Alright, Pat, I've done the testing for you all day today. I used Golden Acrylic Gesso and put one layer each on all the journals here for comparison.
Stillman Delta 7x10 inch spiral 180 lb
Handbook Journal 8.25 x 5.5 inch hardbound 130 gsm (around 70-80 lb)
Pentalic Nature Sketchbook 130 lb 9x12 inch
Classic Cachet 100 lb 5x7 inch
Stillman Alpha 9x12 inch hardbound 100 lb
Technically, the moment you put gesso on a surface, it renders the surface much more durable for lifting colors up that it didn't matter whether it's a Stillman or not. (Haha...I'm talking as though Stillman is like a Moleskin. It's getting to be I think.)
The first test was on this very flimsy looking Handbook Journal. It feels like the most flimsy paper of the bunch above and I want to see if I could convert the surface to accept aggressive watermedia treatment.
Yep, it did. But there's another problem. Gesso literally clogs up every pore on the surface and it's almost like painting on Yupo. It's slick and takes FOREVER to dry. A good half hour at least.
Here's the first wash.
( I had a terrible nightmare yesterday of these gigantic 100 feet long water snakes chasing after me and my baby and I scaled the wall like kung fu master and they were sniffing me!
My husband doesn't understand why I dream like a kid.
After 10 mins, it is still wet. At any time you apply a wet brush, it picks up the watercolor and you'll have to do patch up work. It's a pain.
Yet, the good point is you could lift color off any time you want, even when it's dry an hour later.
Here's the final version with Daniel Smith watercolor and then Derwent Graphitint.
Then I tried the Stillman Delta. The right hand side was done a couple of months ago with Daniel Smith watercolor and on a plain Delta surface wet on wet and lifting of colors here and there with a paper towel.
The left hand side is gessoed today and the colors just keep rolling around and spread. Luckily, it's a breeze to use a brush to mop up to get white. If you don't mind fiddling around with paint, a gesso surface gives you a lot of possibilities of white light areas. The problem is when you lift it, it really gives you white most of the time. It doesn't stain an ungessoed surface which gives you a nice residue pigment at least.
So in future, you could color your gesso first with paint if you know what color you like for the whole piece for highlights.
This piece was on the Classic Cachet beige sketchbook. But my gesso was white so it's white.
Here I first used Liquitex yellow acrylic tube paint and Golden Quin Gold Fluid acrylic for the insect first. I want to see if I could lift the colors off the gesso after it dries. No luck. Acrylic is acrylic. Once dried, it's stuck. The surrounding areas are Holbein blue and red mix gouache since you asked about gouache too. It acts like watercolor and it lifts like watercolor. It has the same frustration, plus the fact that gesso is pasty, it leaves residue brush strokes just like pastel ground.
So, not only I can't patch up perfectly, it has patterns in the sky. So be it. There's pattern in the sky.
But the pebbled surface is the new discovery. With gesso at the bottom, I could do any wiping I want with brush and paper towel and the sketchbook wouldn't break or pill. It's the same with the Hand Book Journal and Stillman. And I've discovered the advantages of using acrylics for light color parts and the bug. You overshoot the dark paint into the legs, just wipe it off with a moist towel and it's good as new.
So I'd say, mix your media for optimum ease!!!
This one has also Lyra Polychromos colored pencil detailing too and more yellow gouache.
The next one is on the Stillman Alpha. The top one was done on normal surface recently with Yarka Professional watercolor and Daniel Smith watercolor.
The bottom one was done with the same two watercolor but on a gessoed surface. See how clean it is when I mop the tower up? It's amazing. And when I used waterbrush, I could lift the windows absolutely white. I used the Kolinsky travel brush and it lifts even better. In general, Kolinsky brushes lift better since they are thirstier than the nylon synthetic brushes. I just added more coloring with dry brush in the end. The sky was smudged with a paper towel when it's close to almost fully dried so it smudges color like charcoal power pigment.
A crummy piece but just to show the lifting and smudging possiblities.
And because I had such a hard time controlling the sky again, I used many repeated washes and so the paper looks a bit more warped but it didn't break down.
Nor did the Hand book Journal. That journal is not as flimsy as it feels.
This one was done on Pentalic and I had to use up my acrylic yellow and gold. The background is Daniel Smith watercolor.
Then when it's dried all over, I went in with Derwent Inktense pencils and then realized it would take me too long for a full page. I abandoned pencils and put more Daniel Smith watercolor on for deeper tones of green everywhere.
Then Caran D'Ache Neocolor II crayons used dry because it has all the colors I need for a chameleon. And it's so opaque and fast.
For final detailing, instead of Inktense, again, I chose Derwent Graphitint.
These bugs are from some children's science book.
Finally, just for fun, I want to see the difference between gesso surface from the new Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground.
This time, I slathered it on a Black Classic Cachet sketchbook 5x7inch and colored the ground with Alizarin Crimson. Why black? I have always wanted to paint on black but no black paper could withstand heavy watercolor technique to date. I want so much to go away from soft pastel because the dust bothers me but soft pastels is the most vibrant still on black surface. So this experiment is important to me.
This paper is the only 70 lb and is meant for only dry media. A few more brushes of the watercolor ground and it was pilling so I stopped and let it dry.
Yarka Professional watercolor. I didn't want to use gouache or it would defeat the purpose of having black background seeping through.
Then I added Derwent Inktense Pencils and Caran D'Ache Neocolor II crayons without wash.
Some Holbein white for highlights.
If Stillman comes out with durable 180 lb black paper, I'll stock up as I have stocked up on scrapbbooking black paper and Classic Cachet black sketchbooks! Do you know how desperate I am to want to paint on black?
So in conclusion, if you need to use gesso for the undersurface because you like this lifting ability, use Delta all the way or at least 130 lb upwards. Gesso is a very fussy ground for watercolor. For acrylics and dry media, it's no problem. You plonk it down it's not going to go anywhere.
Hope that answers your question, Pat.
And here's my continuation of fleshing out my dream.
Stillman Alpha 9x12 inch sketchbook