Art Journal technique: Gesso as a base

Art Journal technique: Gesso as a base

All  are textiles of one sort or another that have been glued to card using PVA. Usually bits of lace, net, machine embroidery, quilting scraps, rough samples, etc. The piece below even has cheap plastic buttons stitched to it.

I often get asked how I made these. (They are photos sitting in my Google Picasa account if you click on them you will see a larger version of the image)

I couch on threads or do bits of embroidery etc before I glue the fabric pieces to the card. 

Sometimes I add paper elements (such as can be seen in the image above). This piece is not on card but on heavy paper. 

In the image below you can see how a stitch sample was worked and I frayed the fabric edge.  

Then I have added a couple of coats of Gesso allowing the Gesso to dry in between layers.

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

What is Gesso? 

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.

It would be the one art supply I would find hard to live without.

 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. 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 

At one stage gesso used to be 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. 

Here is a video on the topic which demonstrates how to apply Gesso without trying to sell you special brushes, tinted items and such nonsense.  Enjoy as it is a technique you might like to try. 




  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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