Gesso Tips with Lady Hue

I remember when my art Professor gave me the first assignment in my painting class to go home and gesso my canvas.  FYI, you pronounce Gesso like Jesse, but with an "o" at the end... jess-o.  Well, I didn't know that yet, so I walked into the art supply store and said, "I think I need some... Guess-o?". They laughed at me and then helped me find the right thing.  I walked away with a big tub of white blubbery stuff that I still didn't know how to use.  

Gesso is the acrylic primer most artists use to prep their canvas.  A canvas can be a panel board, stretched linen, or almost anything else.  Gesso begins as a sour cream (sour cream light... to be exact) consistency and you can apply it with a paint roller, brush, spatula, or your fingers if you are that awesome.  The way that you apply your gesso depends on what kind of a base you want to start with in your paintings.  I'll explain the process that I use and why I do.

When you are applying gesso you are essentially building a resistant surface for your paints.  If you didn't gesso your canvas, the wood or fabric would just soak up most of your paints.  Having the right surface will save you paint and money, help the paints look more brilliant, and the painting will last longer - or be more archival.    

Because it is acrylic it is water based, opposed to oil based paints.  I scoop some of my gesso into a separate container and mix it with some water to make it a lighter consistency (a thick ranch dressing?) and to stretch the life of my gesso.  I guess you could say I am a little bit of a gesso snob. It is perfectly acceptable to scoop it out of the bucket and brush it onto a panel board and call it good. However, I like to work with thinner gesso and really work it in through multiple layers.   

I have developed a special technique over the years that I came up with that I love.  Go ahead, try it, and let me know if you like it!  I start with panel board, gesso the surface and the back (which also helps the board from warping because it becomes waterproof) and when the surface is still wet I begin to gesso muslin fabric onto it.  I could use many different fabrics, but I like the small weave of the muslin and I also like that it is affordable.  I use a un-bleached muslin so it has less of a chance of effecting the archival quality of the paints.  

When I have finished brushing the gesso onto the fabric (maybe two layers?) it is thin enough I can still see the grain of the muslin and there is a little discoloration here and there from the unbleached fabric and the white gesso.  I keep the gesso fairly light so when I apply my first layer of the ground color it is really working with the canvas rather than just sitting on top of a rubbery surface.  

Now go get painting!  Tweet me (@ladyhue) and let me know if you tried it or if you have any questions!  I'll talk about creating a ground on your canvas next time.

Keep in touch!

>>>[Welcome to a new series here on the twig blog, how-to tips from artists who are authentic, real, and inventive. Each month a few of our favorites will spill their secrets and skills to help you in your creative path. We're excited to learn a few things ourselves. Come soak it up and share the love.]



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