Paper crafting has been my passion since I was a child. I love sharing paper projects, ideas, and products. Get more from your paper.
What Is Gesso
Gesso is basically a white water-based paint that is used to create a surface that will prevent other mediums from soaking into your paper, wood, canvas, and more. There is a lot more to gesso than just priming a canvas for an art piece. It is also used in paper crafting on cards, bible journaling, art journaling, trading cards, coins, and a lot more.
Gesso is similar to white paint, but it is thinner and dries harder. Traditionally gesso was always white, but now you can also buy it in black, clear, and some colors. You can tint any gesso with a bit of acrylic paint to create a custom gesso color.
There are different grades of gesso. The two main grades are a student and an artist. These are the definitions of the quality of the product. The difference of quality odd reflected in the amount of pigment versus filler. Student grade is cheaper because it contains more filler. Artist-grade is considered thicker and opaquer. Of course, the quality is also reflected in the price. Student grade is only available in white.
Artist-grade gesso contains more pigment and less filler. Usually, one coat is enough. It is a little more pricey
Student grade gesso contains less pigment (you can add some titanium white). It dries faster but requires more coats. It is generally budget friendly.
The thickness of gesso depends on the brand that you select. Some are smoother and other leave more tooth on the surface. You need to try different brands to find the one that suits your purpose.
Gesso comes in jars, tubs and squeeze tubes. With the squeeze tubes, you can squeeze the gesso right on the surface and smooth it out with a paintbrush. You cal also place some on a pallet and then mix it with a bit of water to thin it out.
There is also a gesso spray that you can spray directly onto the surface. You will never need a brush with this product.
Tips For Using Gesso
- Always stir or shake the gesso before using it to make sure that the ingredients are mixed
- Set aside one or two brushes for your gesso, It is hard on brushes. I like to spread it with old credit cards or gift cards.
- Wash whatever applicator that you are using as soon as possible.
- Use two thin coats rather than one heavy coat for better results
- If you are using more than one coat allow at least 1 hour between coats. You can feel if the gesso is dry.
- Allow the gesso to cure overnight before adding any other media.
- Always cover your work area with a craft mat, parchment paper or newspaper
How You Can Use Gesso
Uses For Gesso On Cardstock And Paper
One of the primary uses for gesso in paper projects is to prime paper. In art journals, if the paper is thin, you want to add some strength to the paper. A coat of gesso makes the paper stronger. This is really necessary if you are altering books, where the paper is thin. It makes the page sturdier.
Another use for gesso in paper crafts is to cover something up. You might want to cover up a mistake that you made or cover words in an altered book. Not only does gesso prime and strengthen a page, but it can be used to cover something you do not want to see.
Use gesso to lighten a paint color. If you have an acrylic paint color that you would like to soften, just add some gesso. The gesso will add a more matte finish to the color and soften it. You just need a little gesso to lighten the color.
Use thicker gesso on a stencil. Then just add color to it once the gesso has dried.
Soften a patterned paper with gesso. If you have a piece of paper that has a loud pattern, just add a thin coat of gesso to soften that pattern a bit.
Create some texture on your paper. The thicker gessos can be applied with sponges and palette knives to create texture.
Beginners Guide To Gesso
Gesso is very similar to white acrylic paint, only thinner. It dries hard, making the surface stiffer. Gesso prepares (or "primes") the surface for painting, making the surface slightly textured and ready to accept acrylic paint.
This is the type of gesso that is most commonly used. The nice thing about white gesso is that it gives your paper an old grungy look besides making the paper sturdier. You get a worn-out vintage look every time.
It can also be used as white paint.
Black gesso is used when you want to completely cover everything on your page. You can use it as a one-coat cover.
Black gesso is very opaque. Think of using a white pen on a black background. It would be stunning.
If you need some black gesso and do not have any on hand, you can try mixing black acrylic paint with some white gesso.
Make Your Own Black Gesso
It is so easy to make your own black gesso. With just a few supplies you can do this as you need it
- White gesso
- Empty paint container
- Black acrylic paint
- Paintbrush, popsicle stick, or mixing stick
- Pour enough white gesso into the paint container for your project
- Pour some black acrylic paint into the container
- Mix the gesso and the acrylic paint together
- Keep adding more black acrylic paint till you get the desired black hue.
- After you apply the black gesso, make sure to let it dry completely before adding any other media.
You can use pill bottles to mix the paint
How To Use Black Gesso
Clear gesso is very transparent. You can see right through it, but it still adds weight to the page. If you want to add some weight to a page without any color, this product may be for you. It may look a little white when you first put it on, but it will dry clear.
You might want to use this type of gesso on a Bible when you are doing Bible journaling. Use it anywhere where you want to see what is underneath.
One thing to remember is that ALL water-soluble mediums (pens, paints, dyes) will smear if you put gel medium OR clear gesso over the top.
Something else to note is that if you use a clear gesso over a page, then write on top with a water-soluble medium like a neo2 crayon, it will continue to be water-soluble until you seal it again.
Using Gesso On Coloring Pages
Clear gesso can be used on coloring pages to strengthen the paper. That means that once you apply it and let it dry, you could then use wet media like watercolors, and watercolor pencils on your coloring pages.
Prepare your coloring book to ensure that you have covered the pages behind in clear plastic. You could also tape your page down with low-tack masking tape to ensure that it doesn’t buckle when the medium is applied. Just pop a plastic folder around the pages underneath and when the gesso has dried, I place books on top to straighten any page curling.
Applying the gesso is easy, you only need a small amount of product and you can pop it directly on the page or scoop it on with your tool of choice. You could use a big brush, foam brush, or a sturdy plastic card Add a coat of clear gesso and let it dry. Once it is dry, add a second coat and allow that to dry. This will ensure the best results when you add color.
Benefits Of Using Clear Gesso
Make Your Own Gesso
More Gesso Recipes
There is more than one recipe for making your own gesso. Gesso is not that difficult to make. The challenge to making your own gesso is making the gesso smooth and even. You can though make it as thick or as thin as you wish it to be.
Basic Ingredients For Homemade Gesso
- Talcum powder, baby powder or cornstarch
- White PVA glue
- White acrylic paint
Other Supplies To Create Gesso
- A small jar that has been washed well and air dried or other air tight container
- A plastic bowl or container to mix your gesso in
- A plastic spoon, knife or craft stick to mix your gesso
- Measuring spoons
- Measuring cups
I suggest that you get some measuring spoons and cups at the dollar store or at op local thrift shop and dedicate these to your craft space. Keep a pot of warm water handy where you are working to soak your tools as soon as you are through using them. The gesso mixture will harden pretty fast, so get them soaking once you are finished using them.
- 1/4-1/2 cup Baby Powder (any brand will work)
- 1/2 cup Glue (I usually use Mod Podge, but any liquid, white glue will work just fine)
- 1/4 cup White paint
- 1/4 cup of cornstarch or baby powder
- 1 tablespoon of white paint (make sure to shake the paint first)
- 1 tablespoon of white PVA glue
- Stir to mix ingredients. Add tiny amounts of water to mix ingredients to the constancy that you would like
- Keep stirring until the lumps and clumps are gone.
Homemade Clear Gesso
- PVA glue-1 cup
- Water-1/4 cup
- Powdered marble or marble dust-4 heaping tablespoons
- Into a jar place 1 cup of white glue
- Add 1/4 of a cup of water
- Mix them together
- Gradually add marble dust-one tablespoon at a time.
Homemade Gesso Tips
- You can create colored gesso by substituting any colored acrylic paint for the white paint
- Gesso may thicken over time, just add tiny bits of water and stir to thin it out.
- Make sure to soak or wash your tools right away so that the gesso does not harden on them
- Use dollar store or inexpensive ingredients to make your gesso
Tools For Applying Gesso
There are many tools that you can use to apply gesso to paper. Most of them you probably have access to in your craft space or in your home. Here are a few to consider:
- Gesso Brush-There is specialty brushes just for applying gesso, They are made to create a smooth surface on your paper without a lot of brush marks. A wise investment if you do a lot of journal pages and gesso techniques.
- Kitchen Sponges- Reasonably priced, kitchen sponges offer an opportunity to add some texture when it comes to gesso. You can create thin lines with the edges of the sponge. Or you can dab the gesso on to create some bubbles.
- A Brayer-Creates a rich texture on your page. If you use a brayer, remember to clean it off right away after you use it. Otherwise, the paint will try and be hard to get off your brayer.
- A Palette Knife-Youcan create even more texture with a palette knife and some thicker gesso. Instead of covering the whole page. you can apply gesso with the palette knife in just specific spots.
- Old Credit Card Or Gift Card-Applying gesso with a stiff plastic card can help you create a grungy look. It will also give some mild texture.
- Makeup Sponge-Since the makeup sponges are softer than the kitchen sponges, the gesso application will be much smoother. Use it if you do not want a lot of texture on your pages.
- Your Fingers-Why not apply gesso with your fingers? It is fin and you'll get a smooth coat.
- Baby Wipes-If you have baby wipes in your craft space, why not use them to apply gesso. You will get a smooth coat. You can use leftover baby wipes that you have from other projects,
- Microfiber Cleaning Cloths-Give them a try. You can use them wet or dry.
Working With Spray Gesso
Spray gesso is another alternative when prepping your paper projects.
The first thing that you should know about spray gesso is that you need to shake the can for a long time.
When applying it, you want to spray even thin coats of the product. Hold the can about 8 inches above the project. Move the can in quick circles on the project only spraying for about a second only.
Keep a small foam close so that you can even any drips that may happen. Always keep a small foam brush handy when I’m working with spray gesso so that when you are done with an entire coat you can look for any big drips that might be forming and smooth them out, using a corner of the foam brush — trim the edge of a foam brush with scissors to make a nice narrow point for hard-to-reach areas.
Wait three to four hours before applying a second coat, In humid weather, you may need to wait 6 hours between coats.
Spray gesso does not wash the same way regular liquid gesso does. More than likely you will be throwing your foam brush away.
You will need to keep the nozzle of the can clean. After you are done with the spray, turn the can upside down and spray a couple of times. THat isit. The nozzle should be clean for the next time that you want to use it.
Gesso Dry Time
You should allow at least one hour dry time in between coats of gesso, As you add coats, you may want to add a little more to your drying time.
Examine the piece for any uneven sections or blobs, You can sand then down carefully with a fine-grit sandpaper, then add some gesso to the retouched areas.
After your last coat of gesso, you should allow 8 hours to allow all the gesso to completely dry.
This gesso is an ideal base for acrylic and oil painting. It is considered a smooth matte gesso primer. It is ideal for fine art and painted surfaces. The nice thing about this gesso is that there is no sanding required.
Manufactured by Deco Art, these gessos come in 6 neutral colors: white, beige, light green, grey, dark grey, and black. They are considered water-based. So they clean up with soap and water.
Tips For Using Chalky Gesso
- To minimize seeing brush strokes, dampen your soft brush before applying the medium.
- To create a smooth surface, add additional coats
- To create a textured background, apply the gesso with a palette knife. Brush with a crosswise pattern or carve into the wet gesso.
- Use a stencil with chalky gesso. Simply glide Chalky Gesso over a stencil with a palette knife or use a stencil brush.
- Recycle previously-painted canvases by lightly sanding the canvas and adding two or more coats of Chalky Gesso.
How To Use Chalky Gesso
More Chalky Gesso Ideas
- DecoArt Chalky Gesso: On Glass - YouTube
In this video, you'll learn more about using DecoArt's Chalky Gesso on glass surfaces. Chalky Gesso is a super-smooth matte gesso primer perfect for fine art...
- DecoArt Chalky Gesso: On Metal - YouTube
In this video, you'll learn more about using DecoArt's Chalky Gesso on metal surfaces. Chalky Gesso is a super-smooth matte gesso primer perfect for fine art...
Adding Gesso To Embossed Paper
This technique only takes two to three minutes but yields some beautiful texture to all your embossed projects. You can vary this technique by using colored gesso. Just add some acrylic paint to some white gesso until you get the tint (color) that you want. If you want you can use embossing paste over the embossed paper as an extra layer. If you decide to use the embossing paste, make sure it is dry before proceeding.
- An embossed piece of paper at least 80lbs or higher
- Gesso (white or colored)
- Piece of scrap cardboard
- Cover the work surface with a piece of parchment paper. waxed paper or a craft mat.
- Emboss a piece of card stock as you normally would.
- Drag the gesso over the embossed cardstock gently.
- Remove any globs of gesso with your fingertips or a paper towel if necessary.
- Allow drying time.
- Leave it as it is, add ink or spray it
Think of gesso as underwear for your art
— Deanna Wakely
Gesso In Mixed Media
Priming Paper In A Journal
Priming paper is one of the most frequent uses of gesso. Art journals. bible journals, artist trading cards, etc all can be primed with the same basic technique
- Place a piece of paper, a glass mat, or a craft mat on top of your workspace. That way any paint splatters will clean easily.
- If you are priming a journal, place a piece of parchment or other paper behind the page you are working on. You do not want to get any paint on the pages behind you. When the paint dries the pages may stick together and make a mess.
- If you are working on an altered book or a Bible, and want the words to show through, thin the gesso down a bit with water.
- Allow the gesso to dry between coats
Gesso In Bible Journaling
Using Gesso In Bible Journaling
When you are working to journal in your Bible, you will find that most Bibles have thin paper pages. So, if you are planning to use any media on your page that might cause bleeding, you will want to prep your page.
If you are unsure if the media that you plan to apply will bleed through, it never hurts to prep the page ahead of time.
Prepping your page means that you add something to strengthen the paper. Most often this is a coat of gesso. Gesso comes in white, clear, and black.
How To Prep Your Bible Pages
- Place a piece of paper, cardboard, a sheet of acrylic, parchment paper (really anything) under your page.
- Use a flat paintbrush, or sponge brush, and gently paint a small amount of gesso onto your page. Try to keep your layers thin and application even. Be sure to apply the gesso to the entire portion that you are working on.
- Move the paper that is under you page slightly. This is very important! If you don’t move the paper just slightly, your bible page and the paper can get stuck together, and it is not fun trying to get it apart
- Let it dry! -and don’t forget to rinse out your brush right away
Tips For Bible Journal Pages
- Use a heat tool to dry the page quickly; lift the page with your hand while you’re drying it, so it won’t stick to the deli paper. ALTERNATIVELY, you could place a piece of paper underneath the Bible page, and leave it to dry for an hour or so.
- After you’re completely finished with your Bible page, and everything is dry (check it by pressing a sheet of paper over it, just to be sure), you can remove the deli sheets. If any of the tapes are left on the Bible page, just use your fingernail to lift up the edge and peel/roll it off.
- Some people will notice a gritty texture at times and depending on the brand they use. If this happens to you, take a dry cloth and brush over the page lightly to remove any small grits of gesso that may have been left behind.
Adding Color To A Primed Project
Who does not love color? Of course, we'll do. Adding color to any primed project is so much fun and easier than you think
- Add some alcohol ink to your project. Use that dropper from your ink refills to add some color. Drop a few drops on your project, the brush across the project with a wet brush.
- Use a gellato or a distress crayon. to add some color. Just run a gellato across the page and brush with a wet paintbrush
Baby Wipe Distress Technique
White Gesso Resist Technique
This is an easy technique that adds some dimension to all of your cards. It could also be used as a background technique for an art journal. You could use it for an artist trading card too. Easy to do. More than likely you have everything you need in your craft area already,
- 5" by 7" piece of printed cardstock
- White gesso
- Brown Distress Crayon
- Soft paint brush
- Baby Wipe
- Collage medium or paste
- Stencil of your choice (optional)
- Cover the entire piece of paper with white gesso
- Before the gesso dries, wipe random areas with the baby wipe
- Allow the gesso to dry
- Apply the collage medium or paste in both thin and thick layers on the card. The thin layers will make thin cracks, The larger layers will make elongated cracks. If you are planning to stencil, leave some flat areas.
- Allow drying overnight
- Once the cardstock is completely dry, apply the distress crayon to the cracks on the project,
- Rub it in with your fingertips
- Make sure to get in all the cracks and crevices.
- If you are planning to stencil on the project, mask all the other areas. YOu only want to stencil where the surface is flat.
- Stencil with some white gesso
- You can over spray lightly with distress ink if you want to
How To Stamp With Gesso
Stamping With Gesso
- Background Stamps
- Cosmetic Sponge
- Coloring Medium Of Your Choice ( Distress inks, mists, crayons etc)
- Spray Bottle With Water
- Heat Gun
- Take some Gesso onto your foam piece
- Cover the stamp with the gesso by dabbing it on.
- Stamp onto the tag.
- Add more Gesso and stamp as needed until the tag is covered with images.
- Air dry or use your heat gun.
More Gesso Stamping Ideas
- Stamped Gesso Background - YouTube
Learn how to stamp images using white gesso to create beautiful textured backgrounds! You can use these textured backgrounds on your cards and paper craft p...
Distress Stain Gesso Technique
Gesso Techniques With Cardstock
- White Gesso Resist Technique - Daydreams In Paper
This week's challenge is to create a resist effect on your project. I'll show you how I created my background and used white gesso as my agent for resist.
How To Make Gesso Cardstock
Applying gesso to cardstock is an affordable way to create textured paper right in your craft space. You will want to make several sheets of this paper because you will find that you will go to this paper in your cards, journals, and scrapbook pages a lot.
You will want to use heavy cardstock for this project so that you minimize any curling of the paper during the process. Experiment with different papers. Glossy cardstock really works well for this technique.
You can use white gesso or make your own colored gesso. Take some white gesso and add acrylic paint until you get the color that you want.
- Cardstock of your choice....minimally 80-100lb weight or higher
- White gesso or colored gesso
- An acrylic block, an ink pad applicator, a felt pad, or a sponge
- Ink refills (reinkers), ink sprays, distress inks, or distress crayons
- Ink applicator-can be a sponge or other applicator
- Parchment paper, waxed paper, or a craft mat
- Squirt or pick up some gesso with the applicator of your choice
- Drag the gesso across the cardstock. You can move in one direction to create a grain look. Move-in two directions to get a different look. Try different types of applicators for different looks.
- Apply one coat. Let it dry. ( drying times will vary depending on the thickness of the gesso)
- Apply a second coat and let it dry.
- You can apply ink, sprays, distress crayons, or other pigments. Or you can emboss it.
- You can stamp or emboss the paper
- Store the paper where it will stay flat. You can use a book on top of it.
Tips For This Technique
- If you decide to use an acrylic block the gesso may permanently cloud the block even when cleaned. You can use an old block and mark it strictly for this purpose.
- If you use reinkers (alcohol ink) add a little bit of water before you apply it. The watered-down ink will fill the cracks and enhance your paper. Be careful not to add too much water.
- Try applying the ink with a mini mister. Will give you an even coat.
- If you are planning to use inks, let the gesso dry overnight to get a better and deeper color on your paper.
- You can apply distress inks and oxide inks to the paper and then use a water spray to get a rich texture.
- You can create a resist by using a regular crayon over the dry gesso paper. Then apply your pigment
- You can use acrylics on your gesso paper. Allow the paper to dry overnight. Then paint the paper with your desired color,
Patterned Gesso Cardstock
Making gesso patterned paper gives you new options for using your stamps. You can use just about any stamps you would like in repeat patterns on your paper. Stazon ink will work best as this is a wet technique. But experiment with other inks as well. If you use dye ink, make sure to leave it to dry overnight before applying gesso over it.
I like to do several sheets at one sitting so I have them on hand. These are great for cards, scrapbooks, and journals. YOu can work with different sizes of paper.
Try using different colors of cardstock to vary the technique.
- Heavy Cardstock-80-100 lb. or heavier (glossy works best)
- Stazon or ink of your choice
- Stamp or background stamp of your choice
- Brayer (optional)
- Cover your workspace with waxed paper, parchment paper, or a craft mat
- Stamp text or background stamp onto the back of the glossy cardstock You can use a brayer to apply to larger background images for a more even coat.
- Allow the ink to dry.
- Mix gesso with water (I teaspoon of gesso to 1/4 teaspoon of water ) or use undiluted.
- Brush gesso onto the paper in long strokes. Try different brushes for different effects. Cover as much or as little as you would like.
- Allow time for the gesso to dry
Faux Tin Tile Technique
This technique is a great way to use up scrap paper. You can use any paper that you have to create the size of the tile you want to create. This would be a great background for a card. You could also use these on a scrapbook page or in a journal.
- Cardstock any color 80 lb or above in weight
- Glue stick
- Scissors or a paper trimmer
- Aluminum foil
- An embossing machine
- A Scor Pal or other scoring tool
- Stazon ink or acrylic paint
- Cover the cardstock completely with the glue stick. Make sure to remove any glue clumps.
- Lay the aluminum foil on top of the cardstock and smooth with the brayer
- Trim any excess foil from the edges of the cardstock.
- Emboss the cardstock covered with foil in the embossing machine of your choice.
- Score tile lines with the Scor pal or other scoring tool
- Brayer it with white gesso
- Allow the gesso to dry
- Use acrylic paint or ink over the dried gesso. Apply with a brayer to get the amount of color you want
- Allow project to dry.
Once you apply the gesso and allow it to dry:
- Brayer solvent or alcohol ink over the project Allow ink to dry
- Daub with alcohol inks and blending solution. Allow ink to dry
- Rebrayer with black Stazon on ink. Allow ink to dry
© 2021 Linda F Correa
We would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and tips on using gesso
Linda F Correa (author) from Spring Hill Florida on May 30, 2021:
Thank you for the comment, Like you, I love mixed media too! Gesso is one of my favorite media.
Elaine Byers on May 29, 2021:
Thanks for these tips, I love mixed media and scrapbooking so great information here!