If you want to learn a quick and easy way to prepare your canvases before painting on them, then you’ve come to the right place.
If the foundation of a house is stable, then you can take comfort in knowing the house will stand in the storm.
The “ground” or surface of the canvas you’ll be painting on will act as the home for your masterpiece. Consider forming the habit of prepping your canvases, even if they are of good grade. If you do the “ground” work first (pun intended), you’ll be much happier with the end results and chances are, you’ll add longevity to the artwork.
The two main items you’ll need for this DIY are Gesso, stretched canvas or canvas board.
There are three types of canvas. An oil canvas is intended solely for oil paint. Absorbent canvases are intended for tempera (those that are water-based). Universal canvases are suitable for both oil paint and acrylic paint. Use a higher grade of oil canvas if you plan to sell your work or give it as a gift.
Gesso is basically chalk, gypsum, pigment, or any combination of these combined to form a paint binder. They also come in a variety depending on what you want to use it for.
For this step-by-step, we’ll be using basic acrylic white Gesso, again, available at most arts and crafts supply retailers.
Gather Everything You Need
- White Acrylic Gesso (whatever size container you choose to purchase),
- 1 One-inch flat bristle brush,
- Medium plastic container or glass jar or lukewarm water for soaking your brush,
- An old blanket or several sheets of used newspaper,
- 1 sheet each of fine and course sandpaper,
- Apron or an old shirt
So, if you’re gamed, then let’s get into it…
How to Prime Your Painting Canvas Step 1
The first thing you need to do before anything else is to protect yourself and your working area. Use the old newspaper or old bed sheet to cover your workspace. Things can get pretty messy, especially when you start sand-papering.
The good thing about working with gesso, is because it’s water-based, it’s pretty easy, non-toxic cleanup with water, as long as you get to it before it dries and hardens.
So, protect your space and lay out your materials near you so that you have easy access to them. That is: your canvas, your brush, sandpaper, and container of water to hold your brush and for cleaning up, and of course, don’t forget the Gesso.
How to Prime Your Painting Canvas Step 2
With the canvas placed flat in front of you, dip the 1-inch bristle brush into the Gesso, scraping any excess on the edge so that it runs back into the container. Now, using horizontal and vertical strokes, apply the Gesso to the canvas.
First in a thin even layer (enough to coat the canvas, but not too much that you over-saturate it.
Continue using several horizontal and vertical strokes of the brush to apply enough Gesso to coat the entire surface of the canvas.
Wait 3-5 minutes for the Gesso to start drying, then apply a second coat in the same manner you did the first layer. Again, void applying too heavy a coat, and instead apply two thin layers. Allow the Gesso to dry fully.
From my experience, I find the length of time it takes for the canvas to dry will depend on a couple of factors: First, the weather/temperature of where you are, and second: how thick you applied the paint.
I sometimes prime a number of canvases all at once and then leave them to dry overnight. That way I know for sure they’ll be dry completely between each layer. Consequently, I’ll have several canvases ready to go when the mood strikes me to paint again. The key is to make sure the canvas is completely dry before moving on to the next step, which just happens to be the third and final step to prime your canvas!
How to Prime Your Painting Canvas Step 3
Here’s the fun part…and, if you don’t mind getting a little dust on yah, it can be fun and you’ll get some exercise at the same time!
Your canvas is now fully dry. This final step will require a little bit of elbow grease (physical labour). Using the courser (heavier) sandpaper, carefully sand the surface of the canvas to remove any embossed lumps or texture that you don’t want. Me personally, I prefer a little texture to my canvases. It makes the painting more interesting. Avoid over sand papering, because you could sand paper your way right through the fabric of the canvas. Use this rough grade of sandpaper sparingly.
Lastly, use the fine grade of sand paper to smooth out the canvas “IF” you want the canvas and your painting to have a smoother texture when you’re finished painting. This is an option I use sometimes, but as I said before, I prefer a bit more textured canvas.
And that’s the 3 Easy Steps to Prime Your Canvas! Easy Peezy!
Be sure to wash your brush with a little lukewarm water and a small amount of dish soap before putting it away AND, by all means, whatever you do, DO NOT leave unused Gesso open! It will dry rock hard. Cover lid tightly and store in dark, room temperature storage for next time.
If you like this post, let me know in the comments, or if you have any questions about Gesso and how to use it, feel free to send me a message.
Also, check out my exhibit, with VAB (Visual Arts Brampton): Artist Joan A Brown, “Creative by Nature” at the Shoppers’s World Brampton, (SWB) Artway Gallery. These canvases were primed just as I explained it here.
Artworks in the exhibit as well as in store are All available for sale.
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Artworks on this website and or related online media by Joan A Brown may not be reproduced, copied, or scanned in any way without granted permission from the artist. Copyright ©1999 - 2020 by Artist Joan A Brown. All rights reserved.