I was playing around with my gesso recently to see if I could do anything DIFFERENT with it and here are the results of my findings…. DISTRESSED GESSO BACKGRONDS!

Gesso really is an amazing medium for using on paper and card stock. You only need a little bit and you can achieve stunning distressed effects! And the best part is that its so easy!!

I tend to use Gesso to prime 3-d objects I’m going to stamp on; for example; wooden boxes, dominos, formica tiles etc, its wonderful stuff as it takes a slick surface and gives it a nice toothy grain for you to stamp and add your colour on!

Gesso can be purchased at all Art shops and it is guaranteed to last you a while! Especially if you are only going to use it for creating backgrounds with as a little really DOES go a loooong way!

Try it yourself and see…

Materials Used:

  • White Gesso
  • Small piece of bathroom sponge
  • White Card Stock or paper torn from an unwanted book – gloss or matt work perfectly – try BOTH!
  • Embossing Heat Gun
  • Cosmetic Sponges
  • Baby Wipes
  • Black Memories Ink Pad (or any arhival brand)
  • Various Dye Ink Pads in different colours – I used Memories –  Barn Red, Cherry Red, Port Red, Artprint Brown, Brown, Orange, Green, Hunter Green, Soft Leaf, Purple, Blue.

* You CAN use pigment inkpads (i.e. Brilliance) if you prefer but you can only use them on matt card stock.

Rubber Stamps Used:

  • Oxford Impressions – Times Past Sheet
  • Non Sequitur – Go Ask Alice Sheet
  • Non Sequitur –  Love Hurts Sheet
  • Non Sequitur – Burning Hearts Sheet
  • Time To Stamp – Typewriter Numerals

First of all if your gesso is the thick paste variety you will need to thin it down. To do this mix the gesso in a plastic container with a little water using a brush; you want the consistency of thick school white glue – not too thick but not too thin.

It’s advisable to protect your work surface with scrap paper as this technique can get a little messy! But that’s the FUN part!

This technique will work on any type of card stock – I did some experimenting to see if it would work on gloss or matt card stock best and it works on BOTH –  it even works on VELLUM! Different types of  papers and card stocks create different intensities with the inks and gesso resist effect.

My personal favourite for the distressed gesso background technique is to use torn papers from an unwanted book as it creates a wonderful layered grunge collage effect and the words on the page are still visible underneath the gesso and the inks.

How To Create:

Step One – Laying The Base Colour

1. Place your paper or card onto your protected work surface.

2. Dip your sponge into the gesso and swipe the gesso all over the surface area of your card/paper. Tip: Don’t completely cover the surface of the card, you want some areas un-gesso-ed and left blank.

3. Blast the gesso you have sponged onto your paper/card with your heat gun to dry it out.

4. Now take a cosmetic sponge wedge and ink it up with a coloured dye inkpad and swipe a generous layer of ink colour all over the surface of your card/paper. Notice as you do this that the gesso created a kind of ‘resist effect’. Blast the inks with your heat gun to dry it out properly before going onto the next stage.

At this point you will have a background that may look something like these examples below:

Gesso Background on Gloss Card:

Gesso Background On Matt Card:

Rainbow Gesso Background On Matt Card

Gesso Background On Glossy Magazine Paper

Gesso Background On Book Paper

Gesso Background On Book Paper

Step Two – Distressing the Background

Once your base colour is set down as described above, you are ready to progress and build up your layers to create the distressed gesso look. Its worth remembering that there are no hard fast rules as with all backgrounds and stamping techniques, the key is to experiment and explore using the gesso, inks and stamping together to come up with something you feel comfortable with.

This is how I created mine; for the sake of the directions I am going to tell you how I created the Distressed Gesso Backgrounds using the bottom 2 examples you can see directly above this typing (i.e. the book pages).

1. Take your gesso background and place it on your work surface. Now dip your sponge into the gesso, wipe off the excess gesso from your sponge – you want to work with a damp but not wet sponge.

2. Swipe the gesso-ed sponge over the surface of the paper/card again – don’t be afraid to literally smoosh it on in any old slap dash fashion – this is art not an exact science! You want to cover some of the previous gesso layer and some of the areas you didn’t cover before with the gesso – but make sure you leave some un-gesso-ed areas.

3. If you used a very dry sponge you will not need to heat set the gesso before proceeding further; however if your gesso is taking a long time to dry – give it a helping hand with your heat gun.

4. Take a dye inkpad and sponge this over the surface of your paper/card – you want to go over both the un-gesso-ed and the gesso-ed areas – be random with your colour – i.e. you don’t want an even application of colour you want short bursts here and there.

Think about the colours you are using together, you don’t want to create a colour clash. This technique works best if you use shades of the same colour scheme. For example for the book pages I used lots of different shades of red dye inkpads together – cherry red, barn red and port red.

5. Take your sponge and ink it with gesso again and swipe this over your background – because the gesso you are using is watered down and also applied so thinly you will notice that instead of completely covering the ink colours up it instead makes them look a lot paler – kinda distressed looking.

6. Continue working with your inks and gesso layers until you are happy with how your background looks. You can use baby wipes to remove gesso or inks if you use too much, or simply to remove areas of colour to create more uneven areas of colour. You can leave some un-inked white gesso areas on your background if you prefer.

Step Three – Distressed Stamping With Gesso:

1. Now you are ready for stamping a background onto the gesso background – choose a colour inkpad which will complement the gesso background and not completely overpower it.

For example the two examples below were stamped using Barn Red Memories Dye Ink Pad which complimented the distressed background.

2. Once you have stamped your background, you can if you wish cover parts of the stamped image up using more gesso – which is what I did, I found that the gesso doesn’t completely cover the actual images up; instead it makes them more muted.

3. Once you are happy with how your background looks you can stamp a main image over the background using Black Inkpad. (this step is optional depending on the look you wish to achieve)

4. Trim or tear your background and layer onto card and embellish. Your distressed background creation is complete.


Use baby wipes to remove colour in areas to create interesting effects.

One cool effect I discovered was if you stamp with black memories inkpad, let it dry for a colour of seconds then gently swipe over the black ink with a baby wipe to remove some of the colour – this makes the image look kinda half there and not there, and it gives a great collage effect, see example:


More Distressed Gesso Background Art

And Finally…..

That’s not all!

Did you know you can also STAMP with the gesso?! Simply sponge your stamp with the gesso, stamp onto card stock – immediately wash off the gesso from your stamp. Heat set the gesso on your card/paper. Sponge over to create a gesso resist and voila! Unique Stamped Gesso Resist Art!