{G} Gesso love

I’ve found gesso to be one of the most versatile and absolute must-have products in my art journal toolkit. Although it may look like your standard white acrylic paint, gesso is quite different and has its own unique properties. While a lot of supplies can be interchanged or substituted, this one simply cannot.

Traditionally, painters use gesso as a first layer on canvas, wood and other painting surfaces to ensure that the paint doesn’t soak into the substrate. It has a fine tooth to it that enables acrylics to grab on to the surface and spread beautifully. I use it to strengthen my art journal pages and get some texture on the page. I’ve mostly found one coat of gesso to be enough for this purpose.

But first, let me introduce you to the different types of gesso that are available in the market.

Gesso: This is your standard white gesso that every art manufacturer makes. Formulations vary somewhat – so they range in consistency from fluid to thick and creamy. All brands also have a different texture or “tooth” – ranging from slightly plasticy to very gritty.

Clear Gesso: It looks like white gesso, but dries clear. It’s excellent for the paint over collage technique {which we will get to soon}. You can also use it if your paper starts to protest at all the layers you’re throwing at it. Color pencils and watersoluble media work beautifully over it.

Black Gesso: Similar to white gesso, but black – and a beautiful, matt black. Yummy!

A quick word on brands:
There are now a number of excellent art brands available in India. The gold standard in artists acrylics is Golden, and these products cost a fortune! Then there are numerous other brands such as Liquitex, Daler-Rowney, Windsor and Newton, Pebeo, and our very own Camel. I’ve used three different gessos from three different brands and I like them all for different reasons.

Gesso – I buy a big tub of Camel’s artists gesso. It’s the cheapest in the Indian market and I have had no complaints with it so far. This one has the least “tooth” of the lot.

Clear gesso – I use Windsor and Newton – it has a super-strong “tooth”. Once dry, if you rub your fingers on it, it feels like coarse sandpaper. I love it!

Black gesso – I have a tube from Pebeo. This one has more “tooth” than Camel and less than Windsor and Newton. It’s a gorgeous matt black gesso that works wonderfully for me.


Using gesso as paint
Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t want a white gesso background? Mix some paint with your gesso to “color” it.
  • A wash of gesso works to unify collage pieces in your journal
  • Gesso is also amazing for layering – if you think you overdid your background, gesso it! A thin coat will tone it all down.
  • If you use black gesso instead of black acrylics, you’ll get a nice, opaque black that you can color with color pencils, which can give it an absolutely yummy, rich look.

Put this lesson to work: Use gesso to create a textured background. Gather together some masking tape and tissue paper. Lay down a thin coat of gesso. While it is still wet, lay your texture items over it. The wet gesso will grab onto them. Once you’ve placed all your items on the page, go over it with another coat of gesso. Let dry overnight. Ta-da – instant background texture!

Wondering what to do next? Watch out for tomorrow’s post for some ideas!

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  1. Shinjhini, tell me what you mean by tooth feel? Something to do with texture you said. I call paints and colors yummy….so I see you do that for black gesso! I am getting more and more interested. I am trying this out in May for sure!
    See you tomorrow

    • Yay! So excited that I’ve managed to get you excited!!

      Tooth feel is the texture. So Camel gesso is very smooth – almost plasticy. Pebeo gesso has a slightly rough feel (like sandpaper). And Windsor & Newton is the roughest (like the coarsest sandpaper). Hope that helps!

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