Priming a panel with traditional gesso

How to prime a board with traditional gesso, an introduction

The term “gesso” can be something of a misnomer, as some people use this word to describe “acrylic primer”, which is completely different and doesn’t work with egg tempera paints, for example.

Gesso for use as a ground for egg tempera can either be bought ready-made or mixed from rabbit skin glue and whiting/powdered marble dust (scroll down for step-by-step instructions).

Ready-made gesso saves a lot of time and a small pot is enough to apply several coats to a medium-sized panel, but using rabbit skin glue and whiting/powdered marble dust may be a cheaper alternative.

Remember to read the labels on the packets and use a mask to avoid breathing in fine particles. I also like to wear a pair of protective gloves.

You will need:

  • ready-made gesso, or packet of rabbit skin glue and a packet of whiting/marble dust
  • mask
  • double boiler
  • brush
  • panels ready for priming

Priming a panel with gesso, step-by-step

Verdict

Pros: Ready-made gesso is a lot quicker to prepare and use.

Cons: Ready-made gesso may be more expensive to use in the long run and not a viable option for regular use. You need to plan ahead if you are going to make gesso from rabbit skin glue and whiting/marble dust as the glue needs to soak overnight.

Summary: The end result is the most traditional and best base for egg tempera. You can create an incredibly smooth surface for fine detailed work.

Other pages of interest

4 Comments on Priming a panel with traditional gesso

  1. Joseph
    April 28, 2011 at 2:03 pm (6 years ago)

    Very informative article which every professional artist should read and study because one is led into the false belief that buying a readily primed canvas is the solution in itself, whereas the traditional methods of priming with animal glue and whiting is far more preferable.
    Where does this whole process end? The Gamblin Traditional Gesso is termed a ‘solvent’ by the US customs people and cannot be bought from the US or UK. So as an artist one is on one’s own with regards making a professional priming job on a canvas or a panel!!!

    • artydash
      April 30, 2011 at 8:12 pm (6 years ago)

      Thanks for your comment and positive feedback.
      I know you can buy materials for making gesso from Green & Stone in London, UK. Their website is http://www.greenandstone.com/
      Best wishes,
      Diane

  2. scott
    January 16, 2013 at 2:58 am (4 years ago)

    Thanks for the information. This was great info. I used the rabbit glue and whiting/dust to make a gesso and applied it to one of the american easel panels you listed. I loved the results. Thanks again! I had been using pre made gesso prior, but I don’t think I’ll go back

    • Diane
      January 21, 2013 at 6:55 pm (4 years ago)

      I was given this advice by an art teacher many years ago and I think making your own gesso primer is the best option if you want to create primed painting boards for use with egg tempera or oils. Thanks for the feedback. Diane