Can you achieve the perfect canvas surface to paint on? You could purchase canvas boards that are pre primed with gesso. The boards, coated with primer, are a one-size-suits-all. But it doesn’t mean it will work for you. Fear not! This easy to follow guide will get you priming your own board in no time. Follow the 6 easy steps to prime your canvas with gesso. To master your craft you must control all the steps.
Check the frequently asked questions section of this article for answers to popular gesso related questions.
Material Needed To Prime Your Canvas With Gesso
• Raw canvas
• Breathing Color White Acrylic Gesso
• Wide/Broad soft-bristle primer brush
• Work space free and clear from dust and debris
• Fine grit sand paper
Step 1 – Begin with a clean unprimed canvas. Wipe down your surface with a light, damp cloth, or rubbing alcohol. Make sure your cloth is NOT soaking wet as it will take longer to dry.
Step 2 – Pour the gesso in a bowl or shallow container and dip in your wide brush. Make sure to close the bottle of white gesso to avoid drying it out.
Step 3 – Brush a thin layer of gesso with consistent patterns. You can brush all in horizontal or vertical motions on the canvas.
Step 4 – Allow 20 minutes to 1 hour for the gesso to dry. Touch the surface of the canvas, If the gesso has lift, it is not dry. Check again in 20 minute intervals and then prime your canvas with gesso again.
Step 5 – Sand down the thin layer of gesso. Do not apply a lot of pressure. The gesso by breathing color clumps when sanded. This makes it easy to use and work with on your canvas.
Step 6 – For most artists, one layer of gesso may be enough. Prefer more of a textured surface? If so, repeat steps 2-4 as many times as you like.
That’s all there is to it. If you would like to print this guide for reference you can download it here (PDF).
Want more information about gesso and it’s history? View our article: What is Gesso Used For?
5 Frequently Asked Questions about Priming Canvas with Gesso
What is gesso used for?
Gesso is a binder used to prepare a surface, typically canvas, for paint. It prevents the acrylic paint from absorbing directly into the canvas.
Should you gesso a primed canvas?
For the most part you wouldn’t need to apply gesso to a pre-primed canvas. However, since people’s preferences tend to vary you may want to apply a coat or two to your liking.
What is the difference between gesso and primer?
Today the word primer and gesso essentially mean the same thing. Gesso is what you apply to an untreated canvas before you paint. This method is called priming a canvas.
How long does gesso take to dry on canvas?
There are several factors that contribute to gesso drying times. If you are priming your canvas indoors with relatively low humidity chances are the gesso will dry anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. If there is high humidity in your work environment it can take even longer. Rule of thumb is to wait at least 20 minutes and check for lift – if there is lift then give it more time.
Is gesso really necessary?
Gesso makes the surface less absorbent. This means that if you were to paint an untreated or unprimed canvas the paint will soak through and create an undesirable result. Gesso gives the canvas tooth to allow the acrylic paint to bind or adhere to it.