For those of you that don’t know I have been taking several online classes with Joanne Sharpe of Whimspirations and have been enjoying every minute of it! A huge part of the class is the Facebook group and I do have to say that they are some of the most supportive woman I have ever had the privileged to be a part of. The last class just finished and we were feeling the withdrawal so Joanne has organized that people from the Facebook group can teach everyone else a lesson. Each week until September, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a different student is going to present a lesson or a prompt to keep the color love going.
I am the second person up so I decided that I would demonstrate a little more about different ways to use gesso to create textural backgrounds using gesso and the supplies that we already have purchased for “Color Love”
First I think it is important to understand exactly what gesso is and how it is different from acrylic paint. Gesso was traditionally created using rabbit glue and plaster dust (kinda gross if you ask me) and today we can enjoy knowing that it 100% acrylic (most brands) therefore no little fuzzy bunnies were harmed to make our art today. However that does not mean that gesso acts like acrylic paint.
Gesso is an absorbent ground. Meaning that it has a bit of texture or “tooth” that gives your materials something to hold onto and sink itself into. This is very different from acrylic paint which dries to a plastic finish and resists adding other art materials on top of it. Other materials such as watercolour will simply sit on top of acrylic paint and will not bond to it. You can put acrylic paint over watercolour but cannot watercolour over acrylic paint because there is nothing for the watercolour to bond with.
The advantage to gesso in the application that we are going to use today is its resistant capabilities. You don’t have to gesso over every inch of your paper or even gesso very thick in order to achieve some fantastic results. And the great thing about gesso is that if you don’t like what you have done you simply paint some gesso back over what you don’t like and start over again! Love me some gesso. Every company makes their gesso differently it comes thick or thin. smooth or textured. Adjust what you are doing according to the temperament of your gesso!
Supplies that I used for this lesson included:
- Golden Gesso (Use what you have!)
- Palette Knife (Old plastic cards work great for this)
- Watercolour paper
- paper towel for cleaning
- Container of water for cleaning
- Heat gun
- Variety of stencils or materials that can be used as a stencil
- Variety of different supplies including Koi watercolours, Inktense, Peerless Watercolors, Micron Pens, Uniball Vision Pen, Gel Pens
Technique #1- Thin application of Gesso with a Stencil
In this example I simply applied a thin layer of gesso using a paintbrush over my stencil. I just wanted to see what would happen when my watercolour paint interacted with a thin layer of gesso. What I found is that the watercolour sat on the surface of the gesso longer and remained wet longer. It also automatically was lighter than the watercolour that was absorbed into the watercolour paper. You are going to find that this is a quality that is going to remain consistent no matter what material you apply on top of the watercolour. And everything will need more time to dry properly!!!
Again! Everything needs more time to dry! Especially your markers. As long as they are waterproof and permanent they will stay put but you need to give them the time to adhere to the surface properly.
The materials that I used on the final “create” image was Koi watercolours for the background, Tombows within the letters, Uniball vision black permanent marker and my White Gel pen.
Technique #2- Thick application of Gesso With a Stencil
So the obvious next technique is what happens with a thick application of the gesso! Using the same stencil but applying the gesso with my palette knife (you can use an old credit card or other plastic card) I applied a nice thick gloppy layer of gesso and used my heat gun to dry the gesso. You have to be carful to hold your heat gun at a distance so that you don’t literally boil your gesso. I’ll show you below what happens when you dry too closely to the gesso.
After I dried my gesso I applied my Koi to the surface in a simple variety of darker blues and greens. I found that the surface had a distinct raised texture and I already knew that I wanted to try my Inktense over top of the stencilled gesso so I took a bit of fine sandpaper and gave the surface a bit of a sanding. This is one of the advantages of gesso. You can sand gesso, especially if it a bit thicker and it is going to take the material you applied off the surface but still remain absorbant. Or if you are concerned that the gesso is going to be too textury to write on you can give it a bit of a light sand to take the rough tips off. The image below is what it looked like before I sanded it. Be careful not to sand too much of the paper. It will create a texture on the paper and you will find that the paper then wants to “pill up” when you apply the water to the paper.
On this image I specifically wanted to know how the Inktense would act with the watercolour AND the gesso. I would say that the difficulty that I ran into was the transparency of the Inktense was challenging with the darkness of my base colour and did work better on the lighter gesso colour. I forgot to take a picture before I added the white outlining but I can say that I would suggest a lighter base colour if you are planning on adding the Inktense on top of watercolour.
Drying the gesso with a heat gun requires a bit of patience and care. What the heat gun is going to do is dry the surface of the gesso first and then as you bring the heat gun closer the gesso is going to start to bubble and volcano out and literally boil. While this can create some cool textures, (and if that is what you are looking for by all means do it) it also means that the gesso has not bonded with the surface of the paper. Therefore if you accidentally nick where the bubbles are you are going to be left with a patchy spot. Again you may be going for that and like that effect but it also could be frustrating if you are not going for that effect.
Now you can see in the above image where my heat gun bubbles were and what it looks like when they get sanded off. Personally I didn’t care either way and I can see the advantages of having the bubbles and also see how a little bit if sanding is going to create an entirely different effect.
This is the last image that I created using a stencil but I used my peerless watercolours over top. The gesso really resisted absorbing the peerless and I like the contrast of the lightness of the gesso stencil and the darkness here the paper absorbed the peerless. And I love the quote!
Technique # 3- Paintbrush Application of Gesso
The final technique does not require you to use a stencil but to simply apply the gesso with a paintbrush, willy-nilly if you dare! I was interested in a simpler more organic application of the gesso. Something that was a little less texturally prominent but still interesting. Using the stencil means that the stencil is going to remain important no matter what else you do. Perhaps you just want to ability to have lighter and darker areas and by applying the gesso with a paintbrush you care going to be able to have the contrast of light (where it is sitting on the gesso) and dark (where it is absorbed into the paper) that is created when you then add your watercolour on to that surface.
I learned a couple if different things on this image. I had decided that I wanted to add a face to the image after I had applied the Tombows to the background. However I did not want a purple face. I knew from pervious experiments that the Inktense was too transparent and would not work…what to do. I thought that perhaps the gesso would allow the Tombows to be lifted off the surface and so I drew the outline of the face and a applied clean water just in that area and dabbed with some paper towel. Viola! The gesso had not absorbed much of the Tombow and I was able to pull enough off that I could paint an actual face colour. I like using my Caron D’ache to apply for a skin colour so I wet the end of a paintbrush and painted the Salmon colour onto the face. I did have to add a layer of white on top to brighten it a bit.
I did learn however that the white Gel pen DOES NOT!!! like being applied over the Caron D’ache and adding the white pattern lines was very frustrating. Lesson learned and shared!
Finally the last image I made was to draw into the wet gesso. I wrote the word “create” but there is no reason that you couldn’t simply doodle patterns, lines for writing text, images… the possibilities are limitless.
Where I wrote the paper remained exposed so the Peerless that I applied over top was darker within the words and lighter where it sat on top of the gesso. My doodleing was done using a Uniball Vision marker a white Gel marker and a little bit of Prismacolor markers around the word to make it stand out a bit more.
I know this was a really long read so THANK YOU if you read all the way to the bottom. The problem with having chose this technique to share is that there is so much more that I could have shared and gesso really is an under appreciated material. That being said all of these techniques could be done using acrylic paints and you would have achieved an entirely different look using the same processes!
I love making art. There is so much that you can do using really basic materials and I hope that you create something beautiful! I added some larger images of my finished work below so you can see a bit more close up. The final image is just an Inktense background that I didn’t get to finishing but thought was pretty. Pardon the rock in the pictures. it was a bit windy and I didn’t want my work to blow away!
Now go Gesso something!!