How to Prime a Canvas with Gesso


Because much of my artwork I make these days is mixed media or acrylics, I tend to use stretched canvases a lot. Nothing beats ready-to-go pre-prepped canvases. They save time and headache. Some of my favorite places to get them are at Dickblick.com or Michaels.com.


You can save money by buying them in bulk. In some cases, if you buy a minimum quantity set by the store, you can get free shipping.


Another way to save is to look for sales. Michaels has periodic sales on select canvases, often buy one get one free deals. So pay attention to sales.


To get the biggest savings on canvases you can either make and stretch your own or reuse a canvas. (I hope to write another blog post in the future on stretching your own canvas.) Many artists have artwork on canvas hanging around they've had for a while and if you need to make room in your studio, these can be reused. You can also pick up cheap used canvases at yard sales and thrift stores.


For prepping a raw canvas or used one on which acrylic paint is layered, you will want to use gesso. Gesso, means plaster in Italian. It's often composed of acrylic polymer latex, calcium carbonate (from which chalk is made) and sometimes additional additives.


If you plan to reuse a canvas make sure you are not working over oil paint because the gesso will eventually flake off. There's another process for reusing an oil canvas and I will not cover that here.


I've included a Youtube video here that shows my process of prepping a raw canvas with gesso.





For starters, you will need gesso, a 3" wide brush household paint brush, a cup of water, and one square of medium grit sandpaper (optional).


Lay your canvas on a flat surface covered with newspaper or a drop cloth for protection.


Begin by dipping your brush in water to wet it. Then dip your brush in the gesso. Choose a direction to work in, either side-to-side or top to bottom. Cover the canvas with even strokes going back and forth horizontally. A raw canvas will soak this up and may take more time and gesso than a used one.


Paint the sides of the canvas. When you have the canvas completely coated, wait an hour or so for the canvas to dry. Once it's dry, check the canvas for any lumps or noticeable raised areas. If you want a smoother surface, use a medium sandpaper to sand off the rough places. Clean any sanded particles off the canvas.


Repeat this gesso process by painting the canvas vertically. Let dry.


You can add additional coats to your canvas if you want more.


*Note: Some links in the post may contain affiliate links


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