Gold leaf on raised gesso

So what is gesso?

Gesso is a substance that is painted on to either paper or vellum. It is the consistency of single cream, slightly pink in colour and sets solid to form a raised dome on the page which gold will stick to (on a good day).

Gold leaf on gesso

Gold leaf on raised gesso

How do I make it?

Gesso is made with:

8 parts slaked plaster (Calcium Sulphate Dihydrate)

3 parts white lead (Lead carbonate) – Caution – this is toxic! Do not inhale.

1 part seccotine glue

I part sugar

A pinch of Armenian bole to colour it.


You can read about how I make my gesso here.


Is it easy to work with?

Applying gold leaf to gesso is tricky – of that there is no doubt. There is nothing more beautiful or impressive than a piece of raised gilding, burnished to a high shine…and nothing more frustrating when the process is unsuccessful.

There may be a problem in the way the gesso is made. It may have air bubbles in it, or it may not be ground well enough.

The gesso may be perfect, but sometimes the gold just will not stick to it. This may simply be the result of the atmospheric conditions being not quite right. Or the gold might stick, but looks dull instead of shiny.

Sometimes experience enables you to overcome some of these problems, but sometimes even the best gilders have to scrape the gesso off and start again.

So it’s a challenge – but yes, you do get better with practice!

Illuminated letter W - gold on gesso

Illuminated W – 24 carat loose leaf gold leaf on gesso. burnished to a high shine.