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I know many artists that use house paint (latex emulsion paint) as a primer for canvas, because they think that the cheaper house paint will work the same as artist acrylic dispersion primer. I point out that house paint is always sloughing off as part of its characteristic of being easily cleaned, that it is designed to last for only 10 years and that a wall is not a flexible surface like a stretched canvas and that the paint in my flat is cracked all over because house paint isn’t flexible. So for those three reasons it is not the same.
Though I have noticed a big difference in sloughing off between types of paint - the cheap DIY paint in large buckets that is used in galleries wipes off white on a sponge, which is excellent for removing a stain by removing a layer of paint, but the paint in my bathroom is designed for water and does not scrub off on a sponge when wetted. And I wonder if tougher exterior paint is better.
Some people learned from art school tutors to mix PVA into household emulsion to make a primer. Others use a very good, one coat, stain killer household paint that says it promotes adhesion.
Everyone who uses household paint to prime canvases gets quite defensive and starts saying PVA is PVA, that house paint is the same as acrylic dispersion primer and that artist acrylic dispersion gesso is a rip-off. They say that the wall paint in their house lasts much longer than 10 years and they only re-paint for decorative reasons.
None of this is about the usage of house paint for aesthetic or conceptual reasons - they all use it for economy.
Is it correct to say that household latex emulsion paint is not the same as or equivalent to acrylic dispersion primer and that it isn’t a good foundation for permanent paintings? If that's true, can anyone give a clearer picture of how it is different and what problems might arise from using it?
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I will let someone with more experience in acrylic dispersions field this one.
Many of the arguments you gave already are correct. Acrylic is a wide chemical category (I just searched for 'acrylic emulsion' on DOWs website and got 167 results- just to give you a sense of the abundant offer in acrylic emulsions/dispersions nowadays). Acrylic paints are usually made from 1-3 different acrylic monomers (building blocks) and for commercial paints harder monomers are used in order to make the paints more scratch resistant. Even the wall paint that you can rub off a superficial layer to remove stains is made from harder & stiffer acrylic binder. The paint simply contains less binder and more filler, in order to allow for the chalky quality. Thus, commercial paints are less flexible and have a higher risk of cracking and flaking, when used on flexible supports like canvas. A way to mitigate this problem is to add additional artist quality acrylic binder into the house paint. The price point of paint (commercial or artist paint) is indicative of the quality. Even if manufacturers use the same or similar acrylic polymers for a paint, the quality of the acrylic binder and the whole formulation can still differ.
Additionally, in the commercial paint industry it has been common to represent mixtures of acrylic&styrenes and acrylic/PVA as “acrylics", which can also cause compatibility issues and adhesion failure. There is plenty of conservation literature on 20th century artists who used commercial paints in their paintings, such as Pollock and Hans Hofmann, who's works pose challenges to today's paintings conservators.
There are also coalescents and plasticizers used in house paints that are not normally present in artists' primers, which may be problematic. These criticisms of the unsuitability of architectural coatings for artistic painting shouldn't be taken as saying that those products are inferior, they are just formulated and tested for different applications and to different standards.