Saturday, 10 November 2018


I used to be good at gesso - I've successfully gessoed two medium sized horses and a push horse, but found I'd forgotten the details of how to mix it. I knew from this blog that Anthony Dew's recipe is too watery, and needs lots more whiting than he says. The first coat I did was a bit too thick, and I had to do a lot of sanding - very dusty and I had to wear a mask.

Also, stains appeared, and on Seraphine's neck, this odd crack. I'd filled and sanded the wood carefully, and have no idea what caused this problem. I had nothing like this with Woot or Zaphod (but I guess many things can happen to a horse in more than a century). Gesso is supposed to be good at covering even rusty nails without the rust seeping through.

After some thought, I used a stain blocker on the patches, then gessoed over them. The gesso dried more slowly on the patches, and I used a hairdryer on cool setting to speed it up. By about the fourth coat of gesso, the patches were invisible.

This is the recipe I used:

500 milliliters water
45 grams granulated rabbit glue
550 grams whiting

I added the glue to the water and left to soak overnight. Then I heated it in a Pyrex mixing bowl over a pan of boiling water. Once the glue was dissolved, I added the whiting gradually, stirring to get rid of lumps and air bubbles. When the gesso was smooth like thin cream, I applied it to the horse with a flat brush.

You can take it off the heat to use, but stir from time to time and keep putting it back to heat up. It dries fast, and you can sand as necessary between coats, and if it goes well do the whole thing in a day. Six coats is about right, I think. It's a good idea to start with the horse on its side in order to gesso the belly and inside of the legs.

You can see Seraphine's extra carving on her neck and legs.

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