Upcycling Old Artwork with Homemade Gesso

We didn’t come across any artwork at the thrift store that would go well in our Upcycle Challenge room that was ready to go, so we decided to update two sets of artwork using homemade gesso and paint, and we love the way both projects turned out.  Today we’ll feature our updated baby prints.  Here’s how they looked before we redid them – not exactly artwork that would fit into our master bedroom decor!


The first part of our process involved making homemade gesso to cover the old prints and provide a new surface to paint on.  Gesso is a white paint mixture consisting of a binder mixed with chalk, gypsum, pigment, or any combination of these.  It is used in artwork as a preparation for any number of substrates such as wood panels, canvas and sculpture as a base for paint and other materials that are applied over it.  

Here’s the recipe we used for our gesso:
Homemade Gesso

21 oz water
44 oz baby powder (2 containers)
2 oz liqudetex titanium white paint (or another brand you have on-hand)

Mix all ingredients together into pancake-like batter in container (I used an old coffee container.)  Cover the container and let sit until ready to use.  The gesso will settle while sitting so best to remix before use.  The cure time after applying the gesso is about 24 hours but you can speed up the drying process with a hair dryer or heat gun.  This gesso is a little rougher and a little chalkier (because of the baby power) then “real” gesso but does sand nicely.  I would recommend using a fine sand paper.


You can also half or double this recipe depending on how large of a surface you need to cover.  We had enough using the above recipe to cover 5 canvases.  This is also much cheaper than “real” gesso and has a much better smell to it – who doesn’t love the smell of baby powder!?

We applied the gesso onto our canvases using a foam brush in a thick layer:


After applying the gesso, allow the pictures to dry for 24 hours, remember you you can speed up the drying process with a hair dryer or heat gun if you’d like.

Once dry it is time to sand your gesso.   I recommend using a fine grit sand paper.  It’s up to you how much you want to sand.  If you want the added dimension then sand less, if you want your canvases to be more smooth then sand more.

We went for a more smoother look on these canvases.  After sanding we then painted the sides of our pictures a black using  foam brush and acrylic paint.


For our photos we started out with some triangles then added dots and some black lines.  Our final step was glazing the pictures to give them more dimension… you can see the progression in the below photos:


And here is our final product!  It is a loose interpretation of streets and stop lights, what do you think?


We loved how the pair of these pictures turned out, and to think these started out as old baby room pictures – you never can tell!  Later this week I’ll be featuring another set of upcycled Ikea artwork using the same gesso material and some fun new Shape Tape that is now on the market.  Stay tuned!

Love, Kate

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  1. Reply

    These look beautiful and we just have to realize how much money it saves to create artwork at home. Upcycling is definitely a cool method of having your own DIY art.

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