Gesso is a must-have for those who want to get creative with painting. Not only does it provide the perfect surface for painting, but it also ensures that your art will be long-lasting and look professional.
Fortunately, you don’t need to buy gesso from an expensive store or online – you can easily make your own right at home.
This guide will show you how to make gesso using basic craft supplies and simple techniques. So if you’re ready to join the ranks of DIY painters, then read on!
An Overview of Gesso: Is Gesso the Same as Primer?
Gesso is a versatile and essential material used in art and painting. It is a white, opaque primer applied to various surfaces before painting to create a smooth and stable foundation.
Gesso provides a protective layer, preventing the paint from soaking into the surface and improving adhesion.
It is commonly used on canvases, wood panels, and other porous surfaces to prepare them for acrylic, oil, or tempera paints. Other cool things to do with Gesso are mixing it with pigments to create colored grounds.
This versatile medium allows artists to achieve better paint application, color vibrancy, and longevity in their artworks.
Whether it’s a professional artist or a hobbyist, understanding the purpose and techniques of using gesso is essential for creating quality paintings.
Ideally, Gesso is considered a specific type of primer specifically formulated for art applications. It is typically thicker and more absorbent than traditional primers used in other industries.
Its formulation often includes a combination of calcium carbonate, acrylic polymer, and white pigment.
Is Gesso Worth It?
Yes, gesso is worth it. Here is a list of some of the benefits that you can enjoy by using gesso:
Provides a Smooth and Stable Surface
One of the primary benefits of gesso is its ability to create a smooth and stable surface for painting.
When applied to canvases, wood panels, or other porous surfaces, gesso fills in the imperfections and creates an even texture, allowing for better paint application and brush control.
Enhances Paint Adhesion
Gesso acts as a primer, promoting better adhesion of paint layers to the surface. By creating a slightly absorbent layer, gesso helps the paint grip onto the surface, preventing it from flaking or peeling over time.
Prevents Paint Soaking
When paint is applied directly to an unprimed surface, it tends to be absorbed, resulting in dull colors and uneven coverage.
Gesso acts as a barrier, preventing the paint from soaking into the surface, thus allowing the colors to appear more vibrant and ensuring better coverage.
Increases Artwork Longevity
By creating a protective layer between the surface and the paint, gesso helps to protect the underlying material from damage, such as discoloration, moisture, or rotting.
This, in turn, increases the longevity and durability of the artwork.
Allows for Corrections and Layering
Gesso provides a forgiving surface for artists to make corrections or adjustments during the painting process.
If a mistake is made, the gesso layer can be sanded or scraped off, allowing changes without damaging the underlying surface.
Gesso can be used with various painting mediums, including acrylics, oils, and tempera.
Its versatility allows artists to work with different paints and techniques while maintaining consistent surface quality.
Tinting and Customization
Gesso can be tinted with pigments or mixed with other media to create colored grounds. This allows artists to customize their painting surface, creating unique effects or tonal backgrounds that complement their artistic vision.
Suitable for Different Surfaces
Gesso is compatible with various surfaces, including canvas, wood, and paper. It prepares these surfaces for painting, making them suitable for various artistic applications and ensuring the paint adheres properly.
Homemade Gesso Recipes
Creating homemade gesso allows you to control the ingredients and customize the primer according to your specific needs. With readily available materials, you can experiment with various recipes to make gesso at home.
Method 1: Traditional Oil Gesso
Items you need:
- Dried animal glue
- 4 cups (950 mL) of water
- 1 part whiting chalk or calcium carbonate
- Titanium white pigment (optional)
1. Soak dried animal glue in water
Begin by soaking dried animal glue in water according to the instructions on the package. This allows the glue to soften and dissolve, forming a glue solution that will serve as the base for the gesso.
2. Heat the glue solution
Gently heat the glue solution in a double boiler or a heat-resistant container placed in a larger pot of water.
Heat it until the glue completely dissolves and the solution becomes smooth and uniform. Be careful not to overheat or boil the mixture.
3. Cool and weigh the glue solution
Remove the glue solution from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Once cooled, weigh the glue solution to determine its exact weight.
This step helps maintain accurate measurements for the remaining ingredients.
4. Weigh an equal amount of whiting chalk or calcium carbonate
Take an equal amount of whiting chalk or calcium carbonate, measured based on the weight of the glue solution.
Whiting chalk or calcium carbonate acts as the primary filler in the gesso, providing texture and opacity.
5. Stir the chalk into the solution until the gesso is smooth
Gradually add the measured whiting chalk or calcium carbonate into the glue solution while stirring continuously.
Mix thoroughly until all the ingredients are well combined, and the gesso reaches a smooth consistency. Ensure there are no lumps or clumps in the mixture.
6. Stretch a stocking over a storage container and strain the gesso through it
To remove any remaining impurities or particles, stretch a clean stocking or cheesecloth over a storage container.
Pour the gesso mixture through the stocking, allowing it to strain into the container. This step helps achieve a smoother and more fine-textured gesso.
7. Use the gesso to prime rigid materials before painting on them
The homemade gesso is now ready to be used as a primer. Apply it to rigid materials such as canvases, wood panels, or any other suitable surface before painting.
Use a brush or a palette knife to spread an even layer of gesso, ensuring proper coverage.
Method 2: Acrylic Gesso
Items you need:
- 1 part acrylic polymer gloss medium
- 1 part titanium white acrylic paint
- 1 part whiting chalk or calcium carbonate dissolved in water
1. Dissolve white chalk in enough water
Take white chalk and crush it into a fine powder. Place the powdered chalk into a container and add enough water to create a thick texture paste.
Stir the mixture well until the chalk is fully dissolved in the water. This chalk acrylic paste will act as the primary ingredient in your homemade gesso, providing texture and opacity.
2. Squirt in equal parts of acrylic polymer gloss medium and white paint
Acrylic polymer gloss medium is an essential component that helps bind the gesso and provides a smooth finish.
Take equal parts of the gloss medium and white paint, and squirt them into the container with the dissolved chalk paste.
The gloss medium enhances the adhesive properties and durability of the gesso, while the white paint adds a bright and opaque quality.
3. Mix the chalk paste with the paint and gloss medium
Thoroughly mix the chalk paste, paint, and gloss medium using a palette knife or a stirring tool. Ensure that all the ingredients are well combined and the mixture has a consistent texture.
Continue stirring until you achieve a smooth and creamy gesso mixture. If needed, you can adjust the consistency by adding more water or gloss medium.
4. Brush the gesso over your surface before you paint with acrylics
Once your homemade gesso is ready, apply it to your desired painting surface before you begin working with acrylic paints.
Use a brush to spread an even layer of gesso over the surface. Make sure to cover the entire area and achieve uniform coverage.
The gesso acts as a primer, providing a suitable surface for the acrylic paint to adhere to and ensuring better adhesion, durability, and longevity of your artwork.
Different Types of Gesso
Gesso can be tailored to suit different artistic needs and mediums. Here are explanations of various types of gesso:
i. Gesso for canvas
Gesso, specifically formulated for canvas, provides the ideal surface for painting with acrylics or oils. It offers good adhesion, texture, and tooth, allowing the paint to adhere well and providing a suitable surface for brushwork.
Canvas gesso typically contains calcium carbonate, white pigment, and an acrylic polymer binder. The specific recipe may vary, but the goal is to create a gesso that adheres well to the canvas and provides an optimal painting surface.
Recipe for canvas gesso
A common recipe for canvas gesso involves combining calcium carbonate (or whiting chalk) with white pigment (such as titanium white) and combine them in a mixing bowl.
The exact proportions may vary depending on the desired consistency and coverage. The mixture is then applied to the canvas surface, allowing each layer to dry before applying subsequent coats.
ii. Gesso for oil painting
Gesso for oil painting serves a similar purpose to canvas gesso but is specifically formulated to work well with oil paints. It provides the necessary tooth and adhesion for oil paint layers.
Oil painting gesso typically contains similar ingredients to canvas gesso, but may have a slightly different formulation to accommodate the specific needs of oil paints.
Recipe for oil painting gesso
The recipe for oil painting gesso is similar to canvas gesso. It combines baking soda or whiting chalk, white pigment, and an oil-based binder such as linseed or stand oil.
The proportions may vary based on personal preference and the desired consistency. This mixture is applied to the painting surface, allowing for adequate drying time before oil painting.
iii. Black gesso
Black gesso offers a unique alternative to traditional white gesso. It provides a black base for artworks, creating a striking contrast and allowing colors to pop.
Black gesso is commonly used for creating dark or dramatic backgrounds, adding depth and richness to the artwork.
Recipe for black gesso
The recipe for black gesso involves combining black pigment, such as carbon black or black iron oxide, with the base ingredients of regular gesso.
The proportion of black pigment can be adjusted to achieve the desired darkness. Mixing the pigment with the gesso base thoroughly creates a consistent black gesso mixture, which can then be applied to the surface.
Using Homemade Gesso
Homemade gesso can be a valuable tool for artists, and understanding how to use it properly is essential for achieving desired results in artwork.
Here are important aspects to consider when using homemade gesso:
How to apply gesso to a surface
When applying gesso to a surface, it is crucial to ensure proper coverage and an even application.
Start by selecting a suitable brush or palette knife for smooth and controlled application. Begin at one corner of the surface and work across, applying the gesso in thin, even layers.
Avoid applying several coats, which can lead to cracking or uneven drying. Allow each layer to dry, and lightly sand the surface between coats for a smoother finish.
Drying times and techniques
Gesso drying times can vary based on the recipe used and environmental factors such as temperature and humidity. Generally, gesso drying time takes a few hours to several days to dry completely.
To speed up the drying process, place the painted surface in a well-ventilated area with good air circulation or use a fan.
Avoid exposing the surface to excessive heat, which may cause the gesso to crack.
Preparing a surface for painting with gesso
Before applying gesso, it is important to properly prepare the surface to ensure optimal adhesion and longevity of your artwork.
Start by ensuring the surface is clean and free from dust, dirt, and previous paint or varnish. If working on canvas, you may consider tightening it on a stretcher frame to prevent sagging.
It is also helpful to lightly sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper to create some tooth, allowing the gesso to adhere better.
Do not forget to confirm the surface is dry before applying gesso to avoid trapping moisture beneath the primer.
Tips and Tricks
When making your own gesso, there are certain tips and tricks that can help you achieve better results and avoid common mistakes. Here are some valuable insights:
Tips for making your own gesso successfully
- Measure ingredients accurately: Follow the recipe instructions carefully and measure the ingredients accurately to ensure the desired consistency and performance of the gesso.
- Mix thoroughly: Mix the ingredients thoroughly, ensuring they are well combined and free from lumps or clumps. This helps create a smooth and uniform gesso mixture.
- Test consistency: Before applying the gesso to your artwork, test the consistency on a small sample surface. Adjust the recipe if needed to achieve the desired thickness and texture.
- Experiment with additives: Feel free to experiment with additives like acrylic mediums or texture gels to customize the properties of your gesso. These additives can provide additional tooth or texture to the gesso layer.
Common mistakes to avoid when making gesso
- Adding too much water: Be cautious when adding water to the gesso mixture. Adding excessive water can result in a runny or thin consistency, which may affect the gesso’s adhesion and coverage.
- Rushing the drying process: Allow each layer of gesso to dry fully before applying additional coats or painting over it. Rushing the drying process can lead to improper adhesion and potential cracking or peeling.
- Ignoring surface preparation: Ensure the surface is properly prepared before applying gesso. Clean the surface, remove any existing paint or varnish, and lightly sand it to promote better adhesion of the gesso layer.
- Overapplying gesso: Applying too many thick layers of gesso can create a heavy and uneven surface.
Best Alternatives for Gesso
When it comes to alternatives for homemade gesso, a few options can serve as substitutes for traditional gesso. Here are some of the best alternatives:
1. Acrylic Gesso Primer
If you prefer a ready-made option, acrylic gesso primer is a reliable commercial gesso. It is readily available in art supply stores and provides similar benefits to homemade gesso.
Acrylic gesso primer offers good adhesion, a smooth surface, and compatibility with acrylic paints.
2. Acrylic Mediums
Acrylic mediums, such as acrylic gel medium or modeling paste, can be used as alternatives to gesso. These mediums can provide texture, build the surface, and improve paint adhesion.
They are particularly useful for creating impasto effects or adding texture to your artwork.
3. White Acrylic Paint
While not as ideal as gesso, using multiple layers of white acrylic paint can substitute.
Apply thin layers of white acrylic paint to the surface, allowing each layer to dry before applying the next. This method creates a smoother surface and enhance paint adhesion.
4. Watered-down PVA Glue
Watered-down PVA (polyvinyl acetate) glue can be used if you’re looking for a simple and inexpensive alternative, watered-down PVA (polyvinyl acetate) glue can be used.
Mix PVA glue with water to achieve a slightly runny consistency, then apply it to the surface with a brush. This makeshift primer can provide some adhesion and prepare the surface for painting.
Is Gesso Necessary for Acrylic Painting?
Gesso is unnecessary for acrylic painting, but it is highly recommended. Applying gesso to your canvas or painting surface provides several advantages. It creates a smoother and more stable surface, improves paint adhesion, prevents the paint from soaking in, and enhances the longevity of the artwork.
Can Acrylic Paint Be Used Instead of Gesso?
While acrylic paint can sometimes substitute gesso, it doesn’t offer the same benefits as a proper gesso layer. Acrylic paint alone may not provide sufficient tooth, texture, and adhesion for subsequent layers of paint. Gesso creates a specific surface preparation that enhances the performance of acrylic paints, ensuring better paint application, color vibrancy, and durability.
How do you prepare a canvas for acrylic without gesso?
If you prefer not to use gesso on your canvas, there are alternative methods to prepare it for acrylic painting. One option is to lightly sand the surface of the canvas to create more texture and improve paint adhesion. You can also apply a layer of acrylic medium or primer specifically designed for acrylic painting.
Can I use baby powder to make gesso?
Using baby powder as a substitute for making gesso is not recommended. While baby powder may contain talc, a common ingredient in some gesso recipes, it is not formulated with the binding agents and consistency required for a quality gesso.
How do I make cheap gesso?
You can use cost-effective ingredients to make cheap gesso while achieving satisfactory results. One option is to use a mixture of plaster of Paris and white glue. Mix equal parts of the plaster of Paris and wood glue, adjusting the consistency with water if needed.
Where to Get Talcum Powder From
Talcum powder can be commonly found in stores that sell personal care products or baby supplies. It is often available in pharmacies, supermarkets, and online retailers. Look for brands that offer pure talcum powder without any added fragrances or additional ingredients for the best results when using it in homemade gesso recipes.
What White Glue Should You Get
For making homemade gesso, it is recommended to use white glue that is specifically designed for arts and crafts. Look for white glue with good adhesive properties,is labeled as non-toxic, and dries clear specifically if you want a clear gesso. Popular options include PVA (polyvinyl acetate) glue or acrylic polymer emulsion glue. These types of white glue work well as binders in homemade gesso recipes.
Recap: Make Your Own Gesso and Save Money
Making your own gesso can save you a lot of money, especially if you have a lot of art supplies. Plus, it’s quite easy to make.
To try it yourself, you only need white glue, paint, and calcium carbonate. You can create the perfect gesso for your artwork by combining these simple ingredients.
So why not try this simple recipe today and see the amazing results?
Who knows? You might find that what you’ve made is even better than store-bought gesso. Plus, making gesso at home will always be cheaper and more convenient than buying it ready-made. So give it a go – you already have the skill set.