Gesso has been a favorite primer for artists because of how versatile it is. It helps to keep a painting surface, usually a canvas, looking as fresh and new as possible for as long as possible once a painting is finished. Artists who are careful about the products they purchase and how they may contain animal byproducts may be concerned about what’s in gesso and if gesso is vegan.
Unfortunately, gesso is not always vegan. When gesso was first released as an artistic product, one of the standard ingredients was a binder sourced from animals. This binder would be an important component of gesso as it contributed to how well it could hold paint in its place.
The good news is there are alternative products you can use instead of gesso. Even better, as consumers become more concerned about what’s in the products they buy, finding vegan gesso is possible. Art brands in general are becoming more conscious about what they put in their products as they know ingredients inform consumer habits, and gesso brands are no exception to that trend.
What is Gesso Made Of?
Gesso in and of itself typically contains very few ingredients, but those ingredients can differ depending on the brand you are purchasing. Generally, gesso will contain a pigment, a binder, and chalk, also known as calcium carbonate. Because traditional gesso is very thick, it isn’t uncommon to see artists dilute it with water before using it.
The binder used in traditional gesso would often be an animal-based glue, typically from rabbit skin. Occasionally, the glue would be sourced from fish. The purpose of this type of binder was that it would act as an adhesive of sorts for different paints. It would ensure that paint being used on canvas, wood, plastic and other materials would apply clearly and vibrantly and last a long time.
Modern gesso contains a few more ingredients than the classic gesso and tends to be more widely available than traditional formulas. Modern gesso is also made with chalk and pigment, but it also contains an acrylic polymer and, sometimes, other chemicals that are used to keep it shelf stable. On their surface, the core ingredients in modern gesso are more likely to be vegan.
What ultimately determines whether a gesso is vegan or not will be where the binder is sourced from. Binder is an essential component of gesso because it helps paint stay on the surface rather than sinking into the canvas.
Thanks to innovation in chemistry, products can easily be replicated or improved using plant-based binders or synthetic binders that don’t call for animal derivatives.
To check the current price and availability of Liquitex Gesso, click here to view the listing on Amazon.
Vegan Alternatives to Gesso
If you want to stay away from gesso but still want an adequate primer, you have a lot of options for alternative products that aren’t gesso and also don’t contain animal-based ingredients.
Many artists will simply opt for a white acrylic paint. It’s very easy to find vegan acrylic paint, and this paint can be used to cover a canvas or surface completely before painting away.
If you don’t want to mix out on the texture that gesso offers, chalk paint is also available. Just be sure to read the ingredients of chalk paint well as a couple of brands use beeswax in their formulas. Some individuals will also mix some corn starch into their regular paint in an effort to create their own gesso-like primer.
The advantage to using vegan alternatives to gesso is you’re able to prime different surfaces without spending your dollars on animal-based products. Alternatives can also be a more affordable and accessible option. They are also a lot easier to use than gesso, especially if you’re just starting to learn about different paint supplies.
However, you can still use gesso that is vegan. That’s important to note because the major disadvantage of alternatives is that they don’t perform the same way that gesso does.
Paint, even applied in a thick layer, does not have the same grip that gesso is known for. Paints used over alternatives may not stand up to wear and age they way they would on top of gesso.
Gesso Brands that are Vegan
If you like gesso but want to try a vegan option, there are brands that use plant-based binders. One such brand is Natural Earth Paint. This brand actually sells a kit that gives you the materials to mix together your own gesso easily. The plant-based binder used in Natural Earth Paint gesso is methyl cellulose glue, and the only other ingredient is powdered limestone.
Golden is another brand that manufactures an acrylic gesso that happens to be vegan. This particular gesso also has some great reviews from artists for not only being reasonably priced, but for effectively priming their favorite painting surfaces.
Additionally, Liquitex, another popular gesso brand, sells a black vegan gesso which is especially hard to find.
If you are someone that’s used to using traditional gesso with animal glue, you will notice some differences in the way each type of gesso performs. For instance, it can take a little bit longer for an acrylic or modern gesso to dry.
However, acrylic gessos are much more common and easy to find, making it worth getting used to them. The majority of gessos and acrylic based painting products in general don’t need animal ingredients to work.
To check the current price and availability of Natural Earth Paint Vegan, click here to view the listing on Amazon.
Gesso was not originally vegan, but things are changing. More artist materials are being made with plant-based ingredients as more individuals become aware of how harmful and non-renewable many animal-based products are becoming. If there’s a vegan alternative to a product that performs just as well, it’s worth trying it out.
Many of the best performing gessos sold today are acrylic gessos, and they are much more likely to be vegan. Since not all of these items are advertised specifically as vegan, doing some research into the ingredients in the gesso product you’re interested in is ultimately the best way to stay informed about what you’re spending your money on.