• Chrissie Calvert

PVA; the Grandfather of Transparent Primer

Updated: Mar 2

Imogen Taylor uses transparent primer. Her use of it may be rooted in her early employment at a professional art supplies shop, along with her training in what the "right" technical art products are and their prescribed uses. I'm not shitting on transparent primer. If I could afford it, I would probably use it and love it. All I am saying is that there is a cheaper alternative which achieves basically the same thing, with a few curve balls which have easy solutions. That alternative is Glue. Specifically clear-drying, wood-strength PVA.

I'll start with the curve balls.

-The smell and intoxicating effect.

It has been a humid summer. The placement of my studio and lack of windows has created a cave like environment, i.e. little airflow. Priming an approximately 800x 1000mm piece of hessian takes me about an hour. That's a long time to be huffing glue. I left the studio dizzy. No idea what the hype about glue is, because I can tell you, all it did for me was give me a minor headache.

My solution is to prime in a place with more airflow. Simple. I will pin the hessian to the open door frame and stand on the outside so there will be plenty of fresh air. I may invest in a respirator as well, if priming outside still causes negative physiological symptoms.

-PVA dries hard.

This one isn't really a curve ball for me as it eliminates the need for stretching the hessian, which is a bitch. For others, who want the stretched canvas look, you'd have to glue your hessian on the frame you plan to use. Simple enough, but that makes for a rigid practice.

-Glue is sticky.

Glue is designed to adhere to two or more surfaces to bind them together chemically. This means if I primed my hessian against the wall, it would be hard to move. I thought up a couple solutions. One was better than the other. The first was to put GladWrap on the wall underneath the hessian, so the fabric would stick to the GladWrap instead of the wall. The reason I didn't go with this idea was mainly because that would defeat the authentic rawness I wanted.

My second solution was to pull and pin the hessian taught on a frame which wasn't backed flush against a surface. This could easily be unpinned later. This was the easiest and cheapest solution and so I ran with it.

Now for the benefits of using PVA vs Transparent Primer.

-It dries hard

This curve ball turned into a home run. I love this about PVA. Stiff hessian makes for such an interesting surface to paint on. If you really think about it, it basically becomes an extremely thin slice of MDF, with added texture at an affordable price. Win win win..win.


$10/litre of high quality PVA is a steal compared to the cost of most gesso's and priming agents. This allows me to prime on a larger scale without wasting all my money on surface prep.


Being in the middle of a pandemic with shipping delays causing havoc worldwide, needing something so primary and plentiful is a definite advantage. Thanks to the shit-show-circus which is the supply chain right now. Unfortunately, relying on niche products supplied by small businesses is now and for the foreseeable future, a risky move.

Basically PVA is a secret gem of a product, and its existence has created many interesting avenues within my practice. It is always so exciting to discovering something which adds new potential to work.

PVA is the grandfather of transparent primer. PVA needed to be invented before transparent primer, as it really is the OG product which dries clear and adheres to tricky surfaces.


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