The (Long) Road to Primer

First, I want to address something: why do I spend so much time on the “boring” stuff? A good 70%–or more!–of my posts, here and on Instagram, are about things like how to best apply. putty. Who cares? Is any of this honestly helpful?

My answer is, getting the right result is 99% about these “invisible” steps. All too often, unfortunately, we skip them as we don’t fully understand their purpose. All this putty, after all, will. be covered up! Unfortunately, though, what we tend to think of as the “amazing” part, i.e. incredible stone or tile finishes, or whatever, is actually really the last step. What makes that paint job look so good, what makes the entire project come alive, is everything that’s come. before. Without a solid foundation to build on, in other words, no amount of paint is enough.

If I hid how long I spent on prep, my Instagram at least might be more interesting–but I wouldn’t be much of a teacher. Yes, I sell my work, like most makers, but my primary goal is to share what I know. Pretending I just whipped out a brush and–BOOM!!!–limestone would be dishonest. I’m here to help you get, as good but ultimately better results than the ones I achieve.

My son loves his new school, which is awesome on so many levels and also gives me more time to work but getting to the “ready fr primer” stage on this roombox has taken a solid two weeks. For primer, incidentally, I’ll be using AKI’s Microfiller Lacquer Primer (available here); although I do use water based everything whenever possible, water based primers have some limitations–especially when you’ll be using water based paint over them. We want a base that’s impervious to water, that we can’t wear away later on with our brushes. You, of course, can use whatever primer you like but I do recommend, in addition to it being lacquer based:

  • A suitable undertone for limestone (or whatever stone you’re replicating).
  • Either aerosol or airbrush.
  • Designed specifically to preserve details.

Brush strokes are a bitch. Aerosol/airbrush applications, meanwhile, create a really nice stone-like surface that’ll serve as a fantastic base for our actual color work. Whatever method you use, though, MASK UP! Use a vent hood, too, if you have one or work outside and as far away from your house as you can manage. Cracking a window isn’t enough and remember: getting cancer doesn’t make you cool.

For years, I was a real jackass about safety. Did that contribute to my own diagnosis? We’ll never know but, trust me, it didn’t help. No kind of propellant (or enamel based product, in and of itself) is a health treatment. I’ll be in remission five years this next April 1, but my eyebrows are only now growing in normally.

Back to the topic at hand, though, applying a white primer over gray gesso will create a really nice undertone for the “limestone.” And remember: start low and GO SLOW. Building up coats over time is really, really the name of the game here as large googes of primer will absolutely obliterate your hard work in seconds. Once it’s on there, it’s virtually impossible to get off (at least not without creating even more ultimately irreversible damage)

Now, is the lecture portion of the event (finally) over?


When last we spoke, we were here:

We’ve sanded, now it’s time to break out the gesso.

Don’t expect to cover everything in one coat. You’ll probably need two, on most surfaces. Note, here, that the “limestone” segments are the ONLY part I’m sanding right now. Brick has a different texture, particularly old brick, so after applying two coats of gesso to the inner chimney column I’ve put it aside.

At this point, you might notice gaps you’ve missed. Break out the putty again, and fill them in! You’ll sand them, later on, along with the rest of the piece. And yes, we’re going to trounce the shit out of this gesso. Gesso, like any water based product, will raise the grain on your wood as well as of course leave brush marks. We want to wait until everything’s completely dry and then break out basically whatever sanding tools seem like they’ll be the most useful and go to town.

A dedicated brush, for sanding, is a good idea. Sanding leaves all kind of detritus, including from the sandpaper, sanding sponges, etc themselves. A periodic brush off keeps everything nice and is absolutely VITAL before applying primer. Otherwise, all those unwanted crumblies will be part of your project forever.

Of course, at the end, dry fit everything together to make sure it still all fits!

Going forward, while I wait for my primer to arrive, because I forgot to order any earlier, I’m going to switch gears and show you how to prep first the ceiling, and then the floor. Believe it or not, the hard part is really almost done! We’re so, SO close to actually breaking out the stuff that’s actually exciting to use.

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