For centuries gesso has been used as a base for gilding surfaces. You see gesso on everything from antique picture frames to ancient frescoes in Roman Baths. Gesso is made from a mix of glue, plaster, gypsum or chalk. The most authentic type of gesso is made from chalk. Originally the purpose of gesso was to prevent surfaces from absorbing paint.
Gesso is simply a white coating that can be used to paint anything. If you paint an antique tray with gesso it can help “winterize” it for the holiday season. It also looks very much like a tray in fifteenth century Italy when done. For a touch of extra holiday glamour you can also spray the tray with glitter.
The trick to having this work well is to pick your trays carefully. Ones that have handles work nicely and so do ones with details like filigree and ridging look amazing. The plainer the tray is the less likely it is too look nice because Gesso has the effect of making anything that it coats look “iced.”
When picking out a tray you also might want to consider its intended use. If it is for toiletries select something narrow. If it is for serving get something larger that is round or square.
It does not matter whether they are made out of metal, wood or painted, you will need to sand them well before you apply the gesso. You can use the gesso to create patterns such as swirls, swipes and zig zags on the tray. The more coats you apply the better the tray is going to look. It is always better to apply more gesso than you need than less as lots is what is needed to get that frothy snowy effect. If you think it looks too much like an iced cake you can always take some sandpaper and remove some of the gesso. The finer the sandpaper the better –so you do not have to redo the job!
Each time you apply a layer of gesso you should also wait at least an hour for it to dry. Applying wet gesso on a wet previous layer can create unattractive results.
Once you are happy with the design you can then apply glitter by hand or use a spray. Yet another beautiful effect is to treat the gessoed tray with a liquid ice product. This gives the tray a very shiny, multi-rainbowed effect.