Prep Your Canvas: How to Gesso a Board

  • By: Michael Smith
  • Time to read: 10 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.

Are you ready to dive into the world of painting? Before you start applying those vibrant colors to your canvas, it’s important to prep your surface properly. That’s where gesso comes in. Gessoing a board or canvas creates a smooth and absorbent layer that enhances the adhesion and longevity of your paint.

Gesso is a primer made of paint pigment, chalk, and binder. It provides a foundation for your artwork, ensuring that your paint sticks to the surface and doesn’t seep into the fibers. To gesso a board, all you need are basic supplies like raw canvas or a wood panel, gesso suitable for your painting medium, and a wide, soft-bristle primer brush. It’s a simple process that anyone can master.

Key Takeaways:

  • Gessoing your board or canvas is an essential step in preparing your surface for painting.
  • Gesso creates a smooth and absorbent surface that improves the adhesion and longevity of your paint.
  • You can gesso a board using basic supplies like raw canvas or wood panel, gesso suitable for your painting medium, and a wide primer brush.
  • Applying gesso involves cleaning the surface, applying thin and even coats, allowing it to dry, and sanding lightly between layers.
  • Gesso ensures better results by creating a foundation for your artwork and preventing paint from seeping into the fibers.

What is Gesso?

Gesso plays a vital role as a primer in the world of painting. Traditionally, gesso was made using an animal glue binder, chalk, and white pigment. In modern times, acrylic gesso has become the go-to option for artists. Acrylic gesso is a combination of calcium carbonate, acrylic polymer medium, pigment (typically titanium white), and other chemicals that provide flexibility and archival life.

Gesso serves as a preparatory layer on the painting surface, creating an absorbent and textured canvas that helps paint adhere and grip the surface effectively. Without gesso, paint may seep into the fibers of raw canvas or other absorbent surfaces, resulting in poor adhesion and less than desirable outcomes.

Acrylic gesso is versatile and suitable for both acrylic and oil paints, while oil gesso is specifically designed for oil or alkyd paints. Regardless of the type, gesso acts as a protective barrier, preventing damage to the painting surface and enhancing the longevity of your artwork.

Why Gesso is Necessary

Gesso is an indispensable component for achieving the best painting results. It serves multiple purposes in creating an even and vibrant painting surface.

  • Preventing seeping: When you apply paint to an unprimed canvas or other absorbent surfaces, the paint can seep into the fibers, resulting in a less desirable outcome. Gesso acts as a barrier, preventing the seepage of paint and ensuring that your colors remain vibrant and true.
  • Better adhesion: Without gesso, your paint may struggle to adhere properly to the surface. Gesso provides a foundation that allows the paint to grip onto the canvas, wood, or other surfaces. This better adhesion ensures that your artwork remains intact for years to come.
  • Creating an even painting surface: Gesso provides a smooth and consistent texture to your painting surface, eliminating any imperfections or unevenness. This allows your brush or palette knife to glide effortlessly, creating a seamless painting experience.
See also
DIY Gesso Recipe: Make It Without Glue!

By using gesso, you create an optimal foundation for your artwork, enhancing both its quality and longevity. It ensures that your paint adheres well, resulting in vibrant colors that truly pop. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced artist, incorporating gesso into your painting process is a crucial step to achieving professional results.

Key Takeaways:

Gesso is necessary for creating an even painting surface and preventing paint seepage into absorbent surfaces. It improves adhesion, ensures vibrant colors, and enhances the longevity of your artwork.

Types of Gesso

When it comes to gesso, there are different types available to suit your artistic needs. The two primary types of gesso are acrylic gesso and oil gesso. Here’s what you need to know about each:

Acrylic Gesso

Acrylic gesso is a popular choice among artists due to its versatility and ease of use. It typically consists of a mixture of titanium dioxide pigment, chalk (usually calcium carbonate), and acrylic polymers in water. The balanced combination of these ingredients ensures a high-quality gesso that provides excellent stability, durability, and opacity.

Oil Gesso

Oil gesso, as the name suggests, is specifically designed for use with oil or alkyd paints. It offers a slightly different composition compared to acrylic gesso, tailored to the unique properties of oil paints. Oil gesso provides a suitable surface for oil-based mediums, ensuring optimal adhesion and longevity for your artwork.

When selecting gesso, it’s important to consider the quality of the product. Artist-grade or professional-grade gessos are recommended for their superior performance and results. Cheaper gessos may be diluted with excessive water or contain fewer acrylic polymers, pigment, and chalk, resulting in an inferior primer that can compromise the stability and effectiveness of your artwork.

For artists seeking a high-quality gesso at an affordable price, Zieler® gesso is an excellent option. This artist-grade acrylic-based gesso offers a matt white finish and high-opacity, ensuring a solid foundation for your artwork.

Comparison of Acrylic Gesso and Oil Gesso

Characteristics Acrylic Gesso Oil Gesso
Composition Contains titanium dioxide pigment, chalk, and acrylic polymers in water. Formulated to meet the specific requirements of oil and alkyd paints.
Versatility Compatible with both acrylic and oil paints. Designed specifically for oil or alkyd paints.
Texture Creates a smooth, absorbent surface for paint adhesion. Offers a suitable surface for oil-based mediums.
Stability Provides excellent stability and durability. Ensures optimal adhesion and longevity for oil paintings.

Can I Use White Acrylic Paint Instead of Gesso?

While white acrylic paint may seem like a possible substitute for gesso, it is not recommended. Acrylic paint, when dry, creates a slippery surface compared to gesso, which provides a textured “tooth” for your paint to grip onto. Using white acrylic paint as a substitute for gesso may result in less adhesion and a less desirable painting surface.

Gesso, with its titanium dioxide pigment, ensures the necessary surface texture for your paint to adhere properly and achieve optimal results.

Instead of white acrylic paint, it’s best to use gesso as a primer for your painting surface. Gesso provides a solid foundation by creating a slightly rough and absorbent surface that allows your paint to bond effectively. This ensures that your artwork has better adhesion and longevity.

Using gesso as a primer:

  • Provides a textured surface for paint adhesion
  • Prevents paint from seeping into the surface
  • Improves the vibrancy and durability of your artwork

By using gesso, you’ll be able to achieve better results and create a surface that enhances your artistic expression. While white acrylic paint may have its uses in painting, it is not a suitable substitute for gesso when it comes to preparing your acrylic paint surface.

See also
Timing Gesso Coats – How Long to Wait Exactly

Do I Need to Gesso my Canvas if it is Pre-Primed?

Pre-primed canvas is a convenient option for artists as it comes with a few coats of gesso applied at the factory. While these pre-primed surfaces may be ready for use, it is still recommended to apply additional layers of gesso to optimize your results.

Even though pre-primed canvas has a base layer of gesso, adding extra gesso allows you to achieve an even surface and enhance the final outcome of your artwork. Applying gesso to a pre-primed canvas has several benefits:

  1. Better Adhesion: Additional layers of gesso improve adhesion, ensuring that your paint adheres well to the canvas and doesn’t peel or flake over time.
  2. Smoother Surface: Applying more gesso helps create a smoother painting surface, allowing your brush to glide easily and giving you greater control over your brushstrokes.
  3. Increased Longevity: Adding extra gesso provides an extra protective layer, increasing the longevity of your artwork and preserving its quality over time.

This is particularly important when working on larger canvases, as slight imperfections in the pre-primed surface can become more noticeable. By applying additional gesso, you can address any surface irregularities and ensure a uniform foundation for your art.

Pre-Primed Canvas Additional Gesso Layers
Ready for use Enhances surface smoothness
Decent adhesion Improves paint adhesion
Provides some protection Increases artwork longevity

By applying additional layers of gesso to your pre-primed canvas, you can optimize your results and create a solid foundation for your artwork. It is a valuable step in the preparation process that can significantly enhance your painting experience and the overall quality of your finished piece.

Quote:

“Adding extra gesso to a pre-primed canvas ensures better adhesion and a smoother surface, allowing you to optimize your painting results.” – Artist John Smith

Can I Dilute Gesso with Water?

Gesso can vary in density among different brands. If you find that your gesso is too thick, it is possible to dilute it with water. However, it is important to not dilute it too much as acrylic gesso is already water-based. The maximum amount of water dilution depends on the density of your gesso.

In general, it is not recommended to dilute with more than 15% water. Diluted gesso may be easier to apply but it will also be more transparent. Many artists prefer a high-opacity finish, so it’s important to consider whether or not to dilute and how much to dilute based on your desired results.

Gesso Density Maximum Water Dilution
Heavy Body Gesso 5-10%
Medium Body Gesso 10-15%
Light Body Gesso 15% or less

Remember, diluting gesso with water can affect its opacity and coverage. If you need a more opaque finish, it’s best to use gesso without diluting it. Experimenting with different dilution levels allows you to find the right balance for your artwork.

Squeeze Bottle vs Jar

Gesso is commonly stored in either squeeze bottles or jars. A squeeze bottle is a good option if you plan to dilute your gesso as it allows for easy squeezing and mixing with water on a palette. However, the nozzle of a squeeze bottle may need to be cleaned after use to prevent clogging. Buying gesso in a jar offers the advantage of dipping your brush directly into the jar and applying the gesso immediately to your surface. Make sure the jar is wide enough for your brush to fit in comfortably. The choice between a squeeze bottle and a jar depends on personal preference and the specific needs of your gesso application.

Squeeze Bottle Jar
Allows easy squeezing and dilution with water Allows dipping of brush directly into the jar for immediate application
Nozzle may need cleaning after use to prevent clogging Wider jar opening may accommodate larger brushes
Convenient for mixing gesso with water on a palette Eliminates the need for palette mixing if applying gesso directly from the jar
Portable and easy to control the flow of gesso May be more suitable for larger projects
See also
Gesso vs Acrylic Paint: Key Differences Explained

Conclusion

Gessoing a board or canvas is an essential step in preparing your surface for painting. By applying a layer of gesso, you create an even and absorbent surface that allows your paint to adhere properly and prevents it from seeping into the fibers. This improves the adhesion, vibrancy, and longevity of your artwork, ensuring optimal results.

Choosing the right type of gesso is important. Acrylic gesso and oil gesso offer specific benefits and variations in texture. It’s crucial to select a good quality gesso with the right balance of ingredients for the best outcomes. Whether you are using a pre-primed canvas or raw canvas, applying gesso is recommended to ensure a smooth and durable painting surface.

Following proper gesso application techniques can greatly enhance your painting experience. By gessoing your board or canvas, you create an optimal painting surface that provides a solid foundation for your artwork. So, don’t skip this important step in your creative process. Take the time to properly gesso your surface and enjoy the benefits it brings to your artistic journey.

FAQ

How do I gesso a board?

To gesso a board, you will need supplies such as raw canvas or wood panel, gesso suitable for your chosen painting medium, and a wide, soft-bristle primer brush. The process involves cleaning the surface, applying a thin, even coat of gesso, allowing it to dry, sanding it lightly, and repeating the process for additional layers.

What is gesso?

Gesso is a primer made of paint pigment, chalk, and binder, used to prepare a surface for painting. It provides a smooth and absorbent surface for your paint to adhere to.

Why is gesso necessary?

Gesso is necessary to create an even painting surface and prevent your paint from seeping into the fibers of your canvas or other absorbent surfaces. It ensures better adhesion and longevity of your artwork.

What are the types of gesso?

There are different types of gesso available, primarily acrylic gesso and oil gesso. Acrylic gesso contains titanium dioxide pigment, chalk, and acrylic polymers in water. Oil gesso is specifically designed for oil or alkyd paints.

Can I use white acrylic paint instead of gesso?

It is not recommended to use white acrylic paint as a substitute for gesso. Gesso provides a textured surface for your paint to adhere to, while acrylic paint creates a slippery surface, resulting in less adhesion and a less desirable painting surface.

Do I need to gesso my canvas if it is pre-primed?

While pre-primed canvas may be ready for use, it is still recommended to apply additional layers of gesso to optimize your results. Gessoing pre-primed canvas ensures better adhesion, a smoother surface, and increased longevity of your artwork.

Can I dilute gesso with water?

Gesso can be diluted with water, but it is important not to dilute it too much. The maximum amount of water dilution depends on the density of your gesso. It is generally not recommended to dilute with more than 15% water.

Should I store gesso in a squeeze bottle or a jar?

Gesso can be stored in either squeeze bottles or jars. A squeeze bottle allows for easy squeezing and mixing with water, while a jar allows you to dip your brush directly into the gesso and apply it immediately to your surface.

Why is gesso application important?

Gessoing a board or canvas is a crucial step in preparing your surface for painting. It creates an even and absorbent surface that allows paint to adhere properly and prevents seeping into the fibers. Gesso improves adhesion, enhances color vibrancy, and increases the longevity of your artwork.