Experimental surfaces using traditional gesso – for painting with Merna Liddawi

Mixed and other media

Ref: S2D11963

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About this course

Make surface grounds with gesso, build layers and experiment with materials such as pigment and ink. Explore mark-making with innovative drawing tools and techniques, and apply gold leaf.

Course Description

Explore the exciting possibilities of changing the quality of the surface you draw or paint on. By changing the surface, you can dramatically change the way your materials behave. On this course you will explore how to change the 'tooth' of different surfaces and experiment with the effects that this offers.

Make your own gesso using old traditional techniques with rabbit skin glue and chalk. The tutor will demonstrate how to make and apply the gesso so you can prepare your own boards. You will then use the boards to experiment on with different drawing and painting materials.

Returning to the making of the gesso, you will explore the different variations on the traditional mix to change its texture and colour. This offers various surface textures that offers exciting possibilities on how to manipulate the surfaces to offer differing characteristics to draw or paint on.

You will be encouraged to take risks and experiment with unusual mark-making and surfaces. You will be using the surfaces you created to try different drawing materials such as graphite pencils, inks, pigments and any other materials you might bring.

You will also imprint different objects onto the gesso to produce interesting textures. Using different grits of sand paper you can change the smoothness of the surface for different effects.

You will leave the course with samples of surfaces with different 'tooth' or texture. You will have created samples – ‘a surface encyclopaedia’ for future reference that can be used to further your vocabulary for drawing and painting.


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)

Course Materials


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

What students need to bring

  • Sandpaper – a variety of grits
  • Apron and rags
  • Objects with interesting textures to impress for mark-making (anything you can find that may make an interesting texture)
  • Pieces of scrap mountboard (A5, A6 small pieces) (Mountboard is also available to purchase in the shop if you don't have any) – optional
  • 2 old mugs and 2 glass jars
  • Old toothbrush, small comb
  • Any items from the available to buy list you may already have

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • Watercolour paints, inks, soft pastels – 3 colours
  • Graphite pencils, notebook, palette
  • Sandpaper 180, 400, 600
  • Flat brushes 3 (hog or nylon any size)
  • Gold leaf/imitation gold leaf
  • Available from tutor:
  • Various loose pigments to buy from the tutor.
Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear (no open toes or sandals).


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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