try it out and see if it’s as cracked up as everyone says it is.

Gesso comes in two different colours; white and black. I know that you can mix it to get grey, but I heard people suggesting that you could mix it with other colours as well to get a coloured primer basecoat, so I figured I’d try that as well.

I went and got two 250ml bottles of Daler-Rowney Gesso for $14SGD (or about 8$USD) each; one white, one black. I think windsor and newton is generally considered the gesso to get, but about twice the price I couldn’t bring myself to buy what could possibly be just a failed experiment. The daler-rowney ones cost about the same as a spray can of Krylon Primer, but it looked like I could prime much, MUCH more with the gesso.

I’d be trying each of the usual options: Black, white and grey. I’d also try out the option of adding acrylic paints into the mix and see how that went.

First up: bare minis.

First I tried white, which showed some bubbling. This occurs when the gesso gets slopped on too fast so I tried to go a bit slower in the next experiment.

You can see that gesso goes on really scary. It’s just globbed on, and if you’re new to this you’d think that gesso would ruin your mini, but the general word on the web is that it shrinks a lot more as it dries, so don’t worry so much right now. 🙂

Then mixing black and white to get grey. Going on this seemed to be pretty nice.

Next were the two experiments; mixing white with colour. I wanted to pain both models a light pink base colour, so I mixed in some flesh tone and pink into the white gesso and tried priming with that.

A bit worrying; the girl (peach skintone mix) seemed to be a bit patchy and the wyrm (pink mix) seemed to show some brush lines. But well, and experiment is an experiment and I just soldiered on.

General consensus is to allow the gesso 24 hours to set but after about 2 hours, most of the primer base had already shrunk. The white didn’t come out as nicely as I had hoped. Quite a bit of bubbles and some slight obscuring of details, but this was likely due to the fact that I was rushing, unskilled, and that white is generally more unforgiving a base than most. I think I might strip the mini and try priming it again.

Black turned out a lot better. Coverage was good, with only a few pinpricks of bare metal seen. That’s due to the shrinkage when Gesso dries, and is easily remedied by going over those bare areas a second time. As we all know, black is a bit annoying to paint over sometimes, especially with lighter colours like red and yellow.

The mixture of grey seemed to be the best of all the 3 so far. It gave the coverage and didn’t obscure detais like the black, and yet looked to be bright enough that reds and yellows wouldn’t have much problems going over the primer-coat. I took both the front and back to show how nice it turned out.

Unfortunately, the experiments were nowhere as successful, after drying out the peach-based girl ended up with a very patchy undercoat while the wyrm showed up with quite a streaky base… you can see some of the brushstrokes, especially on the carapace.

Not good at all. I think this was due to the addition of the paints; my skin tone colour was probably a bit translucent to begin with and the pink paint for the wyrm was probably a bit clumpy. Like the white, I’ll try painting it over a bit first to see if it can be salvaged, but if not it looks like they’ll be needing a quick strpip and re-primer.

Ending thoughts:

Gesso seems to work pretty well as a base primer. It takes a bit longer to apply, but you can glop it on, and it will still keep all of the model’s details. Keep it simple though. You can afford to mix it with another gesso colour, but no guarantees on what will happen if you mix it with anything else (as seen in my last two minis). All in all, a good alternative to spray primer. I think I will end up using both methods, depending on if I need speed (sprays) or coverage (gesso). Also, I can’t get grey primer over here and I think grey gesso might soon be my primer of choice.

Give us your thoughts on if you prefer gesso or spray priming!


Singapore’s resident Press Ganger, that is, the man to go to for Privateer Press’ WARMACHINE, and HORDES. Kakita also dabbles in Games Workshop’s WARHAMMER FANTASY and WARHAMMER 40K lines.

Related Articles


    1. I don’t think i’ve seen liquitex before. Gesso primers can be found in Artfriend (and possibly other art shops as well but I’m not sure)

Back to top button