Home-Made Gesso Made with Glue and Joint Compound

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This is a very simple mixture, but this DIY gesso can make a big difference when you’re making a paper mache sculpture.

Home-Made Gesso Recipe:

  • “Some” Elmer’s Glue-All (PVA glue)
  • “Some” Drywall Joint Compound (if you’re not sure what that is, watch this video to see how it’s used in home remodeling projects.) Use any joint compound except Dap brand, which doesn’t work. Walmart sells non-Dap joint compound in their paint department.

Home-made gessoThat’s right — there’s no specific amount of either ingredient in this “recipe.” In fact, I just pour some glue and plop some joint compound into a bowl and start mixing. If you use more glue and make it runnier, the gesso will tend to self-level and make a nice smooth surface on your sculpture. If you use more joint compound and make it thicker, you can use an old brush or sharp tool and create fur and other interesting textures. If you apply the gesso too thickly, it may crack as it dries – but you can fix that with a bit more gesso, or by using a damp sponge to smooth things over.

You can add a dab of white acrylic paint if you want the gesso to be more opaque, to cover the printing on newspaper, for instance.

Also, you can sand the gesso if you want the surface of your sculpture to be really smooth, but if you do sand it, be sure to wear a mask. The dust is really fine, and it contains silica, which you don’t want in your lungs. I never sand, just because I don’t like the dust flying around the house. I prefer to use a lightly damp sponge and “wet sand,” instead. If a kitchen sponge doesn’t seem to be working, you can use one of those sanding sponges that you buy in the hardware store. Since I’m not that serious about getting anything perfectly smooth, the kitchen sponge works just fine for me.

This mixture can also be used as paste with blue shop towels. The gesso is a variation of the fast-setting paste that I use for my masks. I used the gesso mixture as paste with shop towels for the first time when I made the green witch mask for Halloween, and I was quite impressed with it. However, the gesso is so heavy, I don’t think it would work well as paste with lighter papers, like newspaper. (Haven’t tried it, though, so I could be wrong).

By the way, several years ago I tried making paper mache clay using the DAP brand joint compound, and it turned into little balls of rubber. I tried it again with the gesso recipe, and it didn’t work for that, either. Use any brand of drywall joint compound except DAP.

Note: Drywall joint compound is created for the construction industry and is not edible! Do not use this gesso if you’re working with small children who may put the gesso or the joint compound in their mouths, or if you’re making a toy for a baby. It’s also important to wear a mask if you sand your paper mache after it dries, because the calcium carbonate in the joint compound is mined in areas that also contain silica, and fine silica dust is not good for your lungs.

Powdered Marble Gesso recipe:

For a thicker home-made gesso, you can use calcium carbonate (powdered marble) and white glue. The traditional proportions are 2 parts PVA glue (Elmer’s or an archival book-binder’s PVA glue if you worry about pH), 4 parts water, and 8 parts calcium carbonate. To make it nice and white, add 1 part powdered titanium or zinc white pigment. If you want to thicken the gesso to cover bumps faster, you can use more powdered marble. This mixture dries very hard, but sands easily. This recipe uses materials that are not readily available, and they can be rather expensive, but this was the first gesso recipe I used, and it does work really well. You can see someone making this gesso here.

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141 thoughts on “Home-Made Gesso Made with Glue and Joint Compound”

  1. I just found your site tonight (not even sure what links and stream of consciousness I used to get here.) I’ve been making paper clay from a variety of paper substrates and use the DAP CrackShot without any problems. It dries to a plaster-like finish that can be “sanded” with a damp sponge, or dry sanded. I use the DAP in a texture medium that is similar to your homemade gesso. The CrackShot doesn’t have the latex-like polymers that are found in the “stretchy” “no-shrink” caulking products and joint compounds. Thought I would share.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Patty. It sounds like that product could be used by itself as a form of “gesso,” instead of mixing glue with joint compound. I’ll look at Lowe’s – maybe they have some I can play with.

      Reply
  2. Hi. I am making an I Dream of Jeannie bottle floor lamp and I am at the end stages. I would like to make it smoother. I just read that adding this gesso too thickly might cause it to crack. How do I get the last layer smooth? It would be nice to just paint on something and have that work without cracking. Any advice would be appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Edna

    Reply
    • Edna, you could add just a bit of the soaked toilet paper, which would reinforce the mix and reduce cracking. Just add a little, so you don’t end up with bumpiness caused by the paper. It would be a form of the original paper mache clay recipe, but without the flour and oil, and with much less paper.

      Reply
      • HI Jonnie,

        I had understood from some videos you had made, that the clay recipee which includes joint compound, mineral oil, glue, flour is used as a final coating on a plaster strip mask.

        Did I misunderstand you? And what is the purpose of this clay then?

        Thanks,

        Marianna

        Reply
    • Dap spackle mixed with white elmers glue works AWESOME, absolutly no cracking and is a bit flexible , I tested it on a piece of paper and when it dried I bent and twisted the paper and WALLA no cracking or flaking or anything, great stuff and I love that the dap spackle is pink while wet but turns bright white when dry letting you know whe you can either add new layer or sand, but I don’t sand it 🙂 nice and smooth finish. LOVE this stuff.

      Reply
  3. Hi Jonni,

    I would like to give a big thank you for relighting the dormant creative fire I had within me. I’m a very creative person and kind of lost the drive for it until I saw videos of what you do. It’s simply beautiful and wonderful what you can do! With that being said, I am going to try the mâché recipes you have posted and more specifically the joint compound for a project I have started two days ago. I have taken a couple pictures of progress. When I get done with the finished product I want to share with you! Thus far, a couple of people that had seen just half way through my project they want to steal it and they can’t believe that I’m making it out of tape and foil! thanks again for all the insight and I’m going to start doing this with my boys on the weekends. OH! And forgot to tell you what I’m making. I’m making a stag head mount but in a colorful, abstract way. I hope it turns how I want it to. Also, I am going to get joint compound but what brand do you prefer? I don’t want to buy something that doesn’t work.

    Reply
    • Casi, I can’t wait to see your stag! As for the brand of joint compound, you can use any brand except DAP brand, which doesn’t work at all. Every other brand I’ve tried works just fine, so buy whatever you can get locally. I do prefer the regular premixed type, instead of the “light” premixed joint compound, but the light version will still work.

      Reply
  4. Hi, Jonny I love your works so much. They are amazing. It is very easy to understand the way you explain. you are awesome. I do ceramic art like sculptures etc. I am very much interested about paper mache as well. lately I made a bowl by using coil method which has irregular net type pattern. I used store box paper mache (fast mache) that I bought from Blick. I just had to mix with water. It came out nice but there are some place where the vine like coil didn’t stick together. Now it is almost dry. I will be so glad if you have some times to answer my questions please.
    1. Is there any way that can help me stick those dry vine like coils?
    2. Is store box paper mache batter?
    3. The paper mache was drying while I was working, I sprayed water yet it didn’t stick much. In this case can I use the glue that you made out of flour and water while I work?
    4. If I can’t finish my work the same day, how can I keep the work for the next time to work?
    5. Can I add more clay on dry or semi dry work?
    6. For color you use water base acrylic paint. After that if I want to give it a shiny look what should I use and when should I use?
    7. What can I use to protect my art and when can I use? (will varnish help? which one is better?)
    8. I want to learn about paper mache more like a beginner. Which book should I buy that you have written?
    I know it’s too much but I really respect and appreciate you time. Thanks for all your hard work that you so for us.

    Reply
    • Hi Sheuly. I’ll try to answer your questions, but remember that I’ll be making most of it up – I haven’t used that type of paper mache product in years.
      1. You might try using a mixture of white glue and water, and saturate the areas where the parts didn’t stick together. I don’t know if it would work, but it’s worth a try.
      2. I don’t use store-bought paper mache, the type that is a white powder that you add water to, because it usually contains plaster of Paris. That makes it harden too quickly for me to get the details I like, and the surface is difficult to smooth out. There may be some brands that work better, though. I prefer either traditional paper strips and flour and water paste, or the paper mache clay recipe that is on this site. But other people really enjoy the paper mache they buy at the store. It’s just a personal preference, I think.
      3. This issue may have been caused by the plaster of Paris, as I mentioned above. Back when I worked with a similar product, it hardened quickly, which kept it from sticking to anything. But it actually dried rather slowly, after it was hard. If the product you’re using does have plaster in it, adding paste probably won’t help.
      4. Again, it depends on whether or not the product contains plaster. You can’t stop plaster from getting hard. You would want to finish up one area, and then start on another area the next day. If it doesn’t contain plaster, you can cover the work with a plastic bag overnight to keep it moist.
      5. That should work. You would have to try it.
      6. I like to use a gloss acrylic varnish to get a shine. For small areas, like eyes, that I want to be super-shiny I use fingernail polish.
      7. Yes, acrylic varnish will protect your work. Any brand should work just fine. It comes in matte, satin and gloss, so just choose the finish you want.
      8. I think either Make Animal Sculpture with Paper Mache Clay or How to Make Tiny Paper Mache Dogs. If you prefer to buy a pre-made product for the paper mache, you can substitute Creative Paperclay for the paper mache clay recipe in the Make Animal Sculptures book. The Tiny Dogs are made with paper strips and paste in the book, but the Creative paperclay could be used for them, as well. Both books will give you a good start.

      Reply
      • Dear Jonny, thanks a lot for your time. I feel so special that you respond. This is helpful. I will follow your steps. I really appreciate your time. You are the best.

        Reply
  5. Jonni, I did try DAP a few months ago, and it was immediately obvious it did NOT work. I was doing something in the house and accidently put it in my paper mache clay. Rubber, like you said.

    Reply
    • Good to know, Rex. Thanks for doing that accidental “experiment.” Now I know that I should keep telling people to avoid the brand, because it does work well for remodeling jobs, but not for paper mache clay.

      Reply
  6. Hello! Thank you very much for sharing your creativity and ways of doing, it really helps a lot in my mold making!
    Do you happen to know if it is possible to use plaster over gesso to paste over the paper mache?

    Reply
  7. Hi Jonni — Thanks so much for this helpful video, and for giving it its own ‘feature’ section! I was looking for the gesso recipe among other posts, but voila!! Your links in the text are also great. I’m in New Zealand, so have to research what things are called here. Thanks to the video on ‘jointing compound’ in your link, I now know what to ask for in the hardware store. (Won’t feel like such an idiot . . .) Brilliant!

    I still need to find an equivalent for the blue ‘shop towel’. I had no idea what this was. I gather it is made of paper fibre, is absorbent like paper towel, but much stronger and leaves no lint? Here we have smooth, strong baby wipes and anti-bacterial hand wipes, but they’re all wet. And permeated with some sort of chemical moisturizer etc. I’ve never come across dry ones — not even when the guys are working on my car in the auto shop! Am I on the right track, though??

    Reply
    • Hi Laura. I’m sorry it took so long to get back to you with an answer about the paper towels. I know the blue shop towels aren’t easy to find outside the United States, and shipping them through amazon.com would be rather expensive. The baby wipes aren’t the same – the blue towels are both thick and stretchy, and they absorb the paste really nicely. If you can’t find them, you can substitute kitchen paper towels, instead. Be sure to tear the two plies apart first, though, and just use one ply at a time.

      Reply
  8. And this is the first I try using your clay techniques I’m in love with them. Thank you so much for all your shares you are fantastic!!!

    Reply
  9. Thank you so much for all your shares!!! you are really amazing and it’s very kind of you to share your knowledge with the word.Since I saw your first video on Youtube I got in love with paper mache, I’m new to this and had only 3 sculptures made, I used your paper mache techniques and the air dry clay they are awesome, going to give a try to the gesso but I’m afraid it crack ( will do in a small stuff first and see if this work. Thank you so very much again.Here’s one of my sculptures…now I’m trapped with mache!!!

    Reply
    • What fun sculptures! Thanks for showing them to us. Have you named them? I think I’d try to have a conversation with that bird – he looks like such an interesting character.

      Reply
      • Thank you , yes the birdie’s name is Lionel and the Pirate is Stinky.I got the idea of the bird from a guy called Biscuitboy, he does lots of funny animal trophies. Now I’m working on an Elf (Dobby’s cousin).And yes you can talk to Lionel he’s a smart bird 🙂

        Reply
  10. here’s my animals that I can’t stop making, each one takes approx. 1 wk. from start to finish. Love It, Love it. Thanks so much, Jonni.

    Reply
    • Hi Dee. Your image didn’t upload, so we didn’t get to see your animals. It’s possible that your image was too big for the system. I do hope you’ll try again. Did you get an error message when you hit the submit button?

      Reply
    • Cat, I haven’t used this gesso for oil paintings, but I know people who use the gesso from the art department. I have a good friend who paints with oils, and his first paintings are cracking because he did not prepare the canvas. So you definitely want to prepare the canvas before you paint. Good luck. Let us see what you are doing.

      Reply
    • Thanks for trying it again, Sylvie. We’ve been having a lot of trouble with the upload thingie lately. Did you get an error message of any kind the first time you tried it?

      Reply
  11. Hello Joni

    Thanks for this… For christmas I used your recipe and made a very heavy tough gesso for my polar bear… Here he is, he wanted to say hi and thanks for the fur coat 🙂

    Reply
    • I love that bear. He looks so cheerful, almost as if he’s looking forward to getting a present under that tree!

      Reply
  12. Hi, Jonni, I found your site a few days ago via pinterest.com and spent many hours exploring. Thank you for so generously sharing your creativity.

    I went to Lowe’s last week to get supplies for your toilet paper mixtures and the only brand of joint compound they had was Dap. I was shocked. I’d be very interested in knowing if anyone has success with that brand. Luckily there’s a Home Depot close to me so I’m checking there later this week. I’ve been consoling myself with newspaper and flour paste till then.

    Reply
    • Hi. I want to add my 2 cents about finding joint compound at Lowes. Dap is the only brand on the shelf near the paint section. I walked all the way to the lumber section drywall section and bought the 50 lbs box of Drywall brand joint compound. Works great! It’s in a plastic bag in the box. The young man loaded it in my car for me. 6 or 8 dollars.

      Reply

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