All About Black Gesso

Black gesso is a black primer or ground used in art to prepare surfaces for painting.

So, when should you use it? Well, it serves several purposes and has unique characteristics that make it useful for specific paintings. In this blog post, we will take a look into some of its more common uses.

What is it used for?

a photo of Utrecht brand artist's black gesso in a small tub

Basically, black gesso is used for all the reasons artists use any gesso, when they also want to create a dark background, enhance luminosity, or highlight metalics.

Let’s go a bit deeper this special gesso . Here are some more detailed explanations of the unique ways to use it.

Creating a Dark Background

First, one of the primary purposes of black gesso is to create a dark and opaque background on your canvas or substrate. This dark background provides a stark contrast that can make the colors in your painting appear more vibrant and dramatic.

Enhancing Luminosity

Then, when you apply transparent or semi-transparent colors over a dark gesso, they can appear more luminous and intense. The dark background allows the colors to stand out and can add depth to your artwork.

Creating Moody or Dramatic Artworks

Black gesso is often used in art styles that require a moody or dramatic atmosphere. Artists working in genres like surrealism, fantasy, and gothic art may use it to set the tone for their paintings.

Highlighting Metallics and Reflective Colors

Metallic paints and colors with reflective properties, such as iridescent and interference paints, can appear especially vibrant and eye-catching when applied over a dark base.

Creating Negative Space

Black gesso can be strategically applied to create areas of negative space in your artwork, where the dark background becomes an integral part of the composition. Of course, you could just use white gesso and cover it completely with a base coat of a dark paint as a background.

Both are perfectly fine ways to create a base black from which to create negative space in your composition.

When should I use black gesso?

So, when should you use black gesso? You should use it when you want a black base layer. But, you never really need to use it.

Everything black gesso does, you can do by prepping your canvas with the white stuff and applying a base layer of black paint before you start your work. However, it might be more efficient to just use black gesso to create that dark base you want.

Can you use a black canvas instead of black gesso?

Yes, you can use a prepainted canvas instead of applying black gesso to create a dark background for your paintings.

Black canvases are pre-primed or pre-painted with black acrylic or oil paint, providing you with a ready-made dark surface to work on.

What is the benefit of black gesso?

Convenience. It gets you that black base coat without you needing to paint it.

If you are interested in other creative gesso options, check out these posts below.

Ingrid Maria Pimsner
Ingrid Maria Pimsner

Ingrid Maria Pimsner is a painter, arts writer, and educator. Her representational oil paintings depict the people, places and things that are closest to her.

She is also the founder and current director of The International Institute of Contemporary Art and Theory, an artist residency in Romania. In addition, she co-curates the Archive Space Project , a curatorial project founded by Annie Daley in 2010 and originally located in the Crane Arts building in Philadelphia, PA.

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