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Gesso: The Creative Painter's Secret Weapon

If you've been creating art for any amount of time, you will already know that some of the most common tools and materials can be the source and inspiration for the most original, creative endeavors. This is certainly the case with one of the most commonly used materials that any painter will be familiar with: gesso! Gesso is most often used as a primer to prepare your canvas, paper, or whatever medium you want to cover with paint. It is the foundation for ensuring that your paint lays smoothly and evenly, isn't absorbed, and stands the test of time.

One of the most creative (and fun!) ways to use gesso is by adding texture to a flat surface. Giving your painting surface texture adds another dimension to your creation, and it is one more place where you can exercise your creativity! Here are a few things you can use to add texture to your gesso.

Texture with Objects
First, apply a layer of gesso to your unprimed surface—it can be canvas, paper, wood, cardboard...almost anything will work! The next step is to add texture. You can use objects to create texture. Some popular texturizing elements are raffia and yarn to create a stringy, long-lined texture look. Or, you can go circular with rubber bands and even candle wax. Want a rough surface? Why not add sand, or even crafting glass to your painting? Even small plastic toys can make an amazing art piece! Leaves, puzzle pieces, crinkled newsprint—random odds and ends can now have a permanent home. Add your texturizing materials to the gessoed surface while it's still slightly tacky so that it holds in place. Now, paint another layer of gesso over the top of your texturizers, careful to place them where you want them, and let the surface dry. Now you're ready to add color!

Texture with Patterns
One of the magical things about gesso is that you can add texture without any other materials. First, apply your primer layer of gesso to your painting surface and allow it to dry. When the first layer is dry, add another thicker layer of gesso. While this layer is still wet, you can use any number of tools or object to create a pattern in the gesso. A metal brush can create a lovely, scratchy look. Don't have a brush? What about a plastic fork? A sponge gives your gesso a classic, stucco-looking texture. Use a putty knife's edge to place straight lines wherever pleases you, or drag it through the gesso to get long, even streaks. Stamps? Perfect! You can really use just about anything you want! Imprint your favorite shapes right into the gesso, or use a carving tool to create your own design. The options are endless, so let your imagination run wild.

Crack is Not Whack

Not satisfied with your gesso texture? Crackle paste is a great way to give your work beautiful depth with deep, fissure-like cracks. Experiment with this interesting medium - you can get many different looks.

Molding Paste

If you're looking for a medium that you can texturize when it's wet OR when it's dry, then molding paste is for you. You can texturize this when it's wet, like with gesso, and you can also carve it, sand it, or smooth it when it's dry!

The Paper Look

Want the appearance of handmade paper? Then check out fiber paste. Apply it and do nothing for the handmade paper look, or you can smooth it with a wet palette knife to create a smoother surface.