What Is Gesso And How To Make Your Own Gesso?

While there’s no doubt that painting is a popular hobby there are always a few hurdles in place keeping people from making the most out of it. But sometimes the main obstacle in place is not the required techniques but rather the materials and their intended role.

After all, you aren’t meant to take your brush straight into a canvas without preparing it beforehand. And nothing seems to stump new hobbyists more than telling them to use Gesso. So what exactly is Gesso? Why is it so important in painting? And where can we even get Gesso, to begin with? Today we’ll cover everything there is to know about Gesso, as well as how to make it all on your own. So stick with us and discover all the secrets Gesso holds.

What is Gesso?

Gesso is first and foremost a painting supply, best known for its thick texture and white color, which make it rather similar to traditional glue. Gesso is also known as Glue Gesso by certain people, and in fact, most Gesso recipes contain some degree of glue on their composition.

Gesso is a primer, originally made from chalk and glue. The combination of materials provides a great base to paint, while the iconic white color makes it ideal as the base for any canvas. However, the recipe has changed with time, and nowadays paint and talcum can be used instead.

Gesso is one of the most enduring painting supplies in the market due to its wide versatility and importance in the traditional painting process. So anybody looking to take up the brush is going to eventually need to understand and use Gesso on their own.

What is Gesso used for?

As we mentioned above Gesso is mainly used as a primer, and this means that is usually applied to a canvas before any painting begins. Gesso was originally developed for oil painting specifically to help the pigments stick to the canvas. As such traditional Oil Gesso had glue in its composition to help the paint stay in place in the canvas.

However, with time people started to produce Gesso meant for acrylic paints, which weren’t as reliant on a binder as oils. As such Gesso became more of a traditional primer to prepare a canvas for work, and the amount of glue on the recipe started to decrease with time.

Regardless of which paints you are using the priming process is largely identical. Just prepare some newspaper to keep your work area clean and prop your canvas there. Take a large brush and your gesso and start covering the canvas with wide strokes. Cover the entirety of the canvas and allow the mixture to set. Different people have different preferences on how thick they like their Gesso to be, so it’ll take some practice and error to find out how many layers you prefer.

Where can I get Gesso?

Nowadays Gesso is sold on its own in most hobby and craft stores. Gesso bottles can be found in a variety of sizes, but 16 Ounces is one of the most common presentations in the market. If you opt to buy Gesso instead of making it you’ll need to pay close attention to the labels, since the color, texture and the intended type of paints can vary a lot from brand to brand.

It is important to note that Gesso can become rather expensive depending on how much do you use and which brands you prefer. Those of you who prefer multiple layers on their canvas could easily use a bottle per painting, and that adds up to the overall cost of the hobby.

One alternative is to buy pre-prime canvases to avoid Gesso altogether. Pre-primed canvases are designed to be ready for paint and shouldn’t need any extra treatment. But some people don’t like the texture and still use some amount of Gesso on top of it for a better final result.

The other alternative is to make your own Gesso. All things considered, Gesso is surprisingly easy to make. And making your own not only saves you money but allows you to tinker with the proportion to get your preferred texture. You can make a thicker or thinner Gesso and find a recipe that is perfect for you. Something which can’t be done with store-bought Gesso.

What do I need to make Gesso?

Before we start teaching you how to make Gesso you need to know what materials you’ll need. Thankfully the materials needed for Gesso are incredibly common and you might already have everything you need at home. If not then a simple stop to any store should be enough to get all the ingredients.

So without further ado the main ingredients you’ll need to make Gesso are:

  • Talcum Powder
  • White Glue
  • White Paint
  • Water
  • A Container

Talcum powder is the real secret behind homemade Gesso, as it provides that perfect texture for the paint to stick on and is a very practical replacement for chalk. The rest of the ingredients don’t have any trick to it, and thankfully preparation is a snap too.

How to make Gesso

The trick to making great Gesso is to find your preferred consistency, so there’ll be some trial and error involved. First and foremost we need to cover the measurements. For every 1/4th of a cup of Talcum Powder, you’ll need 1 tablespoon of glue and 1 tablespoon of paint. Water will ultimately come down to your preferences, but 2 tablespoons tend to be a good measurement.

Take a container, preferably one that can be sealed, and start mixing the first three ingredients in. After mixing them for a while your Gesso will feel more like dough than paint, so start adding water into the mix. Add water by tablespoons until you find your desired consistency. Once you have figured out the right amount of water for your tastes you can make larger batches by keeping the proportions. Gesso can be kept on the fridge for a long time so feel free to make large batches and keep them stored for weeks.

Other Gesso tips

The first thing you need to know about Gesso is that it’s not limited to traditional cloth canvases. A coat of Gesso can make it easier to paint on wood, cardboard, and countless other surfaces. So feel free to use it as a primer on other projects.

You should also keep in mind that no rule says Gesso needs to be white. If you feel that a colored base will fit your painting better then go for it. Just change the paint or mix some other colors once it’s ready. A colored Gesso can completely change the way your painting looks, and it might just be what your hobby was missing.