Experimental mixed media painting using traditional gesso with Merna Liddawi

Ref: S3D33120

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About this course

Make a traditional gesso ground for your paintings and experiment with layers, textures and different materials such as pigment and chalks. Explore mark-making with innovative drawing tools and techniques and apply gold leaf.

Course Description

The aim of this course is to explore the different ways you can use traditional gesso in mixed media painting by exploring mark-making and texture using everyday tools.

Gesso is traditionally used for egg tempera painting but, on this course, you will explore the versatility and joys of this ancient material that has long been lost in contemporary settings.

You will start by making traditional gesso using the ancient techniques of glue and chalk, following a recipe that was used by early renaissance artists. You will explore how the gesso can create a superb, porcelain-like surface by sanding with different grades of sandpaper.

The material lends itself to a contemplative way of working. You will respond intuitively to the mark-making on the surface and explore different mark-making using everyday tools. You will explore building up and taking away from the surface and imprinting different objects; some students used Lego bricks, coffee filters, combs, toothbrushes, etc. to print onto the gesso to produce interesting textures. You imagination is the limit. Bring whatever you can and experiment and have fun. Each stage will be demonstrated by the tutor.

You will have several boards ready to paint.

On the first day, you will discover how the gesso behaves on the surfaces and you will create different textures by adding and taking from the surface. You will be given four small experimental boards to use with the tools you bring, and the tutor will also provide some tools to create textures. The boards will be ready to add mixed media the following day.

On the second day, you will explore adding inks, chalk pastel and pigments to the surface. You will carry on building the surface and taking away using sandpaper on your boards. You will also add gold leaf to certain areas of the painting to give highlights and focus.

On the last day, you will bring together all the techniques you have learned in the first two days to paint a bigger painting if you wish or keep building the smaller paintings.

You will leave the course with several mixed media experimental paintings to take home that will act as an ‘encyclopaedia’ of reference for future paintings.

Course Materials


  • The course fee includes the cost of providing gesso materials (rabbit skin glue, French chalk whitening), 8 x MDF boards, pipettes and sandpaper.

What students need to bring

  • Apron
  • Inks or watercolour paints
  • Soft chalk pastels
  • Notebook
  • 3 flat brushes, one household paintbrush and 2 smaller ones (hog or nylon)
  • Imitation gold leaf (buy from shop)
  • Objects with interesting textures and patterns to impress for mark-making (anything you can find that may make an interesting texture). Some students bought combs, Lego bricks, sticks, toothbrushes, etc.
  • Old mug to put gesso in and a glass jar

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • A good variety of art materials, including soft pastels, notebooks, flat brushes (hog or nylon any size), imitation gold leaf
  • Available from tutor:
  • Various loose pigments to buy from the tutor

Additional information

Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear (no open toes or sandals).


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

General Information


Merna Liddawi

Merna Liddawi is an award winning international artists who exhibited in Portugal, London, Venice, Florence and Malta. She finished her MFA with distinction from West Dean College specialising in early painting techniques. She has more than 10 years teaching experience and her work is sought after and been written about by different curators.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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Further study options

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