Preparing a Canvas: What to Apply Before Painting

  • 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.

Before you embark on your artistic journey, it’s important to take the necessary steps to prepare your canvas. By properly priming and prepping the canvas, you can ensure better paint adherence, protect the canvas from corrosion, and enhance the overall quality of your artwork.

One crucial aspect of canvas preparation is priming, which involves applying a barrier layer between the canvas and the paint. This protective layer can be created by using acrylic gesso, clear acrylic medium, or oil primer. Each of these materials serves to make the canvas less absorbent, improving the adherence of the paint and ensuring the longevity of your artwork.

Key Takeaways:

  • Properly priming your canvas creates a barrier between the canvas and the paint.
  • It improves paint adherence and protects the canvas from corrosion.
  • Acrylic gesso, clear acrylic medium, or oil primer can be used for priming.
  • Priming makes the canvas less absorbent and enhances the vibrancy of the colors.
  • Allow sufficient drying time before starting to paint for the best results.

Understanding Priming

Priming serves as a foundational step in canvas preparation for oil and acrylic painting. It involves creating an even ground for the paint by applying layers of gesso, clear acrylic medium, or oil primer. This process makes the canvas less absorbent, enhances color vibrancy, and improves the longevity of the artwork. Priming also provides a smoother surface for brush strokes and allows for better paint adhesion.

The Importance of Primer

When it comes to painting on canvas, using primer is crucial. The application of a primer creates a barrier that protects the underlying canvas from the potentially corrosive nature of the paint. Priming helps prevent the paint from soaking into the canvas fibers, ensuring that the colors appear more vibrant and true to their original form. It also aids in achieving an even paint application, allowing brush strokes to glide smoothly across the surface. By using a primer, you are not only enhancing the quality and longevity of your artwork but also taking necessary steps to protect the canvas itself.

“The use of primer is essential in canvas preparation. It not only enhances the colors and adhesion of the paint, but it also acts as a protective barrier, guarding the canvas from any possible damage.” – Laura Michaels, professional artist

Applying Gesso or Oil Primer

There are various methods for applying gesso or oil primer to your canvas. Before starting, make sure to stir the container well to achieve a consistent texture. For gesso, it is recommended to dilute it with a little water to a thickness resembling heavy cream, especially if applying multiple coats.

Applying Gesso Applying Oil Primer
Use a clean gesso brush or Catalyst Wedge. Use a clean brush suitable for oil painting.
Apply gesso in even strokes, from top to bottom, including the edges of the canvas. Apply oil primer in even strokes, covering the entire canvas surface.
Let each layer dry before applying the next. Allow each layer to dry before proceeding.
Lightly sand the first layer with fine sandpaper for a smoother surface. Sanding the first layer lightly can also create a smoother surface if desired.
Repeat the process for a second coat if desired. Repeat the process for additional coats if desired.

Remember to clean your brushes properly after each use to maintain their longevity and performance.

Now that you have a better understanding of priming and how to apply gesso or oil primer, you are ready to move on to the next section: “Priming for Acrylic vs. Oil Painting,” where we explore the specific considerations for each painting medium.

Priming for Acrylic vs. Oil Painting

When it comes to priming for your acrylic or oil paintings, understanding the differences in priming materials is crucial. While acrylic gesso is suitable for both acrylic and oil paint, there are several reasons why using a solvent-based oil painting primer, such as Maimeri Oil Primer, is recommended for oil painting.

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Oil paint does not adhere as well to acrylic gesso, which can result in a dull appearance over time. By using oil primer specifically designed for oil painting, you can achieve better color vibrancy and ensure a long-lasting finished artwork.

Choosing the right primer is essential to bring out the best in your medium. Acrylic gesso provides a suitable foundation for both acrylic and oil paintings. However, if you want your oil paintings to truly shine, opting for a high-quality oil primer is the way to go.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the differences between priming for acrylic and oil painting:

Priming for Acrylic Painting Priming for Oil Painting
Primer Type Acrylic Gesso Solvent-Based Oil Primer
Adhesion Works well for acrylic paint Provides better adhesion for oil paint
Appearance Works well for both acrylic and oil paint Enhances color vibrancy for oil paint
Longevity Suitable for both acrylic and oil paint Ensures a long-lasting finished artwork for oil paint

By using the appropriate primer for your chosen medium, you can enhance the overall quality of your artwork. Whether you’re working with acrylic or oil paint, priming provides a solid foundation for your masterpiece.

Now that you understand the differences in priming for acrylic and oil painting, you can confidently choose the right primer for your next project.

Applying Gesso or Oil Primer

The process of applying gesso or oil primer to your canvas is an important step in preparing it for painting. Whether you’re using gesso for acrylic painting or oil primer for oil painting, proper application ensures a smooth and durable surface for your artwork.

Here are the steps to apply gesso or oil primer:

  1. Begin by stirring the container of gesso or oil primer well to ensure it is properly mixed.
  2. Decide whether you want to apply one or multiple coats. Multiple coats are recommended for a more even and durable surface.
  3. If you’re using gesso, dilute it with a little water to achieve a thickness similar to heavy cream. This will make it easier to apply multiple coats.
  4. Using a clean gesso brush or a Catalyst Wedge, start applying the gesso or oil primer in even strokes from the top to the bottom of the canvas. Make sure to cover the edges as well.
  5. Allow each layer to dry completely before applying the next coat. This will ensure proper adhesion and prevent any unwanted texture or clumps.
  6. If you want a smoother surface, lightly sand the first layer of gesso with fine sandpaper before applying subsequent coats.
  7. Repeat the process for the second coat if desired, following the same drying time between coats.
  8. After you’ve finished applying the gesso or oil primer, make sure to clean your brushes properly to maintain their longevity.

By following these steps, you’ll create a well-prepped canvas that is ready for your artistic expression. Now you’re one step closer to bringing your vision to life on canvas!

Quick Tip:

For a smoother surface, you can use a Catalyst Wedge to apply the gesso or oil primer. The wedge shape allows for more control and even application.

Waiting Time Before Painting

After priming your canvas with gesso or primer, it can be tempting to start painting right away. However, it’s important to exercise patience and wait for the appropriate drying time. Giving the primer enough time to fully dry and cure is crucial for achieving the best results in your painting.

The drying time for priming can vary depending on factors such as the type of primer used, the climate conditions, and the thickness of the applied layers. While the primer may feel dry to the touch after a few hours, it’s recommended to wait at least 24 hours before starting to paint. This waiting time allows the primer or gesso to fully cure, ensuring a stable and durable surface for the paint to adhere to.

Starting to paint too soon can lead to issues such as paint not adhering properly, cracking, or peeling. By giving the primer enough time to dry and cure, you’re setting yourself up for success and increasing the longevity of your artwork.

Tip: To determine if the primer is fully dry, gently touch a small inconspicuous area of the canvas. If it feels cool or damp, it’s not ready yet. If it feels dry and has no tackiness, it’s safe to start painting.

It’s worth the wait to ensure the best results for your painting. The drying time provides a stable foundation for the paint, allowing it to adhere properly and preventing any potential issues down the line. Patience in this step will pay off in the quality and longevity of your artwork.

Your Guide to Achieving the Best Results

  • Wait at least 24 hours after priming before starting to paint.
  • Ensure the primer feels dry and has no tackiness.
  • If in doubt, give it a little more time to fully cure.

Sizing vs. Priming

In canvas preparation, it is important to understand the difference between sizing and priming. These two processes serve distinct purposes and play a crucial role in creating a successful artwork.

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Sizing: Sealing the Canvas

Sizing involves sealing the canvas’s surface by applying a protective layer. This layer acts as a barrier between the canvas, primer, and subsequent layers of paint. The purpose of sizing is to decrease the absorbency of the canvas, preventing the primer and paint from being absorbed too much and reducing the risk of paint deterioration over time.

“Sizing creates a sealed surface, minimizing the absorption of the primer and paint layers.”

Typically, a sizing agent, such as rabbit skin glue, gelatin, or acrylic medium, is applied to the canvas. This agent fills the porous canvas fibers, creating a smooth and non-absorbent surface. By reducing the absorbency of the canvas, sizing helps maintain the integrity of the paint layers and enhances the archival quality of the artwork.

Priming: Creating an Even Surface

On the other hand, priming is the process of creating an even surface for painting. It involves applying a layer of primer, such as acrylic gesso or oil primer, to the sized canvas. The primer provides a suitable foundation for the paint, enhancing its adhesion, and improving color vibrancy.

“Priming creates an even surface, allowing the paint to adhere smoothly and vibrantly.”

Acrylic gesso is commonly used for priming canvas. It offers a textured tooth, providing better grip for the paint and creating interesting surface effects. On the other hand, oil primer provides a smooth surface, ideal for achieving a more polished and refined finish.

Both sizing and priming contribute to the overall success of a painting. Sizing seals the canvas, preventing deterioration, while priming prepares the surface for paint application. By understanding the importance of both processes, artists can ensure a solid foundation for their artwork and achieve the desired results.

Sizing Priming
Seals the canvas Creates an even surface
Decreases absorbency Enhances paint adhesion
Uses sizing agents like rabbit skin glue, gelatin, or acrylic medium Applies primer like acrylic gesso or oil primer
Reduces the risk of paint deterioration Improves color vibrancy
Achieves different texture (acrylic gesso offers more grip, while oil primer provides a smoother surface)

Alternative Options: Pre-Primed Canvases and Canvas Panels

If you prefer not to go through the process of priming your canvas, there are convenient alternatives available that can save you time and effort. Pre-primed canvases and canvas panels provide ready-to-use surfaces for your paintings, eliminating the need for additional preparation.

Pre-Primed Canvases

Pre-primed canvases, such as the Strathmore 300 Series Stretched Canvas, offer a hassle-free solution for artists. These canvases are already triple-primed with gesso, providing a smooth and absorbent surface for your paint. Made from 100% cotton, pre-primed canvases ensure excellent paint adhesion and color vibrancy. With pre-primed canvases, you can dive straight into your artwork without the need to worry about applying multiple layers of primer.

Canvas Panels

If you’re looking for a more lightweight and portable option, canvas panels are a great choice. These panels consist of stretched and triple-primed 100% cotton canvas adhered to a sturdy backing, such as cardboard or wood. Canvas panels provide a firm and durable surface that is less prone to warping compared to traditional stretched canvases. They are ideal for plein air painting or as practice surfaces for artists who want a convenient setup for quick sketches and studies.

Whether you opt for pre-primed canvases or canvas panels, these alternatives offer a convenient and reliable practice surface for painting. They are particularly beneficial for beginners who may be experimenting with different techniques or styles. With these options, you can focus on honing your skills and expressing your creativity without the added steps of canvas preparation.

The Advantages of Pre-Primed Canvases and Canvas Panels

  • Time-saving: Pre-primed canvases and canvas panels eliminate the need for priming, allowing you to start painting immediately.
  • Consistent surface: The triple-primed surface of pre-primed canvases and canvas panels ensures a consistent texture and absorbency.
  • Excellent paint adhesion: The pre-primed surface provides a reliable bond for your paint, preventing it from flaking or peeling over time.
  • Durable and portable: Canvas panels are lightweight, easy to carry, and less prone to damage compared to stretched canvases.
  • Cost-effective: Pre-primed canvases and canvas panels can be more affordable compared to buying raw canvas and primer separately.

By choosing pre-primed canvases or canvas panels, you can streamline your painting process and focus your energy on the creative aspects of your artwork. These alternatives offer convenience and reliability, making them a practical choice for artists of all skill levels.

The Concept of Underpainting

Underpainting is an essential technique in the world of painting. It involves applying a thin initial layer of paint after priming the canvas, serving as a tonal rendering of the final artwork. By establishing a base for composition and values before adding layers of color, underpainting provides a solid foundation for your painting process.

One of the key benefits of underpainting is its ability to create a harmonious composition. By using different color palettes, you can achieve a tonal dominance that unites the overall color values of your painting. One popular underpainting technique is imprimatura, which utilizes earthy tones like umber and sienna to create a warm and inviting base.

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Underpainting also enables you to establish contrast and enhance the visual impact of your artwork. By strategically applying a range of colors in the underpainting stage, you can create a dynamic composition that captivates the viewer’s attention.

Underpainting acts as the foundation upon which your painting thrives. It sets the tone, establishes the values, and provides a roadmap to guide the rest of your artistic journey.

For those seeking a more in-depth exploration of underpainting, tonal rendering plays a crucial role. By focusing on the various tones and shades of your underpainting, you can build a strong visual framework that adds depth and dimension to your artwork.

Color Palettes for Underpainting

Choosing the right color palette for your underpainting is essential to achieve the desired effects. Here are some popular color palettes used in underpainting:

Color Palette Characteristics
Imprimatura Earth tones like umber and sienna create a warm, inviting base.
Grayscale Monochrome palette ranging from white to black, allowing for a focus on values and tonal variations.
Complementary Using colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel to create vibrant and visually striking effects.
Limited Palette A small selection of colors used to create a cohesive and harmonious underpainting.

Experimenting with different color palettes can lead to exciting discoveries and unique artistic expressions in your underpainting process.

The Power of Underpainting

Underpainting serves as a powerful technique that elevates your artwork to new heights. By establishing a strong foundation of composition, values, and color palettes, you can create paintings that captivate and engage the viewer. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced artist, incorporating underpainting techniques into your creative process can unlock endless possibilities and enhance the overall impact of your artwork.

Conclusion

Preparing your canvas before painting is crucial for creating a successful artwork. By following proper canvas preparation techniques, such as priming with gesso or oil primer, you can create a good foundation for your painting.

Primed canvases provide a barrier between the canvas and the paint, enhancing paint adhesion and improving color vibrancy. Remember to apply the primer in even strokes, allowing each layer to dry before applying the next. Don’t rush the process; allow sufficient drying time to ensure the best results.

Consider alternative options like pre-primed canvases or canvas panels, which eliminate the need for prepping and provide a convenient surface for painting. Additionally, underpainting can be a valuable technique in establishing tonal values and composition.

By taking the time to adequately prepare your canvas, you can create a solid foundation for your paintings, ensuring a flawless creative experience. So, keep these tips in mind and unleash your artistic potential on a well-prepared canvas!

FAQ

Why is priming a canvas important before painting?

Priming creates a barrier between the canvas and the paint, making the canvas less absorbent, improving paint adherence, and protecting the canvas from corrosion.

What is the purpose of priming a canvas for oil and acrylic painting?

Priming provides an even ground for paint, making the canvas less absorbent, enhancing color vibrancy, improving artwork longevity, and providing a smoother surface for brush strokes.

What type of primer should be used for oil painting?

It is recommended to use a solvent-based oil painting primer, such as Maimeri Oil Primer, for oil painting to highlight colors and ensure vibrant and long-lasting artwork.

How do you apply gesso or oil primer?

Stir the container well before using. Apply in even strokes from top to bottom, including the edges, using a clean gesso brush or Catalyst Wedge. Let each layer dry before applying the next. Sand the first layer lightly for a smoother surface. Repeat for a second coat if desired.

How long should you wait before painting after priming?

It is recommended to wait at least 24 hours before painting to ensure the best results. Sufficient drying time allows the primer or gesso to fully cure and provides a stable surface for paint.

What is the difference between sizing and priming a canvas?

Sizing seals the canvas’s surface, creating a barrier between the canvas, primer, and paint layers, while priming creates an even surface for painting. Acrylic gesso offers more tooth for better paint adhesion, while oil primer provides a smoother surface.

Are there alternative options to consider for canvas preparation?

Yes, pre-primed canvases like the Strathmore 300 Series Stretched Canvas are available, eliminating the need for priming. Canvas panels, made of stretched and triple-primed 100% cotton canvas adhered to a stiff backing, provide a convenient ready-to-use surface.

What is underpainting and how does it benefit the painting process?

Underpainting is the first thin layer of paint applied after priming, serving as a tonal rendering. It establishes a base for composition and values, adds tonal dominance, creates a more dynamic composition, and provides a useful starting point for artists.

Why is canvas preparation important for creating a successful artwork?

Canvas preparation with priming ensures a solid foundation, better paint adherence, and improved color vibrancy. It creates a smoother surface, protects the canvas, and allows for a flawless creative experience.