How to Make Gesso: All You Need To Know About DIY Gesso

Let’s finally figure out how to make gesso. Gesso is a type of primer that you spread onto surfaces to create a smooth surface for painting. Artists use it to prepare their canvases, but it can also be used on wood or metal. It is usually white in color and has many uses in different art forms.

Gesso can act as an undercoat for oil paintings, provide texture for acrylics, and serve as the base coat on most types of surfaces before painting or drawing.

If you want to know how to make gesso then this article will tell you everything about DIY gesso with detailed tutorials and useful tips!

What is Gesso?

Gesso’s main purpose as an artistic medium is its ability to adhere to a surface. It creates a sticky base for paint so that it will stick, and because of the unique consistency of gesso you can create texture effects by scratching into it with tools or materials.

It’s applied over surface area (canvas board or surfaces) using either paint brushes or sponges after prepping the material beforehand. Once dried hardens into a protective layer that can be painted onto later on.

Gesso is usually white in color but it comes in other colors as well such as black and clear. It’s usually available in tubes at art stores, but it is also possible to make your own gesso!

Is Gesso the Same as Primer?

Gesso and primer are not the same things.

Primer is a coating that prepares a surface for painting by creating an even tone or color. Gesso tends to be thicker than primer too which means that if you plan on using it as a base coat then there will be quite some time between coats of paint because it takes longer to dry!

This also makes gesso more useful for certain types of painting projects such as those requiring textures or other effects over the top since they’ll have plenty of time to set.

However, gesso is not durable enough for outdoor signage so if you want something that will last outside then primer might be the better option.

Is Gesso Necessary?

If you are planning on painting over a surface that is already painted then there isn’t really any need for gesso other than to provide texture. The problem with this approach though is that the original paint might be too thick or have another material mixed in which could affect how your new layer of paint adheres to the surface.

For example, oil paints require specific types of materials and conditions while acrylics can handle more variance – but if you use an acrylic base coat under an oil-based topcoat then the two will never dry properly together. Instead, they’ll become tacky until eventually one day when everything just slides off into a big mess because all your layers were stuck together even after years of trying to dry!

It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to art projects so testing your materials beforehand can help avoid any problems with paint layers not adhering properly later down the road.

Sometimes the best solution is simply sanding down previous layers before applying new ones – especially with oil paintings which require more preparation than other types due to varnishes used in earlier steps.

Can Acrylic Paint Be Used Instead of Gesso?

Acrylic paints cannot provide the same textures either since gesso is thicker and dries faster – unlike acrylic – so you won’t get much time between coats of paint before everything becomes tacky again!

Just keep in mind that gesso contains chalk which means it’s more suited to painting over materials such as wood and metal – neither of which is ideal for oil paintings anyway since they require specific conditions! Always test your supplies before beginning an art project, and make sure the surface will work with what you have available.

The last thing you want is to be stuck scraping gooey layers off from between two other pieces while all the time wondering how something so easy could become so complicated.

How to Make Homemade Gesso

You can create your own DIY version of gesso by mixing a few simple household items together which is good news if you’re dealing with an unexpected art project and don’t have any supplies on hand!

There are different variations depending on what type of paint will be applied afterward – or even whether you plan on using it as part of another mixed media technique. No matter the case though, always test out your materials beforehand so that everything goes smoothly in the end.

The simplest and most common way to make gesso is to mix white paint with glue and talcum powder. White acrylic paint works well for this, but you can use any type of white craft paint (such as latex). You can also substitute the glue in your preferred brand/type: PVA, Elmer’s Glue All, etc.

Every artist has their own personal preference when creating art supplies at home which means there isn’t always going to be a single right way to do things even though some materials are better suited towards certain applications overall.

There are plenty of different recipes out there, so feel free to experiment with what works best for you before settling on one that fits into your daily routine without causing shortcuts wherever possible.

It’s also a good idea to keep in mind that most DIY gesso recipes can be altered depending on what you need them for which means there is always room for customization!

How to Make Gesso for Canvas

Plaster of Paris is one of the most common ingredients in DIY gesso recipes and it’s easy to see why. It has a fine texture, practically no smell at all, and can be found at any art supply store or online for really cheap prices.

To whip up this plaster powder into the gesso, simply mix two parts of water with one part of plaster powder in a container until everything turns into a paste. You don’t need to worry about the proportions as long as there is more than enough amount of water added so that your mixture becomes smooth without lumps.

However, if you have never made any kinds of cement before then I would suggest using equal portions of both ingredients – half cup each for example – just to be safe.

Plaster of Paris will make your DIY gesso recipe very effective because it helps to create texture and dries quickly after applying onto the canvas or board.

Another great thing about using Plaster of Paris as a gesso ingredient is that you can mix it with other ingredients to change the properties and effects of your homemade gesso.


  • Plaster – 1 cup
  • Glue – 1 cup
  • Warm water – 1 cup
  • White paint – 3 cups


  1. Pour the glue into a container.
  2. Add water slowly while stirring constantly with your whisk until it turns to liquid and there are no more lumps left in it before adding the plaster.
  3. Stir well for several minutes or until you can’t see any white residue at all anymore on its surface when finished mixing together thoroughly before letting it rest for about thirty minutes so that bubbles settle down if using clear-drying craft glue instead of school glues which have air pockets built right inside them already since they set faster than other brands do, saving time during this process.
  4. Add white paint.
  5. Once done resting, use immediately or transfer into glass containers with tight fitting lids if not planning to use up all at once so that it won’t dry out.
  6. Store in a cool, dark area and it should last for a year or longer if kept sealed properly without air exposure inside of them.

You can also use talcum powder, chalk powder, or marble flour instead of plaster.

Adding marble flour instead of chalk powder makes your DIY gesso recipe extra matte and perfect for oil paintings because it quickly dries up once applied onto finished products giving it an overall smoother finish which works great with other mediums that have a high oil content.

How to Make Gesso with Cornstarch

Cornstarch is often used to make homemade gesso because its fine texture works wonders when creating the perfect surface for your drawing or painting.

How to make clear gesso? It is made up of a combination of matte medium and cornstarch as a transparent aggregate. The addition of a fine aggregate to clear gesso makes the canvas more gritty, making it easier to paint or draw on.

The best thing about using cornstarch as an alternative for plaster powder is its transparency as well as other properties that are perfect for water-based mediums which are more popular among artists.


  • Glue – 4 cups
  • Water – 2 cups
  • Cornstarch – 1 cup


  1. Add one part cornstarch into three parts warm water until dissolved.
  2. Add the glue to the previous mixture and thoroughly combine it.
  3. Let the mixture sit overnight for the best results.
  4. Add white paint if needed.

The consistency should flow smoothly from one end of the mixing utensil back onto itself but not too runny that it doesn’t hold together well.

Adding too much water will make the gesso difficult to work with, so err on the side of caution when adjusting how wet/dry your final product should be. You can always add more water if needed! However, you cannot remove excess liquid once added – so only use as much as necessary to get desired results.

How to Make Gesso for Oil Painting


  • Water – ½ cup
  • Clear glue – ¼ cup
  • Chalk powder – ⅛ cup


  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl until everything is well together while still leaving the mixture lumpy.
  2. Once finished mixing together all components, let them sit for at least twenty four hours so they have plenty of time to dry out thoroughly.
  3. Test your gesso by brushing gently on newspaper or an old canvas; you should see a nice even, matte surface.
If you want a thicker, more textured type of plaster-based paint then adding some sawdust or sand into your mixture will do just fine!
Read more about oil painting in our Comprehensive Guide for Beginners.

How to Make Black Gesso


  • Water – ¼ cup
  • Black acrylic paint – ½ cup
  • Glue – ½ cup


Combine the ingredients in a large container and stir thoroughly with a wooden spoon.

This recipe will give you black DIY gesso which is ideal for acrylic paints but can also be used with oil paint. If you are looking for white gesso, you can add ½ cup of white paint to your mix instead of the black one.

Tips and Tricks

Tips About Making Gesso:

  • Use distilled water for best results.
  • It’s best not to make too much at once if possible. For the best results, mix only as much gesso that you will be able to use up within a few weeks or months at most.
  • When making homemade gesso with plaster powder, make sure not to inhale any of its dust since this can cause respiratory problems later on in life if exposed over time enough. If working with larger amounts then wear a mask while stirring the mixture together.
  • When choosing a container to mix your gesso in, make sure it’s made of glass instead of plastic since this can affect the way the paint reacts with the mixture over time and could cause poor results if you are not aware that they should never be mixed together.
  • Make sure all your equipment and surfaces are clean before using homemade gesso on them since it will not contain preservatives that commercial ones have in them and may result in growing mold over time if left unused. Cleaning with alcohol works well for this purpose.
  • Do not add too much water to the mixture since this will defeat the point of using gesso and you may end up with an unstable surface instead which could cause some problems later on during the painting process such as bubbling or peeling off while drying.
  • If your homemade gesso has dried out and become too thick, you can add a few drops of water into the mixture until it becomes thin enough again before using it.
  • Once done stirring all together, let the mixture sit for a few minutes so that all lumps disappear before using.

Where to Get Talcum Powder From

  1. In the herbal medicine department of a large grocery store.
  2. At an art supply store, especially if you want to make your own custom colors with pigments or paints.
  3. You can also find talcum powder at a craft shop.
  4. At some pharmacies, you can find talcum powder in the baby section of their store if they have one or more there.
  5. You may also be able to purchase this product at a beauty supply shop since many people use it for making homemade cosmetics.

What White Glue Should You Get

  • You can purchase white school glue or clear-drying craft glue at a local grocery store.
  • Be sure that whatever kind of white glue you get does say “archival” on it somewhere if possible because then you know it was specifically created for art purposes which means it won’t be harmful when applying onto paper or canvas.
  • If working with watercolor paints, make sure to use water-based white glue so that it won’t harm your paint when applying over top of them.
  • When working with watercolor paints, you should use high-density white glue.
  • For other projects such as mounting paper onto surfaces or creating handmade greeting cards out of thick stock cardstock for painting on, any kind of white school glue found in schools (Elmers) works well.

Using Your Homemade Gesso

  • Since black is very opaque color, it will be much easier to work with than other colors that require multiple layers for achieving desired results so don’t use too many coats of this mixture when using over the painting.
  • Make sure your surface is clean and dry before applying gesso. Otherwise, it will not stick to the surface properly.
  • Let any layers of paint completely dry before adding another layer of gesso.
  • Let oil paintings dry for at least two weeks before applying any layer of gesso because drying time is not the same as the curing period and it will vary depending on the medium used (oil, acrylic, etc.) and local weather conditions (humidity, air pressure).
  • If you wish to create an impasto effect (thickly layered painting), apply two coats instead of one when working with oil-based gesso letting it dry completely between each coat so that there is no chance for any bubbling later on during application onto paper or canvas.
  • For painting on paper, use a very thin gesso mixture since this kind of paint is meant to be transparent.

Make Your Own Gesso Recipes

You can play around with different ratios until finding something that works best for you which may take some experimenting before seeing what provides the right results at first try but after one or two tries, this should become pretty simple since ingredients are inexpensive too if making a small batch.

Final Words

Gesso is an excellent alternative when it comes down to saving money while still having access to quality art supplies that can be used again and again without needing too many replacements! There are tons of different recipes online that can explain to you how to make gesso for acrylic and oil on your own with what’s available at home. Try them out to discover which ones turned out best for you!

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