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The Encaustic Gesso Recipe that you will love

Which do you think is the worst part of making traditional Gesso? to me, clearly, are the “traditional” Gesso recipes. It seems someone wants the artists to fear preparing it, who knows...

prefiero leerlo en español

Just a few clear statements about Gesso:

  • Good quality hide glue DOES NOT stink. May be if you keep it on top of your radiator for a week, but 2-3 days in your fridge will stand without problems. It is true, it has a peculiar smell but nothing to worry about. It is not easy to describe a smell in written, but to give you a hint, it is like the smell of a wet dog, it might not be your favourite smell but it is also not to fear.
  • Water-glue proportion is an easy problem to solve. Good quality hide glue absorbs only the right amount, the rest you can throw away.
  • If you are used to heating wax for encaustic, the least problem you will have will by determining the right temperature: when the flow is just right.
  • It is NOT so tedious applying the layers, actually is even better than with acrylic gesso since it does not have to dry completely between layers.
  • Yes it is a drag to sand it, but you don’t need to…! if you apply it already perfectly smooth, and I will tell you how to.


What you need

  • Good quality hide-glue granulate.  Best quality you will find where the luthiers buy their materials.
  • Filler, chalk, calcium carbonate or clay: the finer the better (average particle size)
  • A glass jar from 250 t0 500 ml will be ok (jam or vegetables glasses are great since they have a wide opening)
  • Water (boiled or just from the tap)
  • Flat brush suitable for water-color, a good hake brush is our first option
  • A wooden stirrer

 casual gesso recipe

How to prepare encaustic gesso


…The night before…

  • Fill the glass jar with lukewarm water (body temperature 37ºC)
  • Add filler, calcium Carbonate or Clay till you get a white liquid similar to skimmed milk
  • Add a levelled tablespoon of hide glue granulate every 150ml liquid (more or less)

…Close it, shake a little and keep it in the fridge overnight…

The next day

  •  Open the jar and throw away the remaining liquid ( if any water is remaining on top of the “jelly”)
  • Place the jar in a pot with water and heat it till the water boils, switch it off and let it stand 10-20 minutes. Do not stir.

… now is the right moment to make you a nice cup of tea or coffee…

How to apply gesso

  • Prepare the panels to be grounded, they should be clean. If the surface is too smooth make marks with a cutter in both directions say every cm. Protect the borders with masking tape if required. Place the panels a little bit tilted.
  • Switch the heat on again and stir slowly with a wooden stirrer until the white mixture is totally fluid (remember: milk consistency) temperature will be by 60-70ºC (you cannot leave your finger 5 seconds in the water without burning yourself)

…first 2 layers…

  • 1-2 layers: Apply the liquid (is very liquid)  in the same way you would apply an ink wash, from top to bottom in horizontal continuos strokes. Remove exceed at the bottom line with kitchen paper. Move to the next panel and do exactly the same thing.  Next layer should be applied before the previous one is completely dry; layers are to be applied alternating directions, this meaning rotating the panel 90º each layer.

…next 3 & 4 layers…

  • 3-4 layers: Add more filling, calcium carbonate or clay to the jar and heat it again, stir slowly. The liquid should be now a little more dense than skimmed milk and with no bubbles. Apply two more layes of the preparation as we did in layers 1-2.

…next 5 & 6 layers…

  • 5-6 layers:  Add more filler, calcium carbonate or clay to the jar and heat it again, stir slowly. The liquid should be now like a milk shake and still with no bubbles. Apply two more layes of the preparation.
  • If your panel looks OK now for you, you can stop here – STOP.  If not you can go with the procedure on till you find it right for you.


How to finish your panels

Your panels should be now already perfectly smooth and you do not need to sand them if you do not want to. I recommend you leave them how they are for the time being and perhaps sand them just before you use them in case they scratched or stained with dust while they where stored.

Extra tips

If you are not working with braced panels it might be a good tip to apply the first layer on the backside of the panel, in this way you will compensate the 1 sided grounded wood tendency to warp.

If for any reason you think you may not finish the same day, perhaps I would use boiled water and a sterilised glass. During dead times the glass always kept in the fridge.


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This post is also available in: Spanish