A common theme of questions I get asked is about gesso.  

  • what can you use it for?
  • can you DIY?
  • what kind should I use?
  • it’s too thin, what can I do?

Gesso is used for many things such as:

  • priming a raw substrate such as canvas, wood or mdf
  • covering up an existing acrylic painting
  • adding tooth to a slick substrate
  • to repel and/or accept paint with a stencil
  • a replacement for Titanium White
  • as a transparent layer to dull down something bright

DIY:  For personal art in a journal or experiments, you can make your own gesso and there are tons of recipes on the Internet.  

BUT and it’s a big UPPERCASE BUT, if you are making art to give away as formal gifts, to charity, to sell or for professional purposes, you need to use proper gesso.  Nothing will ruin your credibility as an artist than a painting chipping or cracking because you used the wrong materials.

There are many different brands on the market and as a DecoArt Helping artist, of course I use their gesso because of the high quality.  

Here are some core features:

DecoArt Gesso
  • available in black & white (Media line only)
  • tintable
  • fast drying
  • flexible and non-cracking when dry
  • sandable and carvable
  • soap and water clean-up when wet

DecoArt Media Gesso

I love the size!  it’s transportable and the perfect size for Chaos not to get her nose into it.  

I work with three containers as follows:

DecoArt Media Gesso
  • one container is used as is
  • one container is thinned down with distilled water and I used this for mixed media layers
  • one container is super thick for texture

So if it’s easy to thin it down using water, how to we thicken it up?  removing water is the easy answer, but how do you do that without the gesso drying out?

If you think about it… Gesso works like acrylic paint…. it dries up when the “water” evaporates.  

Side note:  this experiment was for a student who was only able to buy a certain brand of gesso at her local art store and it was super thin

Here is what I did with this super cheap gesso for my student and it will work for any brand of gesso.

I poured some of this thin so-called Gesso into a margarine container (wide and semi-shallow) and left it uncovered.  Every couple of hours, I stirred it up with a palette knife.  At bedtime, I put the lid on, but not to seal.. just placed it so a little air could get in.  I repeated this for 2 days and it was thick enough not to be soupy.  This worked for my student.

For intentional purposes, I’ll take the DecoArt gesso and make it super thick for texture, I used the same technique but didn’t need to pour it into another container and it didn’t take as long.

 When it’s super thick, it can be carved, stamped and used to make impressions.

The key is stirring it frequently…just like making soup stock and rendering it down.

What did you think?

Do you use gesso to prime your surfaces?  and/or do you use gesso as a substitute for white paint?  or maybe use gesso to thicken up thin white paint?  I’d love to know how you use gesso in your creative process, so please share your comments.