Art Journal technique: Gesso as a page base

Art Journal technique: Gesso as a page base

Using Gesso as a page base sample 4

Using gesso as a page base will add texture and strength to your page. If you add strength it means you can have more fun adding stuff! By stuff I mean items like fabric, lace, textured papers and threads. These photos are of pieces where textiles of one sort or another that have been glued to a page or card using PVA. This technique is great for using up all sorts of scrappy bits of fabric, lace, braid, ribbon even buttons! You can also reduce your UFO pile and use little doodle cloths, half worked pieces or experiments you will never finish! The sample piece below even has cheap plastic buttons stitched to it.

Using Gesso as a page base sample 3

My process when gesso as a page base

Before I glue the fabric pieces to the card I usually couch on threads and/or do bits of embroidery using either a machine or by hand. Once the fabric is glued to the paper it is stiff and difficult to stitch through. It can be done with the help of awl used to punch a hole for the needle to pass through, but I have found my process has developed stitching the fabric first. While I am at this stitching phase I add lace and/or other scraps of fabric. 

Using Gesso as a page base sample 1

You can combine this technique with numerous fabric manipulation techniques such as pleating, ruching or fraying the fabric. Sometimes I add paper elements (such as can be seen in the image above). This piece is on heavy paper. 

In the image below you can see how a stitch sample was worked and I frayed the fabric edge.  The smooth yellowish square is paper.

Using Gesso as a page base sample 2

After glueing the fabric to the paper or card I let it dry. Next step in the process is to add a couple of coats of Gesso allowing the Gesso to dry in between layers.

Once the gesso is dry I then use inks, acrylic or watercolour paints, to emphasise the texture. Usually there is two or three layers of thin diluted paint. If I get too heavy handed I wipe off excess with a a damp cloth. 

What is gesso?

Gesso is the one art supply I would find hard to live without.

I use Gesso all the time in my journals particularly if the paper is thin or lacks tooth. For instance Moleskine notebooks have a fine smooth paper that take fountain pen well but have no real tooth for drawing but a couple of coats of gesso solves the problem.

Gesso it a primer that painters use to prime canvas, wood, or other surfaces before painting with oil paint or acrylics. You can buy tubs of the stuff in art supply stores. At one stage gesso was made of chalk, gypsum or plaster of Paris in a mix of animal glue. That is not the case anymore as todays Gesso is acrylic. It is usually white but you can get transparent and black gesso. You can also buy coloured gesso but this is just white tinted with acrylic paints. I suggest you buy white and tint your own if you want a coloured base as it works out cheaper! 

Gesso will make paper stiffer and add texture. It also adds strength as it prevents paint from soaking in and through to the back. It coats the paper or card making it an ideal foundation for mixed media and collage work. You can also draw over gesso and products like pastels and chalks love the extra tooth. 

I hope you explore gesso as a page base in your art journal!

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  1. Hi Anita yes you can use a pencil on a gesso surface on a moleskine – I have used pencil, graphite, watercolour pencils and water, water colour, acrylic paint, pastels, and conte. If I want a really strong surface to take lots of media I glue 2 pages together

    Sharon B
  2. Gesso has been a staple of life for me for the last 45 years! It’s the primer I use for papier mache and collages. It beautifullly seals raw wood to be sanded back down to silky smooth – I love your use of it, so now am itching to try this too.

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