Rabbit Skin Glue

Rabbit skin glue is, as the name says, made of rabbit skins. Animal skins were traditionally used for making glue, and rabbit skin gives finest glue. It's used for making traditional oil painting canvases. If you're a veganist, there are vegan paint alternatives - scroll down for that - but first I'll describe the traditional way.

Preparing the glue

Rabbit skin glue is sold in crystals, that you can dissolve in warm water. But they have to soak first. The glue is best heated "au bain marie", which means: place a pot inside another pot of boiling water, to heat it indirectly (the glue may not get to boil).

It's important that the glue won't be too strong: a too strong glue causes problems (cracks in your primer). In this oil painting guide, you'll find a more elaborate description and recipes for making and using rabbit skin glue - and also a way to test the strength of your glue.

Preparing an oil painting canvas from scratch

When you stretch your own canvases, first you do a sizing with glue. This is a transparant layer, that blocks the primer from going all the way into the fabric. You tack the untreated fabrick (cotton or linen) on your stretcher strips, and then brush in the fabric with hot rabbit skin glue. Very thin, very lightly - but make sure you cover the whole surface. The sizing has to be thin, because too much rabbit skin glue causes circular cracks in your painting later. First you hush on the glue to spread it over the biggest possible surface, then you brush harder into the fabric, to make sure everything is covered.

Only tack on the back of the stretcher strips. If you size with rabbit-skin glue, you don't have to stretch the canvas very tight. Even better: put it on loosely - without folds, but not tight. You apply it hot - after drying, your canvas will shrink to fit, and stand tight as a drum.

Free recipe sheets

Free recipe sheets for oil painting techniques

In these recipe sheets you'll find exactly how to cook rabbit skin glue, along with a few other recipes and a product list (on oil painting primer and underpainting), both the modern and the traditional way.

The products were selected to be least expensive, while delivering quality. Like in the supermarket: it's not about shiny packages, but about knowing what ingredients are worth, no matter if it's cheap or expensive. If you want to read more, check out my e-book (76 pages) on oil painting materials. The recipe sheets are a free download, when you subscribe to this website.

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Making a traditional canvas primer

Rabbit skin glue is also a basic ingredient of the old-fashioned absorbent half-oil ground. There are two recipes:

  • The straight chalk-glue ground is good for painting boards (you can make boards from thick plywood or MDF). Halas, it's too brittle for canvases.
  • The half-oil ground can be put on a canvas as well as painting boards. It's less absorbent and more flexible.

Both recipes can be found in this oil painting recipe sheets. More recipes can be found in this oil painting guide - here you'll also find how to make oil paint and design your layering systems (to ensure your painting a long and healthy life).

For both grounds goes: if you want a white ground, use titanium white (for warm white) or a mixture of zinc white and titanium white (for a coloder white). But you can also take earth pigments, for a colored ground: yellow ochre, raw or burnt umber, burnt siena. It gives a great starting situation for underpainting, and you'll need less paint. If you consider other pigments: take ones that contain a good deal of chalk, or take earth pigments. They provide a stable ground for the oils.

Vegan alternatives

If you want to have a vegan paint: acrylic binders are animal-free in every way. For sizing and priming, you can use acrylic binder (sizing) and acrylic gesso (priming). Adding caseine will make the gesso also suitable as an oil painting primer. Caseine is made of milk. Both oil and acrylic paints are vegan, while egg- and caseine tempera contain milk and egg.

When you use an acrylic binder: first stretch your canvas as tight as you can, using canvas pliers - it will not shrink much. Adding caseine helps to make the canvas shrink more. Click here for more on priming with gesso.

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