Okay, yes, you’re right. I should have started with this recipe first.
Basic chalk ground is the easiest and most flexible gesso in the entire history of artist-kind. In fact, if you Google “homemade gesso” you’ll come up with dozens of versions of this recipe by great artists and innovative thinkers who might possibly have been broke at some point in their careers. I mean, what else could possibly explain the use of baby powder as filler for gesso?
I can relate. Maybe it never occurred to me to use baby powder because my kids haven’t needed diapers since the last century. Well, The Theory thinks they still do because I continue to pay their cell phone bills. (It’s called a family plan, sweetie!)
What you need:
- 4 parts white glue, like Elmers’s, wood glue or archival (pH neutral) hide glue
- 3 parts water
- 4 parts filler (chalk or whiting, gypsum, Plaster of Paris, baby powder)
- 1 part pigment
Combine water and glue in a jar or container. In a separate container, combine filler and pigment. Slowly add filler to glue mixture, stirring constantly. Add more filler or water/glue blend to get the consistency you want. Ideally it should be like pancake batter, but you can thicken it with more filler to build up impasto effects.
If you use rabbit-skin glue
Both The Painter’s Handbook by Mark David Gottsegen and The Artist’s Handbook by Ralph Mayer offer chalk ground formulas that include rabbit-skin glue. If you want to use this traditional glue, follow the directions on the package. You can omit the extra water in the recipe above.
Plaster of Paris
If you use Plaster of Paris, be sure to sift out the big chunks of rock first.
The last word on baby powder
I asked my dad about using talcum powder for filler, and he said it worked well as long as you used a rigid support. It’s no good for canvas because it’s too brittle. The last time he diapered a kid, baby powder actually contained talcum powder. Who knew it was slightly toxic? Current ingredients may include cornstarch, which in itself might be interesting to experiment with as filler for gesso. But it’s true—all these gesso recipes are much better on rigid supports.
I am so done with gesso and board prep for now! To celebrate the closing of the board prep series, here’s an old piece from two years ago that I almost forgot about. It’s amazing how pieces start to look better if you don’t see them for a while.