I tried an experiment of this technique and it worked really well.
What is gesso? Here is a quick definition
Acrylic gesso (from Wikipedia)
“Modern acrylic "gesso" is actually a combination of calcium carbonate with an acrylic polymer medium latex, a pigment and other chemicals that ensure flexibility, and ensure long archival life. It is sold premixed for both sizing and priming a canvas for painting. While it does contain calcium carbonate (CaCO3) to increase the absorbency of the primer coat, Titanium dioxide or titanium white is often added as the whitening agent. This allows the "gesso" to remain flexible enough to use on canvas.”
Or my basic definition is – Acrylic Gesso is like a thick white paint and is applied with a brush to prime a surface before painting a picture.
Using Acrylic Gesso instead of Stretching Paper Surfaces
Priming surfaces with acrylic gesso
Using gesso is the normal way to prime a painting surface; it is usually used to prime a stretched canvas before starting a painting.
It can also be used to prime card and paper. Priming the front of a paper or cardboard painting surface with gesso will change the absorbency of the surface, this means that the painting surface will not behave in the same manner as an untreated surface.
Gesso is applied with a brush so there is a surface texture and this seems to hold more paint than an untreated surface does.
You can apply gesso to the back of the paper?
If you don’t want the properties of the paper surface to change you can prime the back of the painting surface. This will also keep the paper from curling while you paint.
In my test piece I had to hold the paper onto a board with masking tape while I painted on the gesso and let it dry. It did curl a little when I removed the tape as you can see in the top photo. So I found it easiest to use some more masking tape to hold the paper in place on a board while I painted the picture (on the side with no gesso) as shown in the bottom photo.
During the painting the paper only buckled slightly when wet, and dried back flat. I think that this was very successful and I will definitely try this technique again.
I found it to be a successful alternative to conventional stretching paper.
Also, I've had a container of acrylic gesso for many months and this is a good way to make full use of it too. :-)