Creating Texture with 'Gesso'

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Layering tissue paper in 'Gesso'.
In this blog entry, we are going to look at some simple ways you can use ‘Gesso’ to create texture on a canvas. The photos are of an actual work in progress that will soon be ready to show in my online gallery.

‘Gesso’ is an acrylic paint that is used to prime canvases ready for painting, but there are many more things you can do to enhance your canvases and working surfaces using this versatile paint than simply using it as a primer.

If like me, you collect recyclable and re-usable materials, you can use ‘Gesso’ to stick and incorporate these materials onto the surface of your canvas. Just make sure that you do not use any perishable materials as they will likely degrade the surface over time.

In the picture, I have painted a section with ‘Gesso’ to make a sticky surface and then layered tissue paper with ‘Gesso’ over the top to create a ‘crinkled’ effect. I will paint several layers of ‘Gesso’ over the tissue paper (allowing it to dry between coats) to create a workable surface ready for acrylic or oil paints. You could use materials such as cloth (cloth with a noticeable weave is the best), corrugated card, beads and so on.

However, you do not need to use other materials to get texture in ‘Gesso’. If you get a good quality ‘Gesso’ it tends to hold its form well and so you can create texture directly with the ‘Gesso’. You can use ‘Sgraffito’ technique to create a pattern in a thick layer of ‘Gesso’. I start with a thick layer of ‘Gesso’ and then use the end of a brush or palette knife to scratch into the surface to get the desired effect. The great thing about this approach is that if I don’t like the effect I create first time round, I just repaint the surface and do it again (I allow this to dry for at least 24hrs before I work on the surface).

Instead of using ‘Sgraffito’ technique, you could add ‘Gesso’ to the surface with a sponge or build up layers. The best thing to do, is to experiment with applying it and taking it away.

If desired you can add acrylic colour to your ‘Gesso’ if you want a coloured background, but I prefer to have a plain white surface to work on.

Please be aware that ‘Gesso’ is an acrylic paint and like all acrylics if it gets onto a surface that doesn’t want to be painted (e.g your favourite clothing) then you need to wash it off with water immediately to prevent staining. I recommend wearing old clothing or an apron, covering surfaces with newspaper or rags and having a damp rag to hand for quick corrections and mopping up.

‘Gesso’ is water-soluble and so will wash off hands with soap and water.

‘Gesso’ is a paint so please observe Health and Safety precautions when using it.

I hope this blog entry has given you some new ideas for creating textures in your own work and thank you for reading my blog,