What is Gesso and How to Make Your Own Gesso


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As I have been doing more painting and mixed media type projects, I have found myself delving into art supplies I didn’t know much about before.

One of my most-needed supplies right now is a white pasty substance called gesso. Gesso is a primer that’s used for preparing canvases and other surfaces for painting. It smoothes out the surface and makes it so the paint doesn’t soak into the canvas or other substance you’re working on. make your own gesso recipe

It’s typically made out of calcium carbonate, acrylic polymer latex and other chemicals (often including paint for whiteness) and makes it possible to paint on all kinds of surfaces with all kinds of paints.

I use a lot of gesso because I’m painting mostly on cardboard instead of prepared canvases. The trouble is, it’s pretty expensive. I have used Pro-Art Premium Gesso Canvas Primer in the past, but I thought I’d look into the possibility of making my own gesso and see how it compared to the store-bought stuff.

Make Your Own Gesso Recipes

homemade gesso ingredients
Store-bought gesso, and the ingredients needed to make your own.

Searching around online, I found a variety of recipes. Crafting with Style has a roundup of recipes for gesso using plaster of Paris, dextrin powder and chalk and glue, for example. Pixie Dust has recipes using drywall compound and glue and baby powder and glue.

The most popular recipes I found hit on using talcum powder (or baby powder, which is talc with fragrance added) and glue, with or without the addition of paint to make it a different color if you like.

The recipe I ended up trying is from Such a Pretty Mess:

make your own gesso
My homemade gesso has the consistency of pancake batter.

I mixed the first three ingredients and found it more solid than liquid, so I ended up adding 2 tablespoons of water to get to what I thought was something like the consistency of my store-bought gesso.

Using Homemade Gesso

I wanted a side-by-side comparison so I tried my homemade gesso along with store-bought gesso on two surfaces: a kid’s book I was converting into an art journal and a piece of cardboard.

homemade gesso comparison
Book page wet and dry. It’s actually pretty similar to store-bought.

I thought that the homemade gesso looked a lot thinner going on than the store-bought version.

But once they dried, the look was more similar. Mine isn’t as white, but that probably has to do with the cheap, washable paint I used in my formulation.

store bought versus homemade gesso
And on the cardboard, the store bought (on the left) went on thicker and smoother.

My version feels more textured, indeed more chalky, and the lines of the brush strokes (I used a foam brush) are much more pronounced. The store-bought gesso side feels smooth even as you can see strokes, but on the homemade side you can feel every bump.

I felt like it didn’t cover the book pages quite as well, but again, as it dried there was less of a difference than I thought there would be. Both are semi-translucent. I have read that more coats will cover more thoroughly, so I may end up doing a second coat (of both kinds) on the book to make it a little less see-through.

how to make your own gesso
Painted over gesso. Again, left is store-bought and right is homemade. With one layer of acrylic paint.

I painted my cardboard a solid color to test the gesso, and it felt like it took more paint to cover the homemade side, but that could have just been because of the added texture. (And when dry, the homemade side looks like it got more coverage, because it did.) Both sides look good, but they do look different.

Homemade Gesso Bottom Line

I haven’t used make your own gesso enough to definitively say it’s better or worse than the store bought. There are pros and cons to everything, but while I’m practicing and playing I think the homemade stuff is worth it.

It’s fun to make your own supplies, and the texture the homemade gesso adds is interesting. If I wanted a super-smooth surface, though, I’d probably thin out the homemade stuff even more or spring for the store bought.

Do you use gesso? Have you ever made your own? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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33 Comments

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  3. Chris

    Hi! I bought the store bought gesso and wasn’t paying attention to the description on the bottle; just looking at price and the word “gesso” 🙂

    So, I just used it the other day in a mixed media journal. When it dried I was kind of disappointe. As I’d purposefully made texture, the bumps and ridges had a dried plasticy feel and look. Finally, read the bottle – acrylic gesso! Obviously, I’m not a real artist, I’m just messing around, so I THOUGHT gesso would be more chalky? I assumed gesso was gesso and since I’m buying from a big box craft store, they’d surely know more than I.

    Anyway, I’m going to try and make my own, when I can. Thanks for your article! Very helpful and informative!!

  4. Doreen

    I made what i thought was gesso this weekend for a journalling project im doing. i used wall paint plaster of paris and a touch of white glue. i ended up adding loads of inks and kids play paint to change the colour and actually i have come up with something i really like.

  5. sam

    I am a painter looking for a cheaper alternative to Gesso, for most painters we are using it to give our canvases a professional look (hiding staples, imperfections in the canvas including the canvas texture) and we need a product that can be sanded and that is why we are stuck using the pricey alternative. Gesso itself doesn’t quite smooth the surface, it is just a material that can be sanded until its smooth, whereas an acrylic paint on its own would peel and leave scratch marks. So after all that, my question is, can this homemade version be sanded?? 🙂 Thanks for your time and experimenting!

  6. Malou

    I just happened to get here when I tried to search DIY Gesso. Way back in college, we used a mix of white flat latex paint , Elmer’s glue, and something called “patching compound”. Its a powdered chalk thing similar to plaster of paris, but cheaper and doesn’t harden fast when mixed with water.
    I’m not sure about the measurements/parts to a gesso-like consistency. I guess it depends on your own liking. 😛

  7. A chalky gesso would be best for sanding smooth. Plaster of Paris would be an easy choice. Calcium carbonate ,or powdered chalk, would be best. This can be found online through ceramic suppliers. Adding acrylic polymer to the white paint maybe improve film flexibility and help with cracking. I need to experiment.

  8. darla

    Your homemade mix is what I use for texture paste. For homemade gesso you can use either a ninja blender or a mortar and grind up white tums (store brand is cheapest, or a big bottle of mint flavored from Sams Club, you could use colored ones if wanted) which IS calcium carbonate, mix with a small amount of white acrylic craft paint, water and for more smoothness a bit of white cosmetic clay mix to the consistency of a crepe batter which is tad bit runnier than pancake batter. I am not against a drop or so of regular food grade glycerin which helps it set nicely. I find it easiest to mix by finely grinding my powders then using warm water say 1/4 cup and adding 2 tablespoons ‘tum powder’ and 2 teaspoons of paint TO the water rather than the water to the powder. Just start quickly swirling the water and paint around as you pour the powders in as a last step.

  9. allan

    Hi l am a rocking horse make and l make my own gesso to give me a supper fine finish the way l make mine id to mix calcium carbonate with PVA wood glue and when dry sand with 2,000 grit paper this gives me a glass like finish

  10. Caz

    I make my gesso with calcium carbonate powder (chalk ), white glue, white wall paint & water to mix. Usually make up a batch and keep in an air tight container, like a glass jar or old plastic laundry bottle. Add alcohol inks or experiment with other acrylic colours of your choice. You can also use this on furniture etc

  11. Renee

    I used your recipe; however, I added 1/2 and 1/2 of baking soda and talcum powder. I also added a little bit of acrylic gel medium. I have covered a piece of (I guess it’s called) chipboard that I took apart out of an old 3-ring binder — it is rather thin and not very hard. It made a nice finish for the surface and so far has kept the texture patterns that I made. However, I wanted to cover an antique cookbook with the remaining “gesso”, which I thought was a little too wet, since the other surface buckled. I just added some more baking soda until it was “pastier” and covered the book with the “gesso” and my fingers to smooth it out. I am waiting for both to dry and will let you know the results. I am hoping that the acrylic gel medium will not cause a disaster…

  12. Margaret Kirkness

    At art school a long long time ago , we used a mixture of plaster of paris,whiting (calcium sulphate) and plastic paint in equal quantities . and I think water. This mixture was sandable, durable and has been long lasting. I have not seen it cracking. I have used it with water colour, ink,and acrylic paint. It is extremely long lasting in an airtight container. { As poor students we also mixed cornflour with acrylic paint but be careful the cockroaches loved it)I wonder if anyone knows the exact quantities used for this mixture.

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  15. Gloria

    Clear gesso recipe
    30g whiting powder (used for marking lawns for tennis, available at some hardware stores)
    166g water
    208g pva glue
    10g clear glaze medium
    Shake up in a jar

    Much more ‘invisible’ than store bought, but with plenty of tooth.

  16. Caity Alexander

    I made this about a year ago and it wen on perfectly for a Carnival-type mask made of paper mache

    Im doing it again to go over a paper mache sculptural piece for my art exams, i like the texture it gives and hope fully it will come out nicely once again

  17. Very helpful as I tend to recycle canvases I buy from junk shops to save money. Some are real cotton duck cloth so only need standard primer paint. But many canvases are those ‘photographic prints’ which are vinyl in texture; no key for paint. I have been mixing wood glue, and primer then using this but it is hellish to brush on & doesn’t always give texture to the flat canvas surface. Adding chalk ….never thought of that! Brilliant! Thank you. As a vegan too, I’m aware that traditional gesso has binder from rabbit skin glue. So this is great to find home made recipes.

  18. Kimberly

    I have a question. I’m just starting out in mixed media canvas painting and I find myself a little confused. What is the difference between gesso and texture paste. The DIY recipes are the same, but do they serve different purposes? Thanks so much!!!

  19. antonio bungcag

    I am glad you shared this. It is very informative. Truth is I cannot find gesso here in our place. I think I have to make my own based on your suggestios.. Thank you very very much.

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