How to Gesso a Canvas

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You can’t expect to paint a masterpiece on untreated cloth. Here’s how to gesso, or prime, a homemade canvas in a hurry.

Step 1: Combine gesso and water
In a plastic mixing bowl, combine gesso and water, according to the instructions on the gesso container.

Step 2: Mix
Mix vigorously.

Mix the substance thoroughly and smoothly, into a consistency similar to melted chocolate. It should run off the spoon like paint and have no lumps.

Step 3: Spread drop cloth
Place some drop cloth down in your work area.

Step 4: Lay canvas on cloth
Lay the canvas down on top of the drop cloth.

Step 5: Sand down surface
Gently sand the canvas surface down to get rid of stray strands of cotton and create a consistent, even surface.

Step 6: Wet and blot brush
Wet your house paintbrush with water and squeeze it dry so it doesn’t soak up excess gesso.

Step 7: Plop gesso on canvas
Plop a dollop of gesso on to the canvas and begin working it back and forth in parallel strokes with a house paintbrush. The gesso should be as evenly and thinly distributed as possible.

Some painters prefer to use a squeegee for this instead of the brush.

Step 8: Coat edges
Don’t forget to coat the edges.

The edges will drip a little, so use a smaller brush to work the excess gesso back into the sides.

Step 9: Wash brush
When the first coat is complete, wash your paintbrush thoroughly.

Step 10: Let coat dry
Leave the canvas flat and allow it to dry for at least an hour.

Step 11: Blow off primer dust
Once the first coat is dry, gently sand it to even out the surface, and then dust off any grit.

Step 12: Repeat with perpendicular strokes
Repeat steps 6 through 8, but this time make your strokes perpendicular to the original application of primer.

Step 13: Dry
You can continue adding coats until the surface is as smooth as you need it to be, but two will usually suffice. Allow the canvas to dry overnight—now the real work can begin.

Did You Know?
Canvas was first used as backing for paintings during the 15th century Italian Renaissance.

23 Replies to “How to Gesso a Canvas”

  1. Hallo, which plaster do you use? can any plaster be used? I use scagliola plaster for the silicone molds, do you think it can be used?

  2. BEFORE YOU APPLY GESSO ON ROW CAVENS YOU MUST SEAL IT DOWN WITH NATURAL (skin,gelatine,fish,etc) OR SINTETIC (acrilique, vinilic ) GLUE !!! MUST !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. When you put the first layer of gesso down for the first time ever and then look up a video on how to do it, did everything but sand it.

  4. So what's the purpose of it? What's the difference between painting on gessoed and non-gessoed canvas? Also, do canvas boards that are purchased at craft stores already have gesso on them?

  5. Can't I just paint on paper lol. This is too much work for an artwork that will turn out ugly ????

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