Follow this step-by-step guide to apply gesso to paper for acrylics or drawing. Discover how to use gesso on paper to create a durable drawing surface for pastels and more.
This resistant drawing surface lets you erase, even aggressively, without damaging the paper's surface.
Applying gesso to paper gives you complete control over the texture of your drawing surface.
You can incorporate additives into your gesso like fine grit pumice if you want to increase your paper's texture for mediums such as pastels.
You can tone your drawing paper to any color you like by tinting the gesso you're using.
If you want to learn how to use gesso for paper, you'll need a board on which to stretch your paper. Stretching your paper enables the paper to accept wet gesso without buckling or wrinkling.
You can use a tempered masonite board or a smooth wooden panel.
Your board should be larger than your paper. I prefer to use a board that is about 6" inches taller and 6" wider than my paper.
You'll need a roll of gummed paper tape. What is gummed tape? Gummed paper tape is made of heavy-duty brown paper coated with water-activated adhesive.
This type of tape is commonly used as a carton sealing or mailing packaging tape. I've found rolls of gummed paper tape available at some office supply stores.
While this tape used to be easier to find. I've found you can still order it online.
Cut 4 pieces of gummed paper tape. The paper tape will run along the outside edge of your paper.
You'll want the tape to overlap itself as it intersects at the corners. Therefore, you'll need to cut your pieces of tape 2-4 inches longer than the width or height of your paper.
Cut 2 pieces of paper tape approximately 2-4 inches longer than the width of your paper. Cut 2 pieces of paper tape approximately 2-4 inches longer than the height of your paper.
Set these 4 pieces of paper tape aside while keeping them within easy reach.
Wetting your paper causes the paper fibers to swell and expand.
Submerge your drawing paper into a tub of water. Be careful not to crease your paper as you remove it. Position the wet paper onto your board.
If you have questions regarding how long to soak your paper, winsornewton.com suggests soaking for the following length of time: "A heavy paper [300lb/640gsm] must soak for 15-20 mins, a lightweight [90lb/190gsm] one needs only 4-5 minutes."
Your paper will likely begin to warp and buckle as it absorbs the water. The paper buckles as the paper fibers swell as they get wet.
Lay your board flat on your work table. Center your paper on your board, leaving equal borders on all sides of the board extending beyond your paper's edge.
Gently run your hands across the surface of your paper, gently easing out some of the wrinkles. Don't worry if you can't coax out all of the wrinkles, they should disappear as your paper shrinks as it dries.
Pour some water into your shallow bowl. Fold your rag into quarters and place it into the water.
The top of your rag should remain above the waterline but should absorb enough water to become fully saturated. Pick up one piece of pre-cut gummed paper tape.
Make sure the gummed shiny adhesive side of tape faces downward. Run the adhesive side of the tape across the wet rag in your bowl.
This should be similar to licking a postage stamp. You want the entire surface of the adhesive side to be moist and activated.
Be careful not to rub the adhesive off of the tape or it won't stick. Apply your moisture-activated tape to the appropriate paper's edge.
The tape should overlap the entire edge of your paper by about one-half inch or so. Try to center your tape so that equal amounts extend beyond the end of your paper.
The ends of your tape will overlap at the corners of your paper. Continue to apply tape around all four sides of your paper.
Move quickly so that your adhesive remains wet. Otherwise, it won't adhere to the paper's edge.
I like to run my finger along each edge of my tape to be sure it is adhering to the paper's surface. Once the tape is applied to all four sides of the drawing paper, lay the board aside and let the paper fully dry.
Any remaining buckles in the paper should slowly disappear as the paper dries and shrinks.
Here's how to apply gesso to paper. Once your stretched paper is fully dry the surface should be pulled tight or taut. Now you can coat your paper with a thin layer of acrylic gesso.
I prefer to paint gesso on paper with long brushstrokes moving back and forth across the paper in one single direction. Set your board aside and let the gesso dry.
Once dry completely, apply a second coat of gesso. I prefer to change direction on each coat, still brushing back and forth across the paper.
Immediately after applying gesso, I drag my brush lightly across the surface to smooth out any rough brushstrokes. I prefer a smooth drawing surface, so I attempt to create a linen-like smooth texture with my brushstrokes.
Set your board aside and again let the gesso dry. Once the second coat is fully dry, you can use as is or you can add a third and final coat.
You can sand the surface for a very smooth drawing surface.
Once fully dry, you can draw as usual. You can prepare gesso paper for oil painting or use gesso on paper for acrylics. Cut along the paper's edge with a knife to remove your paper from the board.
Add texture to your gessoed paper by leaving visible brushstrokes. Achieve a smooth texture by applying your gesso in smooth even brushstrokes.
For a rougher texture, apply the gesso in a slightly thicker manner with loose random brushstrokes.
Once dry, ridges created by your brushstrokes will provide texture for pastels, charcoal, and similar mediums.
Easily incorporate additives like fine grit pumice into your gesso. Simply mix a small amount of pumice into the gesso before you apply it to the paper.
Use the miniumum amount of additive necessary to create the desired effect. Too much additive may effect the adhesion of your gesso.
Pumice can be added to create a sandpaper like surface for pastel drawing.
You may want to tone the surface of your gessoed drawing paper.
If so, mix a small amount of acrylic paint into the gesso you'll use for your final coat.
Keep the ratio of acrylic paint to gesso very small to preserve the matte surface quality of the gesso.
The surface quality is important for proper adhesion when drawing. Too much acrylic paint in the mix may create a slick surface. A slick surface can easily become too slick for many drawing mediums to properly adhere to.
Author: Sonia Reeder-Jones