ART TECHNIQUES Articles 3 min read

Testing the Limits 

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For Mia Tarducci, the secret to success is to keep stretching and growing—to test and try new things that challenge and push her creativity. The Pittsburgh artist creates large-scale works of abstract art, which she paints in oil on canvas panel. Here, she experiments with two different gessoes from Utrecht and shares some advice for embracing a fearless approach to art-making. 

Mia Tarducci paints large abstracts in oil, prepping her canvas panels using her go-to favorites: Utrecht Professional and Utrecht Studio Series Gesso.

Try Something New 

Tarducci didn’t start out creating abstract art. She began with portrait work, which evolved over time and eventually became more abstracted as she began to push herself to break free from what had become a comfort zone. “That’s what I try to do,” says Tarducci. “Whenever I start to feel too comfortable, I try something completely new.” 

Meet the Challenge 

One of the biggest pieces that Tarducci has painted measures 7×24 feet. When she embarked on that project, the artist was well aware of the challenge ahead. “I was terrified,” she says, “because I’d never done anything like it, but my best pieces of art come out of the times I push myself and just let go.” This desire to keep exploring and growing is a driving force behind the artist’s evolution. “When you have expectations and are comfortable with what you’re doing, the result can be beautiful, but it doesn’t always move your work to the next level,” she says. 

Follow Excitement 

Many abstract painters work in acrylic, but Tarducci loves oils. And being at the mercy of the medium is part of what Tarducci finds so gratifying in her process. “I see a blank canvas, and that excites me,” she says. “There are infinite possibilities, but at a certain point the work starts to dictate where it’s going, and I become less the author of the piece and more the companion to it.” 

Find Your Voice 

Tarducci has this piece of advice for new artists: “Find your voice. Find what speaks to you—what defines you as an artist—and try not to let the influences of other artists and instructors drown it out.” It’s this unique voice, she believes, that distinguishes an artist from a technician. 

The Tarducci Test

Utrecht was the first to introduce a revolutionary single-step archival acrylic gesso for priming canvas. Offering a level of quality that rivals the world’s leading brands, Utrecht Artists’ Acrylic Gessoes come in a range of specialized formulas that deliver outstanding absorbency and archival stability on a variety of surfaces. I decided to do a side-by-side comparison of the Utrecht Professional Gesso vs. the Utrecht Studio Series Gesso. See the results below. 

Coverage Test

To test coverage, I painted a large canvas panel with carbon black—one of the new Utrecht Artists’ Acrylic colors. After the panel was completely dry, I used pre-wetted gesso brushes to apply each gesso to the canvas at a slight angle, pulling straight down with an equal amount of pressure. 

Coverage Test Results 

Utrecht Studio Series Gesso: This gesso (on the left in the above photo) is perfect for artists who prefer a pourable formula. It’s very creamy, spreadable, and easy to apply. It dries quickly to a crisp, even surface with minimal brush marks—great for anyone who wants a smooth painting surface without sanding. The coverage is clean and bright, but for maximum opaque coverage, two or three coats would be needed. Luckily, a gallon goes a long way. This is a great option for artists who use a lot of gesso—I use it all the time in my studio. You can’t beat the price. 

Utrecht Professional Gesso: Undiluted straight from the tub, this gesso (on the right in the above photo) is very thick and smooth. It has a slightly stiff application that holds brush marks—perfect for creating textured grounds. It’s also brilliant, bright, and opaque, thanks to high concentrations of top-tier titanium white pigment. The coverage and hiding power is outstanding. When you want total archival coverage with the sweep of a brush, this is it. 

Tint-Strength Test

To test tint strength, I mixed one tablespoon each of the Professional and Studio Series Gesso with an equal amount of primary cyan—another vibrant new color from the Utrecht Artists’ Acrylic range. After mixing well, I used a palette knife to pull the color down the length of the palette paper. In the middle, you’ll see the undiluted primary cyan, which I added as a baseline for comparing the tint strength of the two mixtures. 


Utrecht Professional Gesso: This gesso (on the left in the photos above) produces a much brighter tint than the Studio Series Gesso—it contains very high concentrations of superior-grade titanium white. You can see how bright, thick and rich it is. It’s also incredibly absorbent. 

Utrecht Studio Series Gesso: This gesso (on the right in the photos above) doesn’t offer the same high-tint strength as the Professional Gesso, but it’s super spreadable and perfect for whenever you want to use many thin layers. I enjoy the matte finish it creates. It’s a great economical choice for artists who want to extend colors. 

About the Artist 

Mia Tarducci has had her artwork selected by jurors from the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, and the Brooklyn Museum for exhibitions throughout the United States. Her paintings have also been featured in various national art publications. She has mentored dozens of emerging artists over the years. To learn more about the artist, visit her page on the Dick Blick site. 

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