Gesso is an art supply that is used as a primer or surface preparation for painting, gilding, and sculpting. Its origins are unknown, but it is thought to have originated in Italy because the word “chalk” is Italian. The method of preparation varies depending on the intended use, but it usually involves combining glue with plaster, chalk, or gypsum.
Designed to be used in painting
This substance is similar to paint, but it is thinner and dries more quickly. It is applied with a brush and must be allowed to dry before painting. Gesso was originally developed for use in painting to provide the proper properties for receiving paint. It was used over a panel of wood in Gothic and Renaissance panel painting to give the paint something to adhere to. It left a slightly rough surface on the wood, preventing the paint from seeping in.
Equal parts filler or chalk dust, white pigment (either powdered chalk or another mineral, such as zinc), and animal-skin glue were used in traditional gesso. After that, the mixture was heated and stirred. When dry, this substance was brittle and susceptible to cracking.
Liquitex, an acrylic paint company, created the first water-based acrylic gesso in 1955. Calcium carbonate, a pigment, and an acrylic polymer medium make up modern gesso. Titanium dioxide or titanium white is commonly used as a pigment.
Modern gesso has the same absorbent properties as older gesso but is more flexible, allowing it to be used on canvas. It can also be colored during the manufacturing process substituting another pigment for the titanium white. The artist can also tint the surface to be painted with watercolor, acrylic paint, or another coloring agent. Commercially available gessoed canvasses are available.
Sculpture with it
Gesso is also used in the sculpting process. It was commonly used as a base for decorative gilding or otherwise embellishing carved woodwork, such as picture frames or furniture, during the 18th century. Gesso isn’t always painted over or attached to another surface. It is sometimes used to create the actual artwork.
This material can be modeled or carved, and it can be cast in a mold or used to make the mold itself. It can be molded or built up to create relief designs. Because it creates a raised area on the page that can be gilded and burnished, gesso is also used in manuscript illumination.
Drawbacks that could occur
Some artists argue that modern gesso should not be used underneath oil paint on canvas. Mineral spirits, for example, can leak oil through and damage the underlying canvas when used in oil painting. The acrylic type’s archival properties are also unknown.