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How To Gesso A Canvas

 

How to gesso a canvas properly is one of the first things you should learn as a beginning artist.

A correctly prepped canvas will give you much more satisfactory results and prevent the frustration of the paint not sticking or the brush strokes not being smooth. 

Gesso can also be used to cover mistakes or start over when you don’t like the way your painting has turned out.

Read my post on practice canvases to see how you can use gesso to reuse a failed painting.

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artist studio with blank canvas on an easel

What Is Gesso?

 

Acrylic gesso is used to prepare or prime a canvas, board, paper or just about any surface for painting.

It is is a combination of acrylic polymer ((binder), chalk and paint pigment.

Traditionally, gesso was only white, but now it is available in black, clear and various colors. You can also add a small amount of acrylic paint to the gesso to give your project a colored base.

 

 

 

Why Gesso a Canvas

 

Most pre-made canvases and canvas boards come already primed. However, some manufactures coat the canvases with a type of silicone to prevent them from sticking together when shipping.

Silicone and acrylic paint don’t play well together, so you will most likely have trouble getting your paint to behave the way you want.

Some people just wash the surface of the canvas with a damp cloth. Others give the canvas a few coats of gesso to insure good adhesion of the paint.

I prefer to gesso all of my canvas to ensure there will be no problems with the paint sticking properly. For more information on canvases you can check out my post on how to choose the best canvases.

I most often use this gesso because I like the consistency and ease of application. 

Blank canvas against the wall

 

 

Mixing Gesso

 

Most types of gesso should be mixed with water to enable a couple of thin coats and a smooth finish. One thick coat can be applied if you want a bit more texture on your canvas.

To thin your gesso, scoop some into a clean container and add water a little at a time.

Stir well and continue to add a little water until you have the desired consistency, usually that of thick cream. 

 

Preparing the Surface for Applying Gesso

 

Artist Easel with blank canvas and brushes

 

Prepare your canvas by laying it on a flat surface and placing something underneath to raise it slightly off the surface.

I have used dominoes placed underneath the corners of this canvas board to prevent the gesso from getting all over my table.

If you are priming a canvas, you can also use thumb tacks stuck into the stretcher bars to raise the canvas off the surface.

 

Applying Gesso

 

Using a large paint brush (I prefer an old scruffy paint brush), begin applying the gesso in one direction, smoothing brush marks as you go.

Check for missed spots and don’t forget the edges. Let the canvas dry for at least six to eight hours.

It may look and feel dry, but once you start sanding it will lift off the surface if it isn’t thoroughly dry. artist canvas and paint brush

Once you are sure it is dry, give it a light sanding with some fine sand paper. Wipe the canvas clean and give it another coat of gesso.

This time, brush in the opposite direction to ensure uniform coverage.

Once again, let dry for six to eight hours and give the canvas a final sanding.

If you are satisfied with the finish you can go ahead and begin your painting. This process can be repeated until you are satisfied with texture of your canvas.

 

artist canvas and paint palette

 

Additional Tips on How to Gesso a Canvas

 

  • If you have mixed enough gesso to do two or more coats, it should be stored in an air tight container.
  • Place some plastic wrap over the top of your container and then place the lid on tightly. You may need to add a little water to get it to the right consistency again.
  • Remember to wash your brush with soap and water immediately after using it. Once gesso dries into the brush it cannot be removed.
  • I usually do a few canvas at once so I will have them ready to go once inspiration strikes.

 

Gesso is also great for covering up paintings you don’t like or did just for practice. Check out my post on and How To Get Past the Ugly Stage of a Painting for some ideas.

I hope I have given you some useful information and helpful hints. It seems like a lot of work, but it is worth the effort to prevent the frustration of your paint not sticking or flowing the way you want.

If you have questions or tips to add, please leave a comment below. And don’t forget to check out my Facebook page and join our Facebook group Trembeling Art Creative Corner for more tips and ideas. Happy painting!!

 

Thanks for reading.

Digital signature Marilyn with butterfly

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. I am so frustrated! I have been painting for several years and I decided to prep my own canvas. My reason for this is that it is a 48×36 and I wanted to be able to remove from stretcher board and roll up for shipment. After a couple of layers of Gesso and light sanding, I began to paint. The paint will not spread! I had to use a huge amount of medium to spread out the paint and tried a thin coat over everything, hoping that a layer of paint would make the second layer easier to spread. I understand that I should continue to use medium with the paint to some extent in order to avoid cracking, but I don’t understand why it is not spreading out. Maybe its more rough than other store bought gesso canvas that I have bought, but I just am heart broken if this is a disaster and I have to start over. Do I continue to paint and just figure on layering so not to use too thick of paint and have it crack?

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