Add Texture to Your Art Journal with Gesso

art journaling with gesso
My completed page, using tips from
several art journaling experts.

cate pratoStarting a project is one thing. Finishing is another.

Remember those travel art journal pages I laid the groundwork for back in June before my vacation? Well, vacation’s been over for a month and I only have one page complete. But I had fun with it and I’m learning a lot, so I thought I’d share some of my discoveries with you.

Before I started, I sought inspiration and instructions from several art journalists I admire: Dawn Sokol, Pam Carriker, and Paula Phillips.

One of Paula’s suggestions was to use gesso as a resist on your art journal backgrounds. This was something I hadn’t thought of before, so I tried it on a couple of pages, and I am really pleased with the results.

First you spread paint over your substrate, wiping it off in places, applying textures (such as bubble wrap) to add interest, and so on.

Next, you paint gesso marks on top. You could make random marks like dots, circles, and squiggles; specific shapes like hearts; or even write words. You can simply apply it with a brush, or, once it’s painted, create textures in the gesso. You can do this by lightly pressing bubble wrap, a scrunched piece of plastic wrap, or even a paper towel onto the wet gesso.

Once the gesso is dry, paint over it again. You can paint just the gesso, leaving the rest of the background as it is, or paint over the entire piece. Now you can give the gesso more character by wiping the paint or ink off, leaving behind a lighter color. You’ll notice that the texture in the gesso marksbe it brush strokes or otheris highlighted by the paint or ink, thus adding even more texture.

That’s where I left my background before vacation. When I started working on the page you see here, I wasn’t sure how to treat these gesso elements. Should I work around them? What I finally decided was to just collage over the page as I saw fit and see what developed.

art journaling with gesso
See how the gesso reveals the textures
and patterns of the other media?

What I discovered was that the gesso designs highlighted any treatment done on top of them. The design of a stamp, the texture of graphite scribbles, handwriting: the gesso revealed them all.

As Paula puts it, “Don’t be afraid to cover up something you’ve done to reveal something wonderful that might be.”

Here are some other tips from Paula I used on this journal page:

Repeat a stamp for impact. It’s the “more is more” concept. One stamp impression looks lonely. A row of impressions from the same stamp makes a design statement.

Ink the edges. Simply by running a fat marker or a stamp pad over the edges of you art journal pages you will give them a finished look.

Embrace imperfection. “The more you try to make it imperfect, the better,” says Paula. Imperfection reveals the hand of the artist and keeps the work from being too precious.

Paula reveals the secrets to her art journaling backgrounds in her Cloth Paper Scissors WorkshopTM, “Layered & Textured Backgrounds: Art Journaling Tips & Tricks,” now available for download and on DVD.

I had so much fun bringing this page together, I’m motivated to get the rest of my travel journal pages finished.

P.S. So, what do you think? Am I getting the hang of art journaling? Do you have any advice? Leave a comment below.


Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog, Mixed-Media Supplies, Mixed-Media Techniques


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