Saturday, August 19, 2017

Is Gesso a Good Primer for Painted Rocks?

Yes, in my opinion gesso is an excellent primer for painted rocks.

Gesso (pronounced jes-oh) is used to prepare a canvas for painting. (If you would like to know more about gesso, this article "What is Gesso and How is it Used in Painting?" is very informative.) 

I've been hearing about gesso used to prime rocks (my canvas) and thought I'd give it a try instead of the usual white, acrylic paint.

For my experiment, I purchased two types of gesso from the website...
  • Regular - Folk Art brand
  • Super Heavy - Liquitex brand

...and selected a smooth stone for the regular gesso and a pitted stone for the super heavy gesso.

My process:
  • Brush one coat of each type of gesso on a stone (regular gesso on the smooth stone, super heavy gesso on the pitted rock)
  • Paint the same design on each stone using one coat of various brands of acrylic or acrylic craft paint
  • Use an art pen for thin details
  • Seal the stones

Gesso features and performance:
  • Folk Art - regular gesso
    • Consistency of toothpaste
    • Applied with a brush easily and smoothly
    • A little went a long way
    • Covers well
    • Can be mixed with acrylic paint for a colored base coat
    • Soap and water clean up
    • Quick drying
Regular gesso applied to a smooth stone

  • Liquitex Super Heavy gesso
    • Consistency of cake icing or spackling compound
    • Somewhat messy
    • Applied with a brush and required smoothing in different directions
    • Can be tinted with acrylic paint
    • Soap and water clean up
    • 24 hours to dry
    • Brighter white than the regular gesso
Super heavy gesso applied to a pitted rock

Paint colors and brands used:
  • Craft Acrylic (craft acrylic is a thinner consistency than regular acrylic paint)
    • Anita's Orange
    • Anita's Christmas Green
    • DecoArt Cherry Blossom Pink
  • Acrylic
    • Americana Snow (Titanium) White
    • Apple Barrel Bimini Blue (turquoise)
    • Apple Barrel Red
    • Apple Barrel Lime Tree
    • Apple Barrel Black
    • Folk Art Sky Mist (light blue)
The acrylic and acrylic craft paint colors adhered very well with both types of gesso. The brush moved smoothly across each rock's surface.

Results of one coat of paint applied over each type of gesso

There were no problems using the art pen on the gessoed and painted stones. In fact, the pen drew especially well on the pitted stone primed with super heavy gesso.

Results of art pen used on gessoed and painted stones (Sehnaz Bac design with permission)

My final photo clearly illustrates the benefits of using white acrylic paint or gesso as a primer for a stone. The paint colors on all three primed stones are brighter than the unprimed stone. The difference is most apparent when you compare the orange hue on each painted rock.

Results of no primer vs. acrylic paint and gesso primers (Sehnaz Bac design with permission)

© Cindy Thomas Painted Rocks


  1. I just found your blog. Thank you for this post. Very helpful. I'm new to rock painting, but have come a long way in a short time. I don't usually gesso or prime my stones, but I may consider it now.

    1. Thank you for letting me know you found this blog post helpful, Clamco. I've been rock painting since 2007 and never used gesso until recently. Now it's my go-to primer instead of white acrylic paint. Happy rock painting.

  2. Just found this through Pinterest. Guess I'll have to make a trip to Michael's today. :-) I'm new to rock painting and am looking for ways to improve. I've been painting rocks with white acrylic paint first, and using water to thin the paint. I wonder if there's a better way to thin? I've been reading about using a medium instead of water but don't know what to use.

    1. Yes, LubbyGirl, there is a better way to thin the acrylic paint. I use Liquitex Basics Matte Fluid Medium and it's available at Michaels. Here's a link to the product description:

  3. I have been painting for about a month now. My son and I got started a few weeks before his dad was hospitalized for a simple outpatient surgery. Needless to say it didn't turn out so well. He got his wings and I continued to paint to keep my sanity. So, that's been my therapy since October 17, 2017. I'm so happy I found your blog with super ideas to keep be busy throughout the day and some nights. Angela M.

    1. Angela, I'm so sorry to hear about your recent, unexpected loss. Painting rocks IS therapeutic and I'm glad my blog has given you some ideas to keep busy during this most difficult time. Thank you so much for sharing. My heart was moved this morning when I read your comment.

  4. Thank you for this great article with such a clear instructional manner that is helpful to the newbie. I love your work. Would be so happy to buy some of your work. Do you have another website with work available for purchase? Do you have an etsy shop?

    1. I'm happy to hear you found this post instructional and thanks for the compliment about my work, Lois. I do have a website with painted rocks for sale and here's the address:

  5. Help! I'm introducing rock painting to a group of girls at church and I've been trying different ways of painting and I'm not succeeding as well as I would like. Some people on Pinterest get their decorative lines so straight. I use posco markers, but I cannot get the lines to not be bumpy. Today, I painted the surface of the rock with 3 coats of acrylic paint and let it dry for hours. When I tried to use the markers, the paint started gumming up. If I prime with gesso, will that take care of that? How many base coats are needed to make a smooth surface. Do you use matte acrylic paint to get those lines straight? Help! The lock in is this Friday night! Thank you!

    1. Hi Sherry.
      I prefer a brush and matte acrylic paint to do thin lines and paint my rocks. I only use Poscas for small areas and haven't experienced a problem with them.
      That said, your problem could be the smoothness of your rocks. If they have any pits, the lines will be bumpy. Super thick gesso helps a little with the pits. (I have heard of using spackling compound to make rocks smooth but haven't tried it myself.)
      If your rocks are smooth, 2 coats of regular gesso (not super heavy) may do the trick.
      Good luck with your class. I hope what little info I could provide is helpful to you.

  6. Do you sand the rock surface after the gesso has dried? Thanks

    1. I don't sand the rock surface after the gesso has dried. But it's a good idea for making a smoother painting surface.