I would like to fabricate my own gesso to do gold leaf gilding on a calligraphy work to give some volume to the gilded areas.

I am looking for a traditional recipe to prepare it at home.


Most of the recipes I've seen online are for acrylic gesso to prime canvases before painting. I'm not sure they would work the same for your purposes.

However, I did locate one recipe specifically for gilding from an SCA member's website:

  • 1 part sugar water (the sticky part that allows the gold to adhere)
  • 4 parts liquitex acrylic gesso (adds the bulk to your gesso)
  • 5 parts liquitex gloss varnish medium (keeps the gesso together, hardening with a smooth finish)
  • Color to suit (red for work with gold and blue for silver)

It goes on to give instructions for the gilding process as well, including how to use the gesso:

Lay the Gesso – Start your area of gesso in the middle of your design and pull it outwards towards the edges*. It is ideal to let this gesso dry for 6-8 hours. DO NOT to get air bubbles in your gesso when you stir. Gently fold your gesso to remix it. If you do have air bubbles in your laid gesso there will be pits in the surface after it dries. To remove the bubbles from gesso that you’ve just laid take a pin and gently pop them before it begins to dry. It has been my experience that the key to beautiful raised gilding is an even surface tension to the "bubble" of gesso that you lay down. To create an even surface tension to your gesso you should first drop a large puddle of the gesso into the space you will be gilding, then using your brush pull the edges of the puddle outwards to the fill your designed space. This gesso is not designed for flat gilding and your design should be filled in with puddles of the gesso that create small domes on your page.

(source: The Scribal Art of Elizabth de Nevell)

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There are a lot of different recipes in the internet but they are all based in the same ingredients: white glue, white paint, talcum powder and water. The idea is just to mix the first three ingredients and then to add water until you get the desired consistency.

You can take a look at different recipes here, here or here.

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  • I think the recipe you are providing are made to coat paper before drawing. I am not sure it will provide the profile I am trying to achieve... A detail more is that the result seems white, while all the one I have seen used for illuminating manuscript are a bit pink... here is an example: lecalligraphe.com/gesso-traditionnel-xml-359-870.html – Oneira May 1 '16 at 18:24
  • I wonder whether the pink color is added to the gesso to make it more easily seen by the calligrapher? Just a thought, as I have not used either type of gesso :) – Erica May 1 '16 at 21:17
  • @Erica: it is possible I am not sure what exactly is in it. I now one should apply it in several layers, let it dry completely and then humidify it again with breath to allow the gold leaf to stick. I am not sure the rehumidify part can word if it contain white glue... – Oneira May 2 '16 at 20:32

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