This section is from the book "Arts & Crafts Magazine Vol1-2", by Hutchinson & Company.
AS is the case in most of the popular handicrafts of the day, gesso is only a revival. Its manipulation was known to the early Egyptians and, later, by the Greeks. In Italy it was used for decorative purposes in the thirteenth century, and probably at even an earlier period. Among other fine old examples of gesso at the Victoria and Albert Museum is a beautifully modelled lid of a chest, which is covered with gold. Almost any subject drawn with fine lines and decoratively arranged may easily be adopted for reproduction in gesso. If artistically coloured, the effect of a fine work in this material is not unlike that of an illuminated missal or of a translucent enamel, with lustrous deep harmonies of splendid hues, if lacquers are used for finish. Yet, treated in pale tints, with just a suggestion of colour, gesso work can be made no less beautiful. It may be used to cover considerable spaces as well as for the decoration of portable objects. Indeed, for room decoration in relief, it has no rival within the grasp of the amateur.
Gesso may be best described as modelling with a brush. The brush most used is the rigger (see Fig. 2), the hair of which is about one inch long. With this pliant tool longer strokes can be obtained than with a short bristled brush, and it will hold more composition. But the brushes known as writers and stripers are also useful, and old brushes which have ceased to serve their original purposes in oil or water colour painting may do very well for this work. Gesso is a modeller's art, and the artist who understands the laws of light and shade can obtain with it far richer and more varied effects than one who has had no experience in working in relief. There are several ways of preparing the gesso, varying according to the degree of relief required. It is a medium especially adapted to low relief. All the best of the old examples are of that kind.
The preparation called alabastine is a good ready-made form of gesso. It can be bought, with the riggers, of most artists' colourmen. This powder only needs to be mixed with cold water to about the consistency of fairly thick cream; it sets slowly, and drys with a glossy, jelly-like surface. When the gesso is once put on it should not be disturbed, or this surface will be destroyed. For low relief work one application is sufficient; but for greater relief one should go over the design repeatedly, waiting, however, until the underneath coating has partly set. If the work is modelled high too quickly it will crack when dry.
Fig. 2. - The Brush, called the Rigger.
For ornament in very high relief, cut some cotton wool into fine shreds, and add it to the already mixed gesso, making the whole like soft clay. This will prevent any cracking. After the design has been modelled in this manner - the fingers having been employed mostly - greater finish can be obtained, by the use of gesso alone, with the brush. When the work is dry it may be carved with a sharp knife, for further detail. Alabastine may be had in different colours, but it is best to get the white, which, if desired, can afterwards be coloured according to taste. Keep it in an airtight case. When mixing it for use, stir it slowly; otherwise bubbles will appear. It is best to let the mixture stand a little while before using it. Always prepare a fresh lot for working with after twenty-four hours have elapsed.
Fig. 3. - Simple Exercises.
Fig. 4. - Arrangement for a Sunken Panel.
The following recipe is one used by the Italians, who made their own gesso; it is far preferable to any gesso that can be bought, but it is somewhat troublesome to make.
1 pint Powdered Resin;
4 pints Boiled Linseed Oil;
6 pints Melted Glue. Soak some whiting in water until it is soft through, and add enough hot water to bring it to
Borders for Gesso Work
(Or Marquetry). By F. Jewsbury.
Design for a Spectacle-Case. By Ellen Sparks.
The Spectacle-Case is intended for leather-work. (For treatment, see page 155.) the consistency of thick cream. Boil the resin, oil and melted glue together until all is a liquid; then add some of the mixed whiting, letting the whole gradually boil all the time, stirring it with a spoon. When the mixture is right for use, it will be creamy in colour and consistency, but as it cools it gets hard; therefore, before each using it is necessary to boil it again, standing the jar in a pan of boiling water and taking care that none of the water gets into the mixture. This preparation is most durable; it never cracks, and it is easier to work with it than with any ready-made gesso.
When a sunken panel is required, model the surrounding parts fairly high (see A. Fig. 4); next put in the fleur-de-lis on the wood panel between. The treatment of the wood or the canvas on which the gesso is modelled will be explained in another article. Modelling the figures, of course, calls for more skill, but to one who has some knowledge of anatomy it will present no difficulty. The lower muscles are laid on first (see Fig. 1) and when the gesso is tacky the superficial muscles are super-posed so that the effect obtained is of one muscle overlapping another and combining with it. This also applies generally to modelling animals; to fish, with regard to their scales, and to birds and their feathers. (To be continued.) F. Jewsbury.
Exercises in Gesso: Painting in Relief.
(Sea page 142.)
Green Leather Casket with Metal Mountings.
Method of dovetailing the sides of the Casket. (See page 158.)
Casket To Be Decorated In Cut Metal Or Gesso Work. By Adolph Thomas.
Full-sized Detail of the Casket shown above.
Calendar Frame for Gesso or Marquetry. Designed by F. Jewsbury.
(The corner spaces are to be filled with dates and initials.)