We put tremendous care into our true gesso boards even before the first coat of gesso is applied. Northern linden- preferred for it’s tight grain, light weight, and stability is locally cut and sawn into rough planks by our chosen sawyers. After delivering the lumber to be kiln-dried, we finish them at one or one and a quarter inch thick. We select as purely quarter-sawn boards as possible- adding even a higher level of stability. This sets our icon boards apart from those of other producers.
Quarter-sawn vs Plain-sawn
Warping, especially cupping, is a common problem in solid wood true gesso boards. It is evident in most old icons. We combat this with our choice of wood species as well as the best method of sawing. Below are two different illustrations: one on the left that displays the end of a plain-sawn board and the other on the right that displays the end of one of our quarter-sawn boards. The drawn pictures below display the growth rings of the tree more clearly.
Quarter-sawing is a more time consuming and expensive way of sawing a log. The end result however, is a board that has much greater stability. If quarter-sawn, it is unlikely that the board will cup except very slightly. Plain-sawn boards will expand and contract in width due to changing humidity levels throughout the year and usually when traveling from one climate to another. Quarter-sawn boards will do so only very slightly.
As an extra preventative against warping, we insert red oak braces, also quarter-sawn, into dovetailed slots in the backs of the boards.
True Gesso Finish
Our customers are most often extremely pleased with our true gesso finish. To begin the process of applying gesso, we coat rabbit hide glue on all sides of the board. Next, we apply a pure linen cloth by soaking it in the glue and smoothing it over the surface of the board. Then we apply another coat of glue over the cloth. Once the cloth is dried crisp over the board, we trim the edges off. Once again, we apply another coat of glue, this time with a small amount of chalk added to the mixture. Finally, we begin the application of many coats of true gesso: a mixture of rabbit skin glue, chalk, and powdered marble, suitable for egg tempera, oil, acrylic, encaustic, and more. After tremendous care and attention to detail, through a special technique of eliminating pin holes that are common in all true gesso finishes, as well as much fine sanding, the surface is proven to be like glass to the feel. You simply will not find a finer gesso finish than on the boards and panels made at St. John’s Workshop.
True Gesso Boards Hand-made with Care
The process of finishing the board at this point requires us to give much time and attention to detail. We’ve made the process our own and employ several techniques that are difficult to master, but give brilliant results. The finished white surface is as smooth as glass. The back receives a smooth shellac finish to seal the wood. If you are looking for the finest true gesso boards available, then look no further.