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arbrador 20-05-17 02:13 PM

Gesso-making question re quantity of recipe
Hello out there!

I'm about to size and gesso a giant hardboard panel- 4' x 8'.

In Koo Schadler's book, "A Comprehensive Guide to Painting in Egg Tempera," the recipe instructions state, "A day of gesso and panel making can yield a dozen of so square feet of painting surface..."

Does this account for gessoing the back as well as the front of the panel?
Can 1 ounce of rabbit skin glue really make 8 coats of gesso for 12 sq feet of panel?
Since I'm about to make gesso for a 32 sq ft panel (64 sq ft including front and back) I'd like to have a better sense of quantity of glue needed so I either won't run out or make way too much gesso.

I'm reading from a 2005 edition of the book so maybe a more recent edition covers the topic of quantity of gesso?

Lora Arbrador

Koo Schadler 24-05-17 03:05 PM

Hi Lora,

As you know, I’ve revised my book many times over the years (as I’ve learned more) and it is very different today than in 2005. In your edition I say in the chapter on Gesso (under Ingredient and Tools, Ingredient #4. Hardboard, at the end of that paragraph) that the recipe I give (1 oz. glue + 16 oz. water + 3 cups chalk or gypsum) covers, “the back and front of one 2' x 2' square with 6-8 layers on each side”.

That still holds true, although I now write it as, “This recipe covers one 2' x 2' panel with 6-8 layers of gesso on both the back and front”, which I think is a bit clearer. In other words, the recipe in my book covers 4 square feet total, both sides.

At the beginning of the chapter I too glibly state, “a day of gesso making can yield a dozen or so square feet of painting surface”. While technically true, it would required tripling the recipe and would make for a very long day of applying gesso. I’ve since corrected this overly enthusiastic estimate in the first paragraph of the Gesso chapter.

It’s more reasonable to say, as I do at the end of the chapter, “A painter can make 8 or so square feet of true gesso panel within a day or two”. This is possible if you double the recipe and coat two, 2’ x 2’ panels (both sides). I’ve done this quantity in a single day many times myself, and it’s a perfectly achievable goal for an experienced gesso maker.

So, for your panel, you would have to multiply my recipe by 8 to cover 32 sq. feet back and front. I’ve never gessoed that much hardboard in a single day and wouldn’t recommend it (feasible but exhausting). My guess is you could manage, in a day, to multiply the recipe by 4 (if you have a big enough pot), do one side; then repeat the process on the other side the next day. Or, if that seems too much, break it down into 4 days, doubling the recipe as I do when I coat two, 2’ x 2’ panels.

I marvel at your stamina and ambition. As you know, I am most at home with a lil’ 8 x 10” image.


arbrador 26-05-17 03:47 AM

Thanks Koo. This is very helpful and gives me confidence for the work ahead.

I was already thinking of gessoing the rear on the first day and then the front on the second day so you reinforced my plan of attack.

For me the difficult part of panel-making is the sanding. Even though I use an electric palm sander I find all the dust and angst to be stressful on a large panel.

A house painter friend owns a HEPA filter sander that I may borrow this time around.

Just to elicit sympathy, the panel is already too large and heavy for me to carry by myself so I'm needing help every step of the way and once it has 16 coats of gesso (front and back) it will be even heavier.

I think future paintings will be smaller!

Thanks again for taking the time (away from painting!) to advise.


Koo Schadler 26-05-17 12:53 PM

Hi Lora,

One possible option is, for the final coat of gesso, to let the gesso cool and harden a bit (so it has a custard-like texture) and then trowel it on, using a very wide trowel. You can get trowels made of plastic (a bit more flexible, less likely to mark the surface then a metal one) that are up to 6 inches wide at places like Home Depot. If done carefully (you have to attentively overlap strokes, so as not to create raised edges) it can fill in brush marks and create a smoother surface, which means less sanding. Also, the less sanding needed, the fewer coats of gesso required - so maybe you could get away with 6 or 7 coats, which would lessen the weight a bit.

Please let us know how it goes.


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