Gesso – buy or make?

by Jun 22, 2021Art Supplies

Last week Jane looked at making and using egg tempera. In a similar vein, this week she looks at gesso – making your own or buying it.

What is gesso for?

It is a primer!

Traditionally gesso was a mix of an animal glue binder which is usually rabbit skin glue, chalk and white pigment. This mixture was used to coat ridged surfaces like wooden panels to act as an absorbent primer suitable for painting.

Gesso is similar to to the eye as white acrylic paint but thinner in consistency. It dries hard. When applied to canvas it makes the surface to be painted much stiffer. Using gesso also adds a slightly textured surface ready to accept acrylic paint. Without the using gesso you will find that the paint will soak into the weave of the canvas.

Priming your canvas with gesso

Buying gesso

Gesso is readily available and in stock at Gadsby’s. It is available in black or white and costs (at the time of writing):

  • Gesso 250ml – £9.95
  • Gesso 500ml – £11.95
  • Gesso 1000ml – £22.95
Daler Rowney gesso primer

Making your own gesso

I don’t make my own gesso, I prefer to use the ready made stuff. However, I have found a couple of recipes for you to try.

Warning: Don’t make your own and paint a masterpiece on the first piece of canvas you apply it too. Until you have done it a few times and seen how it stands the test of time you risk everything going wrong and your masterpiece being ruined by the homemade gesso!

Mixing your own gesso

Recipe 1: talc


  • 1/4 cup of talcum powder
  • 1 tablespoon of white glue ( I assume they mean PVA)
  • 1 tablespoon of white paint. ( I think this may be acrylic)
  • Lastly some water to get the right consistency.


Mix together and add water where needed.

Recipe 2:  cornstarch


  • 3 parts cornstarch
  • 3 parts baking soda
  • A touch of acrylic paint ( this is optional and will alter the colour of your gesso)
  • If you want your gesso white then add white acrylic.
  • Water to dilute.


Mix together and add more water if needed.

Can I use acrylic paint instead of gesso?

The answer is NO, you can’t use acrylic paint instead of gesso. This is because gesso creates a very fine texture for the paint to adhere to. But acrylic paint can be used as a base coat on top of gesso.

Liquid White – is it the same?

Again the answer is NO.

If anyone has been watching Bob Ross over the lockdown you will know what liquid white is, and how Bob uses it.

For those who don’t, liquid white isn’t the same as gesso. Gesso is acrylic based so you really don’t want to mix your oil paints into it.

Liquid white is designed for keeping your oil paint moving and blending on the surface of the canvas.

However, you can apply liquid white on to a acrylic gesso base but the gesso must be completely dry before you can use the liquid white on the surface.

Liquid white

Buying Liquid White

  • Liquid White 250ml – £9.95
  • Liquid White 500ml – £14.95

I hope this has explained a bit about gesso. Let us know if you have been brave enough to try making your own.

If you have any questions you can contact use via Facebook or email or phone.

Jane is a member of the Gadsby’s team. She has a wide knowledge of the arts & crafts products and materials sold by Gadsby’s both from the perspective of an advisor in the shop and, for many of the products, from personal use too.

Please note that this is not a service that Gadsbys offer to clients – just an example of the private work done by one of the highly skilled and knowledgable Gadsby’s team shown for your interest.


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