Priming with Gesso

There are a bunch of good posts about this all over the internet but I thought I'd throw my hat into the ring anyway and talk about priming with gesso.

I live in Boston where the winters are long, cold, windy, and wet. None of these things make good conditions to go outside with a spray can and I don't like priming in my basement. Usually I can backlog primed models through December but I've been searching for a good alternative to spray cans. I think gesso could be that alternative.

What you'll need:

gesso (that large tub cost me 5 bucks)
a brush you don't mind getting ruined
models to prime
water and a pallet (these two are optional)

Step 1 (optional):

I put some gesso onto my pallet (see the penny for some scale) and mixed in two or three drops of water. Some tutorials I've read suggest doing this, others say you can apply the gesso straight from the tub.

Step 2:

Apply the gesso to the models liberally. Gesso shrinks as it dries so you can be pretty generous when you apply it. Below you can see that I was pretty heavy handed in my application.

Step 3:

Allow some time for drying. I left these guys alone for a few hours and that seemed to be sufficient. If you take a look at their faces or the eagles on the helmets / lasguns you can clearly see how the gesso has preserved the details. Awesome!

Step 4 (optional):

Maybe it was because I watered down the gesso or maybe it was because I used white but the coverage was a bit spotty after the first layer (see above picture). I decided to put another coat of gesso on these guys, this time straight from the tub. I let this dry for a few more hours and the results are below. Much better coverage (although still not perfect) and still not detail lost.

After my experiences with watered down vs. straight gesso I think I'm going to stick to the undiluted method in the hopes that two coats of straight gesso will give better coverage. Overall I'm quite pleased with how this worked out. The only pitfall I've noticed is tiny air bubble pits, especially in small but deep corners and crevasses, that form during the drying but I'm not very worried about these as they're small and shouldn't appear on the painted model.