Make Dramatic Collage Designs with Black Gesso Backgrounds

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I consider gesso something of a miracle medium. Most of my collage projects involve gesso somewhere along the process to prime a substrate, create texture, or add a bright white accent.
tree collage project on black gesso
The trees on this mixed-media collage pop
against the black gesso background.

Art by Jenn Mason

But what I’ve never talked about is that gesso also comes in black. You can do everything with black gesso you can do with the white variety.

Black gesso makes an especially effective background for collage techniques, setting off your artwork in dramatic fashion, as in this holiday project by Jenn Mason.

Don’t celebrate Christmas? Consider making a snowy tree-lined scene, a night sky filled with stars, or a jaunty snow person. Or just collage a flower, a face, or another motif.

Whatever you choose, the black background will make the collage images stand out.

“If you try to use a paint color on your black gesso that isn’t popping, try adding a layer of white acrylic paint underneath your other paint,” says Jenn.

“The more opaque the paint, the more pop you’ll get.”

Holiday Tree Collage on Black Gesso


  • Canvas
  • Black gesso
  • Paintbrushes
  • Fluid acrylics, watered-down acrylics, and/or glazes (shades of green)
  • Holiday-themed book pages or sheet music
  • Scissors
  • Soft gel medium
  • Acrylic paint (black and white)
  • Found objects


  • Pearl mica flakes (Golden Artist Colors®)
  • Felt
  • Tacky glue
  • Saw-tooth hanger and hammer
  • Rubber bumpers


back of collage
The back of the collage, finished with
felt, bumpers, and a sawtooth hanger.

1. Cover the front and sides of the canvas with black gesso and set aside to dry.

2. Add a transparent layer of fluid acrylics on the book pages and set aside to dry.

3. Cut out simple triangle shapes from the dry book pages and adhere to the canvas with the gel medium.

4. Paint snowy hills around the bottom of the trees with the white acrylic paint. (It’s ok if some of the black shows through.)

5. Paint black over the background to cover up most of the black gesso.

6. Add found objects with gel medium. I used vintage brads, a length of a vintage cloth tape measure, and an old key.

If you desire, finish the back with felt, wall bumpers, and a sawtooth hanger.

I heard an interior designer say once that every room needs a little touch of black. I think that can be true of mixed-media collage, too. So get yourself some black gesso and give it a try. It may be just the touch your collage art needs.

P.S. Have you tried black gesso? Any tips or suggestions to share? Leave them below.


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


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