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.
You 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.
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
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.
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
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.