Lianne Williams

Portrait Artist & Illustrator

How to get glassy smooth gesso for painting or drawing

Art Tutorials, Painting, Colour PencilsLianne WilliamsComment
How to get glassy smooth gesso

How DO you get an extremely smooth gesso finish on a wooden board?

After weeks of research, experimentation and various brands of gesso I've finally found a method that works for me- and it's SO simple. Out of all the advice I looked at online and all the people I harassed for answers and tips, the magic step was written right on the gesso instructions itself! Can you believe it?

Important note: This is MY preferred method for gesso, which I use on rigid wooden boards for colour pencil, acrylic and water mixable oils (or mixed media). It does work on canvas weave but the gesso I use isn't 'recommended' for flexible surfaces like stretched canvas (canvas on board is fine) as it could potentially crack over time. So you may require another gesso technique for your chosen medium.

Also, this post contains affiliate links which I receive compensation for if you decide to purchase something through them.

You will need:

What you need for porcelain smooth gesso
  • Gesso (I'm using Golden Sandable Hard Gesso but a variety of brands should work, I've heard household primer can be just as effective!!) 
  • Wooden Board
  • Paintbrush or roller (whatever you've got- palette knife works nicely too.
  • Sandpaper extra fine (I'm using a P180 grade here and it did great but the finer the better) You might also want to invest in an electric sander if you end up doing this a lot or have a big board to sand. Trust me.
  • Spray water bottle (full of water. Or a very wet sponge.) 
  • Optional: old rags for wiping down and cleaning up gesso residue.

A word on gesso (pronounced jesso... who knew!?) Not all gesso's are the same. Some are deliberately very gritty for paint adhesion and never smooth down, some are designed to set with some flexibility, like a plastic, which is better for stretched canvas but they don't sand well. These gesso's are not designed for creating these kinds of ultra smooth surfaces so I personally recommend Golden Sandable Hard Gesso because I KNOW it's going to do the job. From past experiments I think something like Daler Rowney Artist's Gesso would work fine too but Golden wins hands down for me- there are other brands worldwide which you might find easier to get hold of (I can't get some varieties) so it's just a case of shopping around and finding one that's SUITABLE FOR SANDING, that's the key. It'll usually say this on the bottle itself.

How to gesso your board:

1) Prepare your board however you like. Make sure to sand your board and smooth off any bumps or splinters. Wipe off any dust with a damp rag. Seal it if you want to/need to.

2) Once ready, apply one thin coat of gesso across the board with your brush or roller. Try and get your brushstrokes all going in the same direction for optimum smoothness. Rinse and dry your brush. Let the gesso dry.

first layer of gesso

3) When the first layer is bone dry (if it's even slightly wet this next step will destroy all your hard work) give the surface a quick sand to get rid of any major imperfections or streaks and then apply a second layer of gesso, applying your brush strokes in the other direction (strokes should layer horizontally, vertically, horizontally etc). Once again leave to dry and rinse your brush.

4) Repeat these steps until you have at least 4 layers of gesso. 5 or more is better. Some people apply as many as 20. Your board should be white and opaque but it will have visible brush marks and may feel rough to the touch. It could be painted on now just fine but let's get it EXTRA smooth!

5) Leave your gesso overnight to make sure it's 100% dry. Just to be sure.

6) Get your water bottle and spritz your board working in small areas at a time. Try one corner first to see how this works. You need visible droplets on the gesso, it can't be just damp or it'll dry out too quick as you start working it. So give it a good soaking.

spraying water on gesso

7) Now using small circular motions, sand your gesso where the board is wet. You might want to wear gloves as after a few moments of elbow grease the gesso will start making a white slop, but will also begin smoothing to a super fine finish. Be careful to not sand down too far and expose the board again (this is where more layers helps!). If things are getting messy and you can't see what's happening, wipe away the residue with a damp cloth. To continue sanding just spritz with water again and carry on.

Smoothing gesso with water

Unlike dry sanding which is usually the recommended method, the water helps polish and flatten the gesso leaving a beautiful smooth finish. Once you've got one area smooth, wipe away the gesso residue and then move onto the next rough area and continue until you've smoothed down the entire board. Hold your board up to the light to check you've polished out all the brush marks. Finer sandpapers (this was done with P180 but you can go as fine as P3000!!!!) will refine the surface even further! You can go as fine as you like but remember you're sanding into your layers and the board can only take so much before it goes too thin.

Gesso rough and smooth, before and after wet sanding
gesso before and after

Once done you should have a super smooth gesso surface to work on that can handle colour pencil, acrylic and oils. Just wipe off all the residue, leave to dry and then begin drawing or painting.

Yup. It's THAT simple.

Let me know if you have any other suggestions on how to refine this technique or if there's a gesso/product you recommend that will work in the same way which other's may want to use. I'm yet to find a way to smooth clear primer/gesso so if you have any tips on that, please get in touch in the comments!

Asking permission to just go for it: Onwards and Upwards at LianneWilliams.com

News & Events, Creative LivingLianne WilliamsComment
asking permission to just go for it

This week I'm asking for permission... to stop asking for permission.

(taken from my newsletter with some amendments)

Something is happening in my life- I don't know what, but things are changing. For the better.

And I know now that if I want to fully embrace these new changes, I need complete freedom to figure this all out.

Some things are becoming very clear to me and deep down I can literally feel my soul coming back to life. It feels INCREDIBLE. And yeah, as a result I'm being quite impulsive. But let's get things straight, it's not in an uneducated way, I know EXACTLY what I'm doing and what I need right now. It might not make sense to outsiders, but it's like I'm being guided... I can't explain it... and I just need to do things with my art, my life, my website, my business that may seem drastic but are actually really, really good for me. I NEED to do the things I want to do without worrying about what my followers or clients or friends might think of me. I'm starting to realise that if you don't like what I make, or who I am, or what I do... maybe that's just the way things are? That I don't need to to convince you, or anyone else, otherwise. Can you imagine what it's like to live like that? It sucks. It really does. I feel like I've spent such a long time trying to cater for everyone and be this grey, neutral, generic blogger and artist, when actually I've been censoring myself, massively. I'm boring myself! To protect myself from rejection, actually. Isn't that sad? Isn't that TRAGIC?

So today I am announcing changes. Big changes. I know I've done this before but the pattern has changed this time because I'm finally accepting it. Maybe now i'm even ready for it? 

I have no idea where this will go. I know my art will remain. I know my website will remain. But I don't know what new and exciting things are coming into my life. I DO know that I won't be shutting the door on them anymore though so I don't muddy up my 'niche'. SEO and appeasing algorithm's can kiss my ass. I mean, screw it, if I want to talk about my pregnancy, I'm going to. If I want to talk about a great shade of lipstick I love, I'm doing it. If I want to show you all the crafts and DIY projects I make (but hide away because it's not Portrait Art- seriously I do so much that you never see), I don't see why I should pretend they don't exist! It's all these things that INSPIRE my art anyway! You can't imagine I draw a portrait without spending a couple of weeks researching butterflies or visiting botanical gardens for references right? And I don't share any of that.

Isn't that the interesting stuff? Isn't that what people and blogs are about?

Of course I'll keep my tutorials and I'll always sell my art, but atm I'm a blogger, who doesn't blog, because I'm too scared to! And it HAS to end.

Over the next few weeks all sorts of crazy things could happen on my site and social media. I'm thinking of deleting things, starting a new lifestyle blog, opening an etsy shop, making costumes, covering everything in rhinestones, showing you my new shoes... I really don't know what. EVERYTHING and ANYTHING could happen. I blame The Girl Gang entirely. Being around those people has just blown my mind and I'm sooooo excited for the future.

So, if you want to stick around, please do, but I can't guarantee you'll recognise any of this anymore. I do recommend staying signed up to my mailing list for now as everything else will be vulnerable to deletion. I may also vanish for weeks, I may also be in touch very shortly. I truly don't know. It all sounds a lot like FUN doesn't it? #HugeFuckingGrin

But otherwise, thank you. THANK YOU. Thank you to everyone has supported and guided me to this point. My husband who has been a true soul mate by pushing me, testing me, but ultimately always coming through for me- even though we're complete opposites and thinks most of what I do is 'witchcraft' (love you), to my family and friends for being pretty much completely indifferent to what I do online and my art and reminding me that there is more to Me then my art- thank you, please stay that way. To Susan, for being the best friend I could ask for and ALWAYS being there for me, no matter what, she's a champion and I love her and you couldn't meet a more deserving, hard working woman. And of course to my clients and followers who enjoy, support, defend and inspire my work. Thank you ALL of you. You are the icing on the cake.

Onwards and Upwards eh?

Lianne

How you can Unplug & spend more time in the Art Studio

Creative Living, Courses, Business & BloggingLianne WilliamsComment
how to unplug and get back into the art studio. plus free digital detox guide for artists

Do you wish that you could, or would, spend less time online and more time in the art studio?

I get it. Today's artist's need an online presence. If you're not building your email list to announce your latest exhibition too, you're selling prints online or sharing your online portfolio with potential galleries. Our online business is valuable, profitable and dare I say it... fun.

But where does that leave our art making? Y'know, the bread and butter of our business?

A few months ago I noticed I was spending more time online promoting my art, building my network and tweaking technical issues then actually making art, and you how that made me feel?

Crap.

That's the word. Crap.

I was SO bored. I was not enjoying what I was doing. I was frustrated. I felt overwhelmed. I felt fraudulent... mainly because I wasn't doing what I loved... making art. Instead I was obsessing over whether my side bar had enough impact, or what my social media numbers where or what my bounce rate was. For some, blogging and social media is their absolute favourite thing in the world. For me, it's my art. Blogging and social media is just my preferred way of sharing my creations with the world. I enjoy it, I need it, but hell no... I do NOT want to be on it 24 hours a day.

Then I started to get a bit freaked out.

My daily routine and behaviour started to lean quite heavily on the internet. I wanted to know what was happening on Instagram at 6am. I could easily waste hours on Pinterest. I was looking at my phone many, many times a day and it was the first thing I picked up and the last thing I touched during the day. Before my husband. Before my own kids! The moment I realised things had gone too far was when my daughter asked me what I did for a job. As I sat there before her, responding to some inane comment on Facebook, I said 'I'm an artist' and I could barely contain my own shame. I wasn't an artist. Artist's make stuff. Artist's don't sit around all day having fights with strangers on the internet or trying to get verified on Twitter.

From that point on I decided to Unplug and find a life as an artist offline.

I knew I still needed the internet, and as a Creative my home would always be online because it works soooo brilliantly at sharing my artwork around the world, but I needed to reacquaint myself with real analog creativity. Talking to other artists in person. Making things with my hands. Reading books and learning from experience and experimentation without YouTube videos. I needed to bring balance and control back into my life and start using the internet with a strategy to develop my art career and knowledge without it taking over my life.

First port of call obviously... I googled 'Digital detox for Artist's' (shhhh, I had to start somewhere). Not much came up. So I started to pull together shreds of information and guidance from others (Creative Cleanse byRegina, Unplugged: How to live mindfully in a Digital World by Oriana Fielding) and began to come up with my own system that allowed me to take a break from the internet but also respected the fact I still needed and wanted the internet for work, and encouraged me to get back into the studio.

Because there's one simple rule about being an online artist and that's if you don't make stuff offline, you won't have anything to share online.

Here are some of my tips on going offline and getting back into the art studio. If this makes sense to you why not sign up for my free mini detox course below and streamline your internet usage over a week so you'll naturally find more time to make art? Just sign up below or scroll to the bottom to find another sign up.

Lead the way

When you go unplugged you will notice that not everyone is going to support that. I was the frequently the only person NOT staring at my phone at dinner or the last person to be invited to social gatherings, that's if they even remembered I existed if I wasn't online! This can be a huge trigger to get back online. But I promise, it's not worth it. Stay strong and learn how to start conversations. Learn mindfulness and how to sit with feelings of loneliness and silence. Learn how to notice the little things and people watch again. Remember what boredom feels like- it can be incredibly healing. Besides it's always funny to make eye contact with the only other person in the room not staring at their phone and share a knowing glance. People soon look up anyway. Especially if you keep attempting to talk to them. If you're feeling left out of friends conversations or events, host your own, stay in touch in other ways. People LOVE real life connection over virtual, they just have to remember it exists!

Prepare a busy bag

ALWAYS carry a small bag with a sketchbook, pen/pencil, a small portable project like sewing or knitting, a camera, anything that will keep your mind and hands busy when you're waiting- whether that's on your commute or in a queue. You'll be amazed at how much work you can get done. And just think, you would have spent that time probably playing Candy Crush! The key is to keep it small and on you at all times. It's also worth carrying a watch, a list of essential phone numbers and a local map if you're going far, say out in the car or on a day trip. It's unlikely you'll use them but you really noticed how much smart phones have taken over our lives when they're not there. And it really doesn't take up much room. Keep another busy bag or set of projects you can do on your lap in the evening too, so when it's time to switch off for the night, you can really relax with something that adds value to your life, rather the stress about a last minute email from your client which you can't sort out till tomorrow anyway! (Don't you hate that when it happens?!)

Be honest

Most people I've spoken to about going unplugged for any lengthy period of time are generally horrified. I've heard everything from 'That's impossible' to 'I will get fired'. Stuff like 'But I need to comment in my comment pod!' Or, 'What if someone messages me on Facebook?' particularly amuse me because, be honest, is that what really adds value to your business? Sure, they HELP but NONE of these things are going to determine categorically whether you 'make it' or not as an artist. But so many people feel their art careers depend on whether or not they're gaining followers or getting the 'right' stats on their sites or what might happen if they don't respond to a clients email immediately. I'm going to bet my own career on this... nothing life-changing negative will happen if you unplug for some of the week. If anything, your business will boom. I'll tell you why: If you've got a huge email list but nothing interesting to share with them or you come across as strained, bored and stressed out, what do you think is going to happen? If the internet is stopping you from actually making art and Doing The Work you need to reassess. (Speaking from painful experience here.) Not to mention scarcity is kind of sexy...

Automate, automate, automate

One thing that I found incredibly helpful was finding ways to automate a lot of my marketing and social media so that I could spend more time offline. You can schedule posts for instance, reposting old blog posts or artwork to most of your social media platforms meaning that your followers are constantly being shown not only your new offerings but also old evergreen content which they may not be aware of. Have an online shop? Automate your social media to promote your products. It also increases your online presence without you even being online. I'm a huge fan of IFTTT which is a free way to automate so many things. I loved this tutorial on how to automate your blog posts for free using IFTTT and Google Calendars. It's a bit of a faff to set up, but a complete game changer if you don't have the budget for Hootsuite etc.

Address the underlying issues

So... why are you online anyway? Is it to sell art? Meet other artists? Learn new things? Each of those reasons has an emotional motivation behind them. That emotion can be a positive draw, or reveal something more negative. Maybe you're going online to sell your art because you're intimidated by local galleries and don't know where to start with them? Maybe you go online to meet other artists because you literally don't know anyone in your life that supports your creativity and it makes you feel lonely? Maybe you go online to learn new things because the idea of signing up to art classes terrifies you and you fear you can't afford it, even though you would desperately love to... these are all useful insights to work with and explore. Keeping an open mind, why not push your boundaries instead of using the internet as a way out of any uncomfortable feelings? You may find a new method of working that's far more rewarding.

A word of warning

The internet, as wonderful as it is, can also lead people down the serious path of addiction and other related problems including depression and even suicide. If you feel that you need more help with your internet use and are worried about your behaviour, or the behaviour of a friend or family member I strongly urge you to contact a medical professional to seek further help or have a look at Action on Addiction or Virtual Addiction which have many resources that can help you.

If this post has given you a wake up call and it's something you seriously want to try, like now, why not sign up for my free 7 day email challenge that shows you step by step how to start embracing the unplugged revolution today with daily tasks sent straight to your inbox?

Sign up below to get started straight away!