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Clear Gesso over Charcoal

Someone posted a video of an art professor giving a demonstration, where he did tonal charcoal drawing, covered it with shelak to seal and tone it,  and after drying started to paint with oils over the top.  I want to try the same thing, tonal drawing on canvas with charcoal and then use tinted clear gesso over the top to seal the drawing.  Have any of you tried this?  I have tried this with a brush and it just spread the charcoal all around ruining the drawing.  I'm wondering if pour the gesso on and use a large putty knife to spread it, if that would work without distorting the drawing.  Thoughts?


  • That was Vincent Desiderio - he is genius.  Why are you using clear gesso over the top of it?  He just uses the shellac .   It makes for a gorgeous warm undertone and seals at the same time.  He uses a card to smear - don't brush it.  He says it doesn't distort if you use a card.  It's all in the video though - I've watched it about 8 times - he is amazing.
  • edited February 2018
    He buys cheap shellac at a hardware store - amber color though.   If you just want to seal it clear, use hairspray.  

  • You can also get non-pigmented shellac. I don't think gesso over shellac will work though.
  • why would you want to gesso over shellac????   I don't get it.  If you're trying to seal a charcoal drawing and want to seal it clear - hairspray works great.  The video demonstration of the shellac tone was very interesting - definitely not DMP though.  He is a talented artist and scholar - the video is 3 hours long - he is considered a genius by many.  the video is free on youtube. 

  • No.  I want to use tinted clear gesso over charcoal.  Not over shellack.  So basically same technique but clear gesso in place of shellack
  • @JeffAllen   is it clear or tinted?  I don't understand "tinted clear".
  • I'm afraid that the gesso is going to tug and pull at your drawing if applied by hand in any matter unless it has a fixative to hold it in place and in tact. My only other suggestion is to spray the gesso (diluted with water) with an industrial spray painter used for murals or an airbrush used for creating backgrounds. But at this I believe that your charcoal drawing would have to be fixed because air pressure could disturb the drawing. I have years of airbrush experience, I learned quite a variety of different kinds of applications available in this field. And I used to ponder this when I used to do chalk art on the streets, folks wanted some of these as permanent pieces but never became a serious endeavor.
  • @Julianna,  clear gesso is clear when it dries.  You can add a small amount of acrylic paint which will tint it.  So if you wanted to simulate that shelak you would add a small amount of brown paint to it.
  • Ignore my comment (my wife always did) I must have read it wrong and thought @JeffAllen was trying to do something else entirely. Sorry for the confusion @Julianna. my comments are meant to confuse me and no body else if there is any confusion.
  • Hi @JeffAllen, on the portrait of my parents the initial drawing was done on a toned canvas with charcoal, sprayed with a fixative then,covered with clear gesso. 
  • @Boudicca,  thank you for confirming.  That is what I thought the process would be, just wanted to confirm.  So I will try that on my next painting.
  • A lot of shellacs have wax in them. You can get it  without wax. Zinsser makes Clearcoat a wax free shellac. I would check on with Facebook Painting best practices group or Sue at golden paints about using shellacs and what kind and how. I know shellac is used as an isolation coat for faux finishes involving oil based paints. They lay it over wet oil and it drys so quickly they can add an other layer then shellac again building depth. I wanted to research this to see if it would work for painting. If you use a charcoal pencil it would have a better bite than vine charcoal not wiping off so easily. I don't know what DMP uses. I am assuming you have done your 10 to 20 painting and are playing with some other approaches?
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