Applying Gesso on Canvas: A Step-by-Step Guide

  • By: Michael Smith
  • Time to read: 13 min.
Michael Smith
I'm Michael Smith, the founder and creative director of Art and Drawing. With over a decade of experience in the art and design industry, my keen eye for detail and passion for creating inspiring artwork drive my work. I'm dedicated to capturing the world's beauty through vibrant, expressive pieces that spark imagination and emotion.

Welcome to our step-by-step guide on how to apply gesso on canvas. If you’re new to painting or looking for a refresher on gesso application techniques, you’ve come to the right place. Gesso, also known as a primer, is an essential step in preparing the surface for painting. It provides a sealed and textured surface that allows your paint to adhere better and achieve the desired effects.

Gesso is available in two types: traditional oil glue gesso and modern acrylic gesso. The latter is commonly used for preparing a canvas for acrylic painting. It provides an absorbent surface with texture for paint to adhere to. You can find acrylic gesso in pre-made tubs or tubes, or you can even make it at home.

When applying gesso on a raw canvas, it is recommended to dilute the first coat with water and allow it to dry before applying subsequent coats. Multiple layers of gesso can be applied to create a more absorbent surface. Gesso can also be colored or tinted, allowing for further creative possibilities for your artwork.

Key Takeaways:

  • Gesso is a primer used to prepare a canvas for painting.
  • Acrylic gesso is commonly used for preparing a canvas for acrylic painting.
  • Applying multiple layers of gesso creates a more absorbent surface.
  • You can make your own gesso or buy pre-made options.
  • Gesso can be colored or tinted to create a colored ground for painting.

What is Gesso?

Gesso, also known as a primer, is an essential component in the world of art. It is used to prepare a surface, such as canvas, for painting. By creating a solid foundation, gesso ensures the longevity and quality of your artwork.

So, what exactly is gesso? Gesso is a mixture of paint pigment, chalk, and binder. The binder plays a crucial role in holding the pigment and chalk together, creating a stable surface for painting. There are two main types of gesso: traditional oil glue gesso and modern acrylic gesso.

Traditional oil glue gesso:

This type of gesso is made using an animal glue binder, such as rabbit-skin glue. It typically contains chalk and white pigment, usually Titanium white. Traditional oil glue gesso is commonly used for oil paintings, providing a traditional surface that enhances the adhesion and vibrancy of oil paints.

Modern acrylic gesso:

On the other hand, acrylic gesso is made with calcium carbonate (chalk) and an acrylic polymer medium (binder), along with other chemicals to enhance flexibility and archival life. Acrylic gesso is widely used for acrylic paintings, offering excellent adhesion and durability.

Whether you’re an oil painter or an acrylic enthusiast, utilizing the right type of gesso is crucial for achieving the desired results. The choice between traditional oil glue gesso and modern acrylic gesso depends on the painting medium you prefer.

To give you a visual glimpse of gesso, take a look at the image below:

Gesso serves as a versatile primer that prepares your canvas, allows for better paint adhesion, and enhances the overall appearance of your artwork. In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the benefits and techniques of using gesso for different painting mediums.

Why Use Gesso for Acrylic Painting?

Gesso serves as a vital primer for acrylic painting, providing an absorbent surface with texture. While not technically necessary, painting directly on a raw canvas can pose challenges and result in undesirable effects. However, by using gesso, you can create a sealed and prepared surface that enhances paint adhesion and allows you to achieve desired effects. In addition, gesso prevents paint from soaking into the canvas fibers, ensuring better control and a more enjoyable painting experience.

Gesso acts as a crucial foundation for acrylic painting, allowing you to build layers and create depth in your artwork. It provides a surface that promotes smoother brush strokes and color blending, enabling you to explore various techniques and styles. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced artist, using gesso as a primer enhances the overall quality and longevity of your acrylic paintings.

“Gesso creates a sealed and prepared surface, enabling better paint adhesion and control in acrylic painting.”

How to Apply Gesso on Canvas for Acrylic Painting

Applying gesso on canvas for acrylic painting is a straightforward process that ensures a solid foundation for your artwork. Follow these simple steps to achieve the best results:

  1. Start by preparing your canvas. Make sure it is clean, free from any dirt, dust, or oils that could affect the gesso application.
  2. Use a large decorators brush, preferably one with soft bristles, to apply the gesso. Dip the brush into the gesso, ensuring it is evenly coated.
  3. Begin applying the gesso to the canvas in thin and even coats. Work in one direction to achieve uniform brush strokes.
  4. Allow the first coat of gesso to dry completely before applying a second coat. This helps to ensure proper adhesion and build a good foundation. Apply the second coat in the opposite direction of the first for added strength.
  5. Depending on your preference and the desired texture, you can apply additional coats of gesso. However, two coats are usually sufficient for most acrylic painting projects.
  6. Allow each coat of gesso to dry before applying the next one. The drying time can vary depending on environmental conditions, such as humidity and temperature. It is recommended to wait at least 24 hours between coats.
  7. Once the final coat is dry, your canvas is ready for acrylic painting. The gesso creates a sealed surface that allows the paint to adhere better and helps prevent the canvas from absorbing the paint.
  8. After applying gesso, remember to clean your brush thoroughly with water or mild soap to maintain its quality and prevent the gesso from drying on the bristles.
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By following these steps, you can ensure a smooth and professional application of gesso on your canvas, providing a solid base for your acrylic paintings.

Benefits of Applying Gesso:

Applying gesso offers several benefits for acrylic painting:

Gesso creates a sealed surface that prevents the paint from soaking into the canvas fibers.

It provides a textured and absorbent surface that helps acrylic paints adhere better and creates desired effects in your artwork.

By applying gesso, you can achieve a more even and consistent appearance in your acrylic paintings.

So, make sure to include gesso in your acrylic painting process to enhance the quality and longevity of your artwork.

Gesso Application Tips:

Here are some additional tips to improve your gesso application process:

  • Always use a large brush with soft bristles to ensure even coverage and smooth brush strokes.
  • Apply thin coats of gesso to avoid cracking or uneven drying.
  • Clean your brush thoroughly after each use to maintain its quality and prevent gesso from drying on the bristles.
  • Consider sanding the surface between coats to achieve a smoother finish, especially for detailed or realistic paintings.
  • Choose a high-quality gesso that meets your specific needs and preferences. Consider factors such as opacity, texture, and drying time.

By following these tips and techniques, you can achieve professional results in applying gesso on canvas for your acrylic paintings.

Alternatives to Gesso for Priming a Canvas

If you don’t have gesso or prefer to use alternatives, there are several options to prime a canvas for painting. One alternative is using white acrylic paint as a primer. Acrylic paint provides similar benefits to gesso by creating a sealed and prepared surface for painting. It offers good adhesion and can be easily applied with a brush or roller.

Another alternative is using leftover white house paint. House paint is thicker than gesso, so you may need fewer coats to achieve a well-primed surface. However, keep in mind that house paint may not provide the same level of absorbency and texture as gesso or acrylic paint.

If you’re working with a different painting medium, such as oil or watercolors, there are specific priming materials suited for each. For oil paintings, an oil primer is recommended to ensure proper adhesion and compatibility with the oil paint. Watercolor artists can use absorbent gesso, which creates a surface that is receptive to watercolor pigments.

When using alternative priming materials, it’s essential to consider the specific properties and characteristics of each medium. Experimentation and testing on small areas of the canvas can help determine the best alternative for your painting needs.

Reusing Old Canvases with Gesso

Reusing old canvases is not only a cost-effective solution for artists but also an eco-friendly way to reduce waste and promote sustainability in your art practice. Instead of discarding old paintings or unused canvases, you can easily transform them into blank canvases ready for new artwork with the help of gesso.

Gesso, as a primer, provides a fresh surface for painting by creating a layer that covers the existing artwork. By applying gesso over the original painting, you effectively create a new canvas that is suitable for painting again. The gesso serves as a barrier, creating a neutral base for your new artistic expression.

To reuse old canvases with gesso, simply follow the process of applying gesso on a raw canvas. Before you begin, make sure the existing painting or any bumpy textures are fully covered to create a smooth surface. Apply gesso evenly over the entire canvas using a large decorators brush. Allow the gesso to dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Once the gesso is dry, your old canvas is ready for new artwork. You can paint directly on the gessoed surface, allowing you to explore new creative possibilities while giving your old artworks a second life.

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Reusing old canvases with gesso not only saves you money but also allows you to experiment and grow as an artist. It’s a sustainable choice that helps reduce environmental impact by eliminating the need for new canvases.

“By repurposing old canvases with gesso, you can breathe new life into your previous artworks and create something entirely fresh and exciting.” – Jane Smith, Professional Artist

So, before you toss those old canvases aside, consider reusing them with the power of gesso. It’s a simple and effective way to continue your artistic journey while being conscious of the resources we use.

Tips for Gesso Application and Preparation

Applying gesso on your canvas is a crucial step in creating a solid foundation for your artwork. To ensure a successful gesso application, here are some essential tips to keep in mind:

  1. Layer the coats thinly and evenly: When applying gesso, it’s best to layer the coats thinly rather than applying thick coats. Thin coats allow for better adhesion and drying, preventing cracking later on.
  2. Choose the best gesso for your canvas: Consider the quality and opacity of the gesso when selecting a product. Opt for a high-quality gesso that suits your painting needs and provides a solid base for your artwork.
  3. Maintain your gesso brush: Use a large flat brush specifically designed for gesso application. After each use, clean the brush thoroughly to remove any dried gesso and maintain its quality for future use.
  4. Allow proper gesso drying time: The drying time of gesso can vary depending on the thickness of the coats and environmental conditions. It is crucial to allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next one to achieve optimal results.
  5. Sand between coats for a smoother finish: If you’re aiming for a smooth finish, consider sanding the gessoed surface between coats. This technique is particularly useful for detailed or realistic paintings, creating a refined and polished look.

By following these gesso layering tips, choosing the best gesso for your canvas, ensuring proper gesso drying time, and maintaining your gesso brush, you’ll be well-equipped to achieve excellent results in your artwork.

Remember, the key to a successful painting lies in a well-prepared surface, and gesso plays a vital role in this process.

Now that you have learned some valuable tips for gesso application and preparation, you’re ready to embark on your artistic journey with confidence and create stunning works of art.

Gesso Layering Tips Best Gesso for Canvas Gesso Drying Time Gesso Brush Maintenance
Layer the coats thinly and evenly Choose a high-quality gesso suitable for your needs Allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next one Clean your gesso brush thoroughly after each use
Avoid applying thick coats to prevent cracking Consider the opacity of the gesso for better coverage Drying time depends on coat thickness and environmental conditions Maintain the quality of your gesso brush for future use
Sand between coats for a smoother finish

Buying Gesso: Homemade or Ready-Made?

Gesso, an essential primer for painting, is available in two options: homemade and ready-made. Both options have their own advantages and considerations to keep in mind when purchasing.

Homemade gesso allows for customization and cost-effectiveness. By making your own gesso, you have control over the ingredients and can tailor it to your specific needs. It can be a rewarding process for artists who enjoy experimenting and creating their own materials.

On the other hand, ready-made gesso offers convenience and consistent quality. It is a time-saving solution, particularly for artists who prefer the convenience of a pre-mixed product. Ready-made gesso ensures a reliable and standardized result every time, eliminating any variation that can occur with homemade gesso.

If you are just starting out with painting, ready-made gesso is often recommended. It provides a hassle-free way to begin your artistic journey without the need to invest time and effort into making your own gesso.

When choosing between ready-made gesso options, it’s important to consider the difference between artist quality and student quality gesso. Artist quality gesso typically contains higher pigmentation and opacity, offering a more professional and vibrant finish. It is ideal for raw canvases that require a strong and opaque base. Student quality gesso, on the other hand, is suitable for pre-primed canvases and provides a good foundation for less demanding projects.

Gesso can also provide additional versatility by being colored or tinted. This allows artists to create a colored ground for their paintings, adding a unique touch to their artwork. There are pre-mixed colored gessos available in the market, or you can mix paint into gesso for a personalized color blend.

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Overall, the choice between homemade and ready-made gesso depends on your preferences, time constraints, and artistic goals. Consider the level of customization you desire, the convenience you need, and the quality of the finish you want to achieve.

Adding Color to Gesso

Gesso can be colored or tinted to create a colored ground for painting. If you prefer working on a colored surface, you can mix paint into the gesso to tint it. This allows for a personalized touch and saves time. Additionally, there are premixed options available in the market, such as black gesso, colored gesso, and clear gesso. These options provide ready-to-use colored gesso for different artistic preferences.

Colored Gesso Description
Black Gesso Creates a dark base for dramatic effects and underpainting.
Colored Gesso Available in various hues, adds vibrant colors to your artwork.
Clear Gesso Provides a transparent coating while still offering the benefits of gesso.

Conclusion

Applying gesso on canvas is an essential step in preparing the surface for painting, especially for acrylics. Gesso provides a sealed and textured surface that allows the paint to adhere better and achieve the desired effects. It acts as a primer, creating a solid foundation for your artwork.

Whether you choose to use ready-made gesso or make your own, following the proper application process is crucial. Diluting the first coat with water and applying subsequent coats evenly will ensure a smooth and absorbent surface. Consider the quality and opacity of the gesso to suit your artistic needs.

Reusing old canvases with gesso is a sustainable and cost-effective option for artists. By applying gesso over existing paintings, you can transform them into blank canvases ready for new artwork. This not only saves resources but also gives your old artworks a new life.

If you want to take your creativity a step further, you can add color to gesso. Tinting or using premixed colored gesso provides additional creative possibilities, allowing you to work on a colored surface and save time on underpainting.

By understanding how to apply gesso on canvas, artists can ensure a solid foundation for their artwork. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced artist, gesso is an essential tool that enhances the adhesion and longevity of your paintings, bringing your artistic vision to life.

FAQ

How do I apply gesso on canvas for acrylic painting?

Start by ensuring the canvas is clean. Use a large decorators brush to apply a thin and even coat of gesso in one direction. Allow the first coat to dry before applying a second coat in the opposite direction. Two coats are usually sufficient. Let each coat dry completely before applying the next one.

What is gesso?

Gesso is an artist’s primer made from paint pigment, chalk, and binder. It is used to prepare a surface for painting. There are two types: traditional oil glue gesso and modern acrylic gesso. Acrylic gesso is commonly used for preparing canvas for acrylic painting.

Why should I use gesso for acrylic painting?

Gesso provides a sealed and prepared surface that allows paint to adhere better and create the desired effects. It prevents paint from soaking into the canvas fibers and creates a more enjoyable and controlled painting experience.

Are there alternatives to gesso for priming a canvas?

Yes, you can use white acrylic paint or leftover white house paint as substitutes for gesso. These options provide similar benefits of creating a sealed and prepared surface. Oil primer can be used for oil paintings, and absorbent gesso is suitable for watercolors.

How can I reuse old canvases with gesso?

By applying gesso over an existing painting, you can create a new surface suitable for painting again. Ensure the existing painting is fully covered with gesso and proceed to paint on top of the gessoed surface.

What are some tips for gesso application and preparation?

Layer the coats of gesso thinly and evenly for better adhesion and drying. Avoid applying thick coats to prevent cracking. Use a large flat brush and clean it thoroughly after use. The drying time of gesso can vary, so allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next one. Consider the quality and opacity of the gesso when choosing the best product for your needs.

Should I buy homemade or ready-made gesso?

If you are just starting out, ready-made gesso is recommended for convenience and consistent quality. Homemade gesso allows for customization and cost-effectiveness. Consider the difference between artist quality and student quality gesso, with artist quality having more pigment and opacity.

Can I color gesso?

Yes, you can color or tint gesso to create a colored ground for your painting. Mix paint into the gesso to tint it, or use premixed options available in the market such as black gesso, colored gesso, or clear gesso.