How To Make A Simple Gesso

What is gesso? In our context it is a base upon which to lay imitation gold leaf or gold leaf.


Why use it? Mainly because it opens up a whole new world of creative possibilities for those working with a surface that can accept it. And of course if you are thinking of repairing a damaged picture frame which has an original gessoed finish.


gold leaf on gessoYou can purchase a ready made gesso made from acrylics, but you cannot burnish it, I never use it myself, the main reason being I have got used to making my own.


When it comes to making your own gesso there are very many recipes to choose from, each one depends on what the basic ingredients consist of as to how it turns out. I have tried many recipes and most work ok.





I use a simple recipe we developed from trying many others, it consists of gilders whiting (finely ground chalk) animal glue and water, it is simple to make and gives very good results.




How to use gesso. 


The thickness of the gesso you need will depend on the item to be gilded, if you are wanting to gild something with fine detail you will need a thinner coating than if you want to obtain a rough distressed finish. The thinner type should be built up in coats, whereas the thicker variety only needs one coat.



mixing gesso

The only equipment you need is a water jacketed glue boiler, however these are expensive so I make do with a tin can placed inside a saucepan, the can needs to be placed on spacers to keep the bottom of the can away from the heat.


The glue should never exceed about 135 degrees Fahrenheit or 57 Celsius.


Exceeding this temperature will dramatically weaken the glues ability to adhere.

In practice this means keeping the saucepan on a low heat.

Put the glue and water into the can and leave overnight or until all the glue has dissolved in the water, I normally heat the water first, this speeds up the melting of the glue. Then gently sift the chalk or whiting into the water and stir gently taking care that air bubbles do not form. I keep the flame under the saucepan turned down very low so that the water is only on a gentle heat.


gesso ready for gold leaf

Then it is simply a question of brushing on the gesso in whatever way you desire, if you are gessoing a complex picture frame you will want to keep the coating thin in order to maintain the contours of the frame. If however your main interest is in making the surface look irregular and "interesting" you can manipulate the thicker gesso into peaks.





When you have finished laying the gesso you can then apply the red ground mentioned on the "grounds" page, when dry the leaf can then be applied...and remember all these processes are covered in the manuals available from the download page. There is a project kit available which includes gesso.





Here are some other ways of obtaining interesting distressed finishes.






Hi there, I've been browsing your wonderful website and I can't wait to have a go at some of the techniques you explore on there. Your manuals are definitely the best Iv'e found on the internet. 
Seb Dale 
I just want to salute your generosity in giving away your gilding knowledge. Excellent guide books,  I was not able to find such a simplified explanation in any book at the local library. 
Ghassan Haddad 
After looking at various sites and suppliers on the net, your site is just wonderful - clear, accessible, descriptive and demystifying. Thanks so much for making your knowledge available! Liz 
You did a brilliant job of mentoring me through my project, it turned out very well, I am extremely happy with the results.
Your manuals are excellent. I easily worked my way through your gilded manuscript project and the result is now framed and hanging in my living room. Thank you.