Gesso: Art Journaling and the Magic of Gesso

Starting an art journal page or beginning the "Imperfect Journal"  process starts with the magic of gesso! Not only is a coat of gesso the best way to prepare a paper page to accept virtually any medium, but it also creates a beautiful, soft, vellum-like ground that is satisfying to the touch. Artists have been using gesso for centuries to prep canvas, cotton and wood so that paint adheres better. Water colors, acrylics, inks, water soluble crayons, or spray and distress stains--all of these will be more cooperative on a gessoed surface. 

If you do a test with a plain page compared to  a gessoed page you will immediately notice that the gessoed page holds color with a velvety bloom rather than staining the paper or bleeding through to the other side of the page. 

I prepare virtually every page of my Leuchtturm journal with gesso these days, although in the beginning I used it only on a few pages where I planned to go wild with multimedia pigments. Nowadays when I begin, I know that even if I'm just writing a few notes today, I may want to go back later with color or stamps or stencils and the gesso gives me those options.

 

But page prep is only the beginning of the magic of gesso. As we begin to create, to doodle, to draw or paint -- in the Imperfect Journal process we will want to add, layer and delete. The freedom to trying anything unleashes our confidence and creative courage--Gesso magic gives us freedom to do just that.

Thinned gesso over collage pieces can tone down loud elements or fade out the whole look to give a dreamy or pastel feel. Sometimes a crazy and busy layout  becomes magically  cohesive just by  by applying a quick thin coat of gesso. I use my fingers or a sturdy brush (wash it!). Working quickly, that layer can be blotted away with a wipe or damp cloth to bring back elements that may have faded too much. You can also use gesso as a pure white, slightly textured stencil paste (do wash that stencil right away as gesso contains glue and you don't want it to clog your stencil.) If your play with bright or dark pigments feel too aggressive -- a little swipe with gesso tones it all down and gives you a fresh ground for stamping, writing or stenciling. It is useful as a glue option as well.

A thin layer of  gesso unites the values here, creating a happy ,faded look. Here we have torn pages from a dollar discard book that happened to be in Polish, a raven stamp, gelato tinting, and that rough texture is the actual moist wipe, torn and glued on to the page with matte Modge Podge. A thin coat of gesso brought it together and a quick dab with the moist wipe kept  the Polish words from being totally obscured.  

A thin layer of  gesso unites the values here, creating a happy ,faded look. Here we have torn pages from a dollar discard book that happened to be in Polish, a raven stamp, gelato tinting, and that rough texture is the actual moist wipe, torn and glued on to the page with matte Modge Podge. A thin coat of gesso brought it together and a quick dab with the moist wipe kept  the Polish words from being totally obscured.

 

And of course -- a coat of gesso wipes all offenses away and showing only romantic ghosts glowing from below and letting us start again.

Any gesso will do -- even very cheap brands in bulk. I like Liquitex and this big bottle of Winsor and Newton. Many craft gessoes come in a 4 oz. size and that is just too small for me. Rationing my base coats is the last thing I want to do while playing with glue and color!

Matte Gel Medium: Gesso's Magic Cousin!

Finding Your Unique Artistic Style: Dare to Fail