Testing Gesso

Lefranc & Bourgeois Gesso

The first time I used gesso was with what I then still called bloodsong. I don’t remember clearly but I don’t think I bought it especially for this project; I don’t remember using it for anything else, though. Before I tried it, I thought gesso was essentially white acrylic paint. What I bought to try it out was a comparably cheap one from Lefranc & Bourgois, which was explicitly suitable for paper. It was not the cheapest I could get, but definitely on the cheaper end. From the moment I first tried it on paper, I was in love with it. I love the heavy feel of the covered paper and the rough surface texture. The gesso I had was firm enough so that the brush left clearly visible strokes, and dries in about 30 minutes. Since then I have used it for almost everything I made: I paint with it in my big sketchbook that you can see above, I used it for chasing infinity, I am using it for soulsong, used it for ruled worlds, for absences, and for another project (erased) that I have not yet talked about here.  And last week my 1l jar was used up. Empty. Easy, I thought, I’ll just buy a new one.

That turned out harder than expected, though, since I couldn’t find it here. I was willing to order it in Germany, but couldn’t find it there, either. Not knowing anything about gesso in general, I feared that my purchase might have been a lucky one, and other gesso might be totally different. And what do you do in times of despair? – Right, ask the internet. The internet told me that I was right to fear: many people swearing on one and only one gesso – but of course they couldn’t agree on which one. Also, I found out not all types of gesso are suitable for use on paper. And I found the opion repeated that cheaper ones are essentially white acrylic paint and one should settle for expensive brands. For many of those I was not sure they would be suitable for paper, though, and it would have hurt to pay for them and then find out they don’t work.

In the end I just settled again for comparably cheap: Windson & Newton. Galeria Acrylic Mediums. White Gesso Primer.

new gesso tried

And I am rather happy with it. At first I thought I liked the other one better. Well, I still miss it. But I am getting more and more the feeling I might be imagining a difference where there is none. It also yields a nice, rough surface, and the same, heavy feel on the paper. I think I notice that it is a little less opaque and needs longer to dry, but as I said, I might be imagining it.

While I was trying out gesso, I also ordered a very, very cheap jar of black gesso by pebeo – just to try it.

black gesso trial

Now I know what people mean when they say cheap gesso has a plasticy feel to it, and is more like acrylic paint than like plaster: The page painted with the black gesso feels kind of smooth. The whole thing reminds me a lot of chalkboard paint. Which is not necessarily bad, I am rather happy with both purchases. Yay! Worries and freaking unnecessary 🙂

7 replies on “Testing Gesso”

  1. Interesting… I’ve only ever used Golden or Daniel Smith brand gessoes (common “quality brands” over here), but mostly only as a primer on boards for collages or on papier-maché. Daniel Smith also has put out a watercolor ground (acrylic-based, but meant to be painted on with watercolors) that they’ve been promoting. I’ve been thinking of perhaps using that on a few book pages. Honestly, it mostly seems to me to be like a thin gesso. I’m not sure what the difference is, if there is one. At any rate, I like reading your “product reviews.”

  2. I am glad to hear you found the post intersting. I was not sure whether maybe I was talking about something everyone but me know anyway.

    Ellen, I considered the golden gesso. Golden seems to become popular at this side of the Atlantic as well. I couldn’t find out, though, wether it would be suitable for non rigid substrates (paper, in particular). I read that some gesso types are only suitable as a ground on rigid materials because it will crack and flake off when tried on a movable material. Do you know or maybe you could try how it does?

    Amanda, funny that you mention silverpoint. I just read about it a couple of days (or weeks?) ago on a blog and briefly pondered giving it a try. (But then decided against it. – so many other things to try… But I would be very interested to hear about your experiences, should you find the time to try it.)
    Does it work with usual gesso? I though you needed a special ground for it to work well.

    1. I’ve used the Golden gesso while playing around with altered books before. It was, for my purposes, fine. As far as I know, it didn’t crack or cause problems. The last time I looked at the books (which were, admittedly, not many), it was still holding up. I painted it into the books a few years ago.

      Both of the links are rather interesting! Thanks, both of you, for sharing them.

      1. Ah, thanks for the review.
        In the meantime I read the Wikipedia article about gesso. They say that the original italian gesso was suitable for rigid material only (not even for stretched canvas), and acrylic gesso solved that problem. – So maybe all acrylic gesso would also be suitable for paper? I don’t know…

    2. Hilke, I’ll do some more research but last year when I was looking into it, I found info online which was definitely talking about chalky gesso. I’ll let you know if/when I know more.

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