Gel Medium:Coating the World

[Note: You may also enjoy reading More on using glues.]
Gel medium is the magic potion of the art world–it’s a glue or a sealer; it creates a matte or shiny surface, it thins acrylic paints and makes them more transparent, it slows drying.

And the vary characteristics that make it wonderful cause confusion. Let’s keep it simple: Gel medium is acrylic paint without pigment color.

Gel medium is a description, there are several brand names, including Liquitex, Golden and Dick Blick‘s house brand.

00628-1295-0ww-xs.jpgThere are three textures: thick, thin and medium. That’s where the first problem starts.
Thick is also called “heavy,” and “gel,”
medium is often called “fluid,” or “soft fluid, or “medium gel,”
liquid is also called “most fluid,” “self-leveling,” or, “liquid”

Confused yet? I use Golden, which is a brand name, not a color, and their viscosities are divided into Gel and Medium, which is fluid. Golden makes at least 20 variations, including gels packed with glass beads for shine and texture, and those you can shape into peaks for impasto.00618-1026-0ww-xs.jpg

I use heavy gel when I need a paste, a medium when a lighter glue is needed, and a thin for coating collage work, isolating elements that might bleed or deteriorate or have a high-acid content which interferes with the archival qualities.

In addition to their consistency, gels also have transparency. Matte is great for creating a see-through surface without a shine. But if you are going to build it up, it will reduce clarity. Satin has a soft luster, and gloss is perfectly clear. It is shiny, but you can also build up layers and get that trapped-in-lucite look that reminds me of decoupage gone wrong, but certainly has its place.

Almost all mediums extend drying time of paint, and your best bet is to use the thinnest consistency and apply several coats. Let dry thoroughly between coats. If you use a heat gun, be careful not to hold the nozzle too close to the piece while the medium hasn’t set. Your collage will absorb the liquid, form steam, then develop blisters that can pop, spraying hot medium.

If you press your pieces, make sure they are dry. Even then, I use parchment to separate pages when they go into the book press.

–Quinn McDonald. QuinnCreative offers journal-writing, training, seminars and life- and creativity coaching. (c) 2007. All rights reserved. Images: courtesy Liquitex and Golden.

27 thoughts on “Gel Medium:Coating the World

  1. Hello I have made a clamshell box for a Photo project I’m working on, and I when I attached the cloth to the book board some of the PVA glue has bled through leaving dark, almost “wet” spots. I have been given advice to use gel medium as a sealer to help even out the appearance of the spots. Im hoping when I brush it on it will help saturate the cloth and even the color out. I don’t mind if I’ll get a gloss appearance. The project is going to be turned in on Wednesday so I will be applying the gel medium tomorrow. any insight that you may be able to give me is appreciated. If not in time thats alright, I would like to know for future projects

    • As you figured out by now, this blog has been moved over to my website, and I no longer add posts here. I check in once a month to let people know to follow the new blog. Once the glue saturates cloth, it will stain the cloth. You didn’t tell me if it was book cloth or canvas or cotton, so I can’t be specific. Covering it with gel medium is not going to work well. Gel medium takes a long time to dry and will always remain wet enough to stick to dry pieces of paper or cloth. Next time, use fusible webbing to connect cloth to cardboard.

  2. I’ve glued paper bark onto a canvas as a landscape piece now I want to seal it. The bark is so fine it keeps lifting up, I’ve tried Fixative spray but it still lifts. What spray can I spray onto it to prevent it from lifting and to also seal it.

    • Maria, it’s hard for me to give you good advice on this. I haven’t seen the piece, don’t know what kind of bark, canvas, glue or other materials you are using. Bark is an organic matter and has to be treated differently because it will eventually rot. Your best bet is to ask at a locally owned art supply store. They are usually staffed by artists and you need someone to take a look at this piece.

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    • I don’t understand your question, but maybe this will help: Gel transfers are for paper and cardstock. Because they involve an image taken from paper, and gel medium is plastic, you can’t use it on clothing or leather.

  4. Hi! Two quick questions: how do I adhere dried and flattened birch bark to a canvas that has been gesso’d but not painted yet? If I need to coat the bark with a protective layer, what do you suggest for 1) matte look and 2) super thick shiny look? THANKS!!!

    • The uneven surface of gesso and the brittle nature of birch bark may well cause the bark to break or peel off the background. You can paint the bark with matte medium or spray it with SpectraFix, a casein-based fixative that uses milk protein and grain alcohol to hold and protect your media without dulling or darkening colors. It may not work on bark. If you want a super-thick shiny look, you can use Golden’s Tar Gel, which is very thick and dries very shiny, but may take weeks to dry. I’ve never done that, so you may well have to experiment to get the effect you really want.

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  6. I would like to know what you recommend for applying paper to cloth and then covering. Like mod podge on blue jeans or leather. Please.

    • To apply paper to cloth, it’s important to know what the piece is. Something that doesn’t require much moving, bending or flexing might use a simple white glue. My preference for paper to cloth is to use fusible webbing. I’d use a double-sided one like Misty-Fuse after I’ve drawn on the paper. If you have your heart set on glue and a covering, I’d use Yes! glue for the glue, then use Golden varnish to cover it.

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  9. Quinn~ Thanks so much for this, I’ve been confused about mediums for awhile now and going to the art store and staring at all the products didn’t seem to help any. Two questions: 1) What’s a bone folder? 2) I thought vodka transfers was a drinking game we played in college?

  10. Sara–Vodka transfers are something I discovered by accident, but I’ve learned since that they are quite common. I used an image done on my printer, which is not laser (laser gives much crisper results), spray the front with vodka. Use a fine spray, a mist is better than a spritz. Place face down, use a bone folder to transfer the image, check the image before you lift. The entire post is here:

  11. Vodka transfers? please tell me more. this info on gel mediums is great. I’d slowly worked out most of it, but having it all together like this is perfect. thanks.

  12. Gel transfers are wonderful, but every instruction I’ve ever read makes them sound incredibly easy, and it isn’t for me. It requires a lot of work and focus. I’d read steps like, “wipe the background paper of with a damp cloth. . .” and I’d be scrubbing the paper off for half an hour, clogging the drain with all that paper. I finally mastered them, but I have to admit, I’m a bigger fan of vodka transfers.

  13. hey quinn, nice to find you here, through the cloth paper studio… i have been a member of this group for a while now but haven’t been receiving daily digests so didn’t realise you were here. thanks for the great info on mediums. i love to use gel medium for transferring images onto cloth and paper. my local fine arts supplier has just this week got the full range of golden products into his shop – i’m off tomorrow to spend some money!! it will be great to have a play!
    see you back at the rookery!

  14. This is great! All this help. . .so useful!
    Jan–just ordered some Dorland’s wax, I have plans for it! Paul–what a great idea–melting decals! This could be a great look! (I actually often blister and “explode” wet, glued collage pieces, but wanted to warn others.)
    Arlee–You are welcome. . .and stay tuned for the July 10 post on 5 ways to create your own deckled edges on paper.

  15. Here’s another use: plastic scale modelers often use it to help adhere water-slide decals to textured surfaces! I’ve had a bottle of Liquitex as standard equipment in my model equipment tackle box for years.

    (You can also brush clear nail polish over the decal to “melt” it on, but too much and you could cause the decal to bubble and even run… to very entertaining effect…)

  16. and it helps immensely, if you plan to use acrylic media a lot if you also purchase Dorlands wax at the same time as the final coat which will prevent the acrylic media from sticking to each other accidentally and permanently..for example, if you coat all the parts of a cigar box with Mod Podge after collaging all over it, and find that once you close it you can’t get it open again without a knife! don’t ask me how I know this! (wry smile)

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