Skip to Main Content
Sign In
Toggle Navigation

Open the Navigation Management window, which can be used to view the full current branch of the menu tree, and edit it.

  • Instagram
  • Facebook

MITRA Forum Question Details

Image Picker for Section 0


  • Traditional GessoApproveRejectUn-ApproveSubscribeUn-Unsubscribe
    Question asked 2019-07-11 10:26:10 ... Most recent comment 2019-07-11 16:00:49
    Grounds / Priming

    When I first became a tempera painter, I experimented with many different recipies for traditional gesso (gleaned from various books – there was no on-line world back then!).  I got both good and bad results (some gessoes developed cracks).  Eventually, after much reading and experimenting to better understand the properties of traditional gesso, I arrived at what seemed a solid recipe based on ratios versus specific measurements; it's always yielded a good, reliable surface, and I've heard from many artists with whom I've shared the recipe that they too use it with success. 


    I've found that a mix of 1 part glue to 16 parts water, then 1 part of this glue water combined with approx. 1.5 parts chalk or gypsum, yields a not too soft, not too hard ground.  However there is some variability in the water to glue ratio – more glue in the mix yields a harder ground, less glue a softer ground. So an artist has flexibility in the recipe depending on what sort of ground he or she wants to work on.   On the other hand, in my experience, if one strays too far outside certain parameters in the water to glue ratio, the resulting ground is either too hard (anything beyond about 1 part glue to 12 parts water = too much glue in the ground) and is prone to cracks; or too soft (anything less than about 1 part glue to 20 parts water = too little binder) and the ground becomes friable.  


    Recently I read a gesso recipe from a paint tech, whose knowledge I trust and respect, which recommends a ratio of 1 part glue to 5 parts water.  I was surprised by this number; it seems way too much glue to me, and in fact I have a panel made from this recipe that dramatically cracked (see attached image). Gesso Panel cracks.jpg   However the tech feels confident that a 1 glue to 5 water ratio is reasonable for gesso, and also has panels made from this recipe that haven't cracked.  (FYI, I understand that glue is not the only reason gesso can crack – changes in temps, humidity, wood grain telegraphing through, dropping a panel on its edge, etc. also can cause cracks…)


    I've always felt pretty confident of my understanding of true gesso – that too much glue in the mix is problematic, and anything beyond about 1:12 or maybe 1:10 tops is too much glue – but now I'm wondering if there is more flexibility in the ratios for true gesso than I realized.  Any thoughts? I want to make sure I'm understanding gesso correctly. 


    Thanks,  Koo Schadler 

Answers and Comments

  • EditDeleteModerator Answer


    This is very difficult to write about with authority, as each glue may have a different bloom strength and therefore your 1:16 may be a different “strength” than another persons, depending on their glue. This is one of the reasons why I always use the same brand of glue in my classes. )Not because it is inherently superior, but that I understand how it will perform for the students. That ratio is about 10.5 parts water to glue (ml to ml , I do not weigh the glue for this recipe).

    On the other hand, there is some degree of flexibility where the gesso will perform as hoped, and not be too powdery or brittle. As you have done, you sort of need to work this out depending on your choice of glue. If you get you glue from a source that lists bloom strength, this is a lot easier to quantify and to repeat.

    Brian Baade
    2019-07-11 12:32:25
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    ​Hi Brian,

    I recommend in my recipe a 100% collagen, 450 bloom strength glue; only now do I realize I was presuming a  specific glue for traditional gesso when in fact, as you note, the strength of glue can vary and one shouldn't presume the glue in a recipe.  For the sake of understanding gesso, if a certain glue strength (such as 450 bloom) is used, is there a ratio at which the glue becomes too strong and can cause cracks?  Or too little and make a crumbly surface?  I've understood 100% collagen, 450 bloom glue to be the best for gesso and have heard that glue quality is important, but perhaps it's not as relevant as I've thought?  Has there been any testing of the parameters of a good gesso surface (i.e. has good working properites and is durable)?  If the ratio is more open than I've previously said, I'd like to amend my recipe.  Thanks, Koo

    2019-07-11 13:04:23
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    I am sure that one could work out exacting parameters with testing a particular glue AND a particular grind of gypsum/chalk allowing one to quantify at what point failure (on either side) would occur. I have not done that experiment. There is certainly some wiggle room as to how hard or soft your intended ground will be but I am not sure just how wide that margin is. I know of no study that has attempted this. Perhaps this was done by one the more technically minded materials and techniques gurus (eg Mayer, Toch, etc.) but I know of no published study.

    Brian Baade
    2019-07-11 14:39:53
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    There are many factors that affect the ratio of glue, water and  pigments in ground recipes, such as the particle size, distribution and shape of the pigment and the gel strength of the animal glue as have already been discussed. A few more factors to add to this list is the composition of the collagen and more importantly the moisture content of the glue which can range from a few percent to 20 percent. The latter has a major impact on the glue strength and ratio of water to dried glue leading to the variable formulas encountered in literature and in practice. I’ve written an entire article on the subject at the Natural Pigments web site:
    Preparing Hide (Collagen) Glue

    George O'Hanlon
    2019-07-11 16:00:49
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    ​Thanks Brian and George, very helpful.  I see there is more complexity to gesso and will update my recipe accordingly.  Koo

    2019-07-11 16:08:28
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    ​PS - Great article on glue, George - thanks, always more to learn.

    2019-07-11 16:39:54
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    Thanks so much ​George. Can you post a link to that article here? 

    Brian Baade
    2019-07-11 22:50:35
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    ​I've posted the link to the article in my comment above.

    George O'Hanlon
    2019-07-12 07:43:02

Page Settings and MetaData:
(Not Shown on the Page)
Page Settings
MetaData for Search Engine Optimization
MITRA Forum Question Details
This page cannot be accessed until you accept the Terms of Use, which can be found here.
Please note that this Terms of Use system uses cookies. If you have cookies disabled you will not be able to accept the agreement. If you delete our cookies you will need to re-accept the Terms of Use.
  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489