How to make manuscript gesso

Posted by on August 13, 2016 in Blog, Materials and Techniques | 2 comments

Several people have contacted me over the past week asking me where I buy my manuscript gesso from. The answer is that it is not, as far as I am aware, commercially available here in the UK, so I make my own.

Here’s the recipe:


8 parts of slaked plaster of Paris (calcium sulphate dihydrate)

3 parts of powdered lead carbonate –  BEWARE, POISONOUS

1 part seccotine glue

1 part sugar, ground to a powder

A pinch of Armenian bole to colour the mixture

Distilled water to mix.


Measure all the ingredients with a measuring spoon, levelling the dry powders off with a palette knife. I mix my gesso on a granite slab. It is possible to make gesso with a mortar and pestle (not one that you are going to use for food preparation!) but it is more difficult to get it completely smooth.


how to make manuscript gesso


Mix, then add the measure of seccotine glue, taking care to scrape all the glue out of the measuring spoon.


Manuscript gesso 2


Add a little distilled water, then mix all the ingredients together. Wear a mask so that you minimise the amount of lead dust you inhale.


Make manuscript gesso
Grind with a muller until completely smooth, adding more distilled water as required. There should be no lumps of powder remaining.


Manuscript gesso 4


The whole process takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours, but the good news is that the gesso can be dried and kept for future use – just spoon small amounts on to an acetate sheet and allow to dry in a dust-free environment. Always wash your hands after you have finished and clear up responsibly. I do not allow any lead to be washed down the sink.


Manuscript gesso 5


When needed, simply take a little gesso and re-constitute it with water.


  1. Hello Toni, once again thank you so much for a really inspirational course up at Higham…I am going to take the plunge and make some gesso! I currently have none of the kit so would appreciate the contact details of your suppliers if possible?
    Very many thanks

    • Hi Victoria,

      My granite slab came from a kitchen supplier – it was an offcut. The muller came from Cornelissens in London, but it might be worth looking at other suppliers. I buy my white lead (called flake white), seccotine glue and Armenian bole from Cornelissens. I’m a member of CLAS (The Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society) and I buy slaked plaster from them, but it’s possible to slake your own. I’ll email you the handouts I had at Higham with more info.

      It was great to meet you! Let me know how you get on.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *