Last Updated on May 1, 2019 by Nancie Waterman
This afternoon, I did another experiment using the Strathmore Premium Cover white cardstock I purchased a few weeks ago, this time looking at how prepping it first with gesso changes the way a variety of art mediums behave on it. All of the art mediums I tested are commonly used by stampers: regular colored pencils, watercolor pencils, watercolor markers, archival pigment markers, watercolor crayons, pastel pencils, alcohol ink markers and Gel-Sticks/Gelatos.
My inspiration to play with this traces back to my most recent “Gelatos, Gel-Sticks & Stamps” eArticle. In researching the topic, I learned that you can improve dry blending of Gel-Sticks or Gelatos if you first prep the surface with a light coat of gesso. After I purchased the Strathmore Premium Cover but wasn’t happy with the way it takes colored pencils, I wondered if some gesso might make a difference. So today I gave it a try.
First, you might wonder, “What is gesso?” Gesso is a type of acrylic paint used to prep a surface on which you will be using art mediums. Artists have traditionally used gesso to prep canvas and other surfaces before they paint. I’ve mostly used it in the past to prep the little tan craft boxes you can buy in craft stores. If you simply stamp or color on those boxes, the color can sink into the box fibers and be uneven and sometimes hard to see. The gesso gives it a base coat of white (although you can also purchase it in clear, black or colored versions) that you can then stamp or color on more easily.
But you can also paint gesso on cardstock. You might think that this is very finicky and would add a lot of time to a stamp project, but the process is surprisingly fast and easy. I learned in researching another eArticle, “Sponge & Brush Techniques For Stampers”, that an inexpensive foam brush is handy for applying a light thin coat of paint. (It tends to create less stroke marks than a bristle brush.) Simply shake the gesso bottle to make sure the paint is mixed and then squeeze out a puddle of the paint on a palette or craft sheet. Then dip the foam brush into the paint puddle and brush the paint across the surface of the cardstock, using as many strokes as necessary to get a smooth even application over the whole surface.
Clean off the palette or craft sheet and the brush while you let the gesso dry naturally. (It only takes a few minutes.) Or use a heat tool to speed things up. (Sheesh, I really need to clean the ink off my heat tool!) Now you are ready to stamp, paint or color on the prepped surface. If you find you like using surfaces prepped with gesso, you could prep a few sheets to have ready to go for future projects.
My original paper was Strathmore Premium Cover Ultimate White (80#), a paper that is very white. The Liquitex gesso is described on the bottle’s fine print as being Brilliant White. It is not quite as white as the cardstock, so the gesso treatment made the paper just a little less white, but still a good base white color. The gesso also changed the original very smooth feel of the paper to a kind of chalky feel. Basically what you have done is sealed the paper and created some tooth. (Hmmm, sounds good for colored pencils doesn’t it?)
This is a photo of the various art mediums scribbled on the untreated cardstock (top) and the gesso prepped cardstock (bottom.) No photo or scan is going to show you exactly how this looks in real life, so I encourage you to try this yourself with your own supplies to really see how this works. But this at least gives you an idea of what happens.
Mediums that like a little tooth go on the gesso prepped surface more easily than the unprepped surface: regular colored pencils, watercolor crayons, watercolor crayons and pastel pencils all like the prepped surface better. Notice that these mediums all pick up some of the gesso texture in the coloring. I personally like this look better and think the color tends to be richer, but you may like the other application better. Neither is right or wrong, just different.
Watercolor markers seemed happy on either surface. I really couldn’t detect a difference. Pigment ink markers and Copic alcohol ink markers worked OK on the prepped surface but were streakier. They really preferred the original unprepped surface, which I had previously found to be a good one for markers in general. The Gel-Sticks color the same on both papers; it is only when you try to dry-blend them that you can see that the color moves and blends better on the gesso prepped surface.
Gesso is a handy thing to have in your stamping stash. You can buy a bottle in the art paints section of local craft or art supply stores. You won’t want to use it for every stamp project, but it can be useful for those times when you want to seal your surface and give it some tooth. Try it for prepping craft boxes or chip board shapes. Try it for prepping tags or other small pieces of paper or cardstock that don’t have quite the right surface for a particular art medium. It only takes a few minutes and can really make a difference!
Have you used gesso on a stamp project? How did you use it? What is your experience with gesso?