How to Prime a Canvas using Gesso for Acrylic Painting

how to gesso a acrylic painting

What is gesso?

Gesso, pronounced ‘jesso‘, was traditionally used to prepare or prime a surface so Oil paint would adhere to it.

Gesso is the same as a primer, as in ‘pre-primed canvas’.

It is made from a combination of paint pigment, chalk and binder.

Traditional Oil ‘glue gesso’ was made with an animal glue binder, usually rabbit-skin glue, chalk, and white pigment, usually Titanium white.

Gesso is usually white or off-white and is used after you have sealed the raw canvas with a coat of size (see: the Trouble with Oil)

It creates a surface that is both absorbent (particularly useful for ‘dead’ colouring with oils) and has a ‘tooth’ (texture) that allows paint to grab onto the surface…

So what is Acrylic Gesso?

Modern acrylic gesso is a combination of calcium carbonate (chalk) with an acrylic polymer medium (binder), a pigment (titanium white) and other chemicals that ensure flexibility, and ensure long archival life.

Why do I need to use a gesso primer for Acrylic painting?

Technically you don’t. But in practice painting directly onto a raw canvas is not an enjoyable experience. Unless you are interested in deep staining effects like Morris Louis
 who became fascinated with using diluted acrylic paint to stain the raw canvas, rather than apply with a brush.


Alpha-Pi, 1960
Morris Louis (American, 1912–1962)
Acrylic on canvas

Can I use acrylic gesso under an oil painting?

Yes and no.

Yes for 90% of your paintings especially if your just beginning ‘acrylic gesso‘ will be fine if the raw canvas has been properly sized, thus protecting the canvas from the corrosive nature of oil.

However, if it was for a portrait or to produce a masterpiece for your painting legacy I would use an Oil gesso purely for the fact it has been time-tested and the Oil will always adhere better to Oil than sitting on top of an Acrylic.

Pro tip: If you want the first layer of paint to dry quicker than it normally might, just add gesso. The gesso primer layer can soak up the oil from within the paint and leave a ‘dead’ flat underpainting that won’t have any sheen to it. Imagine the difference between painting onto glass and painting onto blotting paper. All the oil from the paint would be absorbed into the primer layer.

Do I need to buy it?

Homemade or ready made?

Shop bought gesso comes pre-prepared in tubs or tubes and is pretty good, homemade gesso is cheaper to produce and can be adjusted to personal needs and tastes, however,  it’s not needed when you are first starting painting.

Artist or Student quality?

As with paints, the difference between the two is dependent on price. The artist quality having a higher price, more pigment, and a higher opacity. The student quality will have a lower quantity of pigment and more filler. If you are painting onto a raw canvas the artist quality would be best due to the increased opacity. For adding a bit more absorbency to a pre-primed canvas student quality would be fine (you can always add a bit more white pigment to it).

Can I colour the gesso?

Yes, I am a big fan of working on a coloured ground and if you are pushed for time you can mix some paint into the gesso to tint it. You can also buy premixed black gesso, coloured gesso and clear gesso.

Pre-primed canvas boards

Pre-primed”  means “pre-gesso” It already has a gesso layer applied in the factory. On the cheaper ranges for some reason manufacturers often use a seal on top which creates a shiny surface which is completely ridiculous… defeating the object of gesso!
If you are using watered down paint or student quality paints the shiny surface can repel the paint. The more watery the paint the easier it will sit on the surface and not soak into the canvas as you would like.

If you apply a couple of coats of gesso it will form a more absorbent surface due to the chalk (calcium carbonate- known as ‘whiting’ in oil painting) found in the gesso.

Creating a super smooth finish

You can sand gesso between coats to create a lovely smooth finish, especially handy for photo-realistic paintings, just sand each layer with a fine sandpaper. Say a 240 grit. 3M’s make a good sandpaper. Just make sure you do it outside, or in a well-ventilated area as it goes everywhere!

How to gesso a raw canvas for acrylic painting

What You Need:

  • Gesso
  • Decorators brush
  • Kitchen Roll
  • 240 grit sandpaper if you want to sand the layers in between each other.
  1. Buy a tub of premixed white gesso and give it a stir. Again, this really comes down to personal preference, I work from a tub so I can control the amount of gesso on my brush for each stroke but you can buy it in tubes.
  2. The first coat always needs to be diluted with a touch of water (sometimes people recommend adding a bit of acrylic medium to prevent cracking but the layer is so thin and soaks straight in, it would never crack).
  3. Allow to dry, then apply a second coat. This can be applied thinly and does not be watered down. If you want a more absorbent surface, add another layer.
  4. When applying the gesso turn the canvas 90 degrees between coats to ensure an even coverage.
  5. Apply a final coat using the pure, undiluted gesso.
  6. Using a 3-inch decorators brush, apply the gesso directly to the stretched canvas in even strokes. Work from the top to the bottom of the canvas, in parallel strokes from one edge to the other.
  7. Wash your brush out immediately in running water then use a brush cleaner to thoroughly remove the gesso out. It’s worth cleaning it twice even if you think it’s clean.

Pro tip: Golden paints make a hard gesso that can be useful if you are working on a board. Due to the limited movement on a board compared with a canvas, it can create a smoother finish.

You might also like:

How a prepared canvas can drastically improve your paintings

This Post Has 297 Comments

  1. You have been very helpful. I have been taking classes for about a year here in kettering ohio., from a teacher at sinclair college. in watercolor. I first started painting with acrylics about three years ago. mostly on glass panes. having a lot of fun so far.
    thanks again.


    1. Hi Donald,
      The glass painting sounds really interesting, I’m glad you’ve found some useful info on my website.
      You might be interested in the paintings by Richard Rowan who also paints on glass.
      Keep experimenting!

    2. Donald I am a student worj=king on my second portratit. The BACK of my canvas has picked up paint and just looks messy Can I put paint over it to cover the mess with out doing damage to the painting
      on the other side I am using oil. on cotton About my website I am just working on it Not ready
      I do have a link to the place I take classes at Hope it works for you
      Please give me an answer if you can
      Thank you

      1. Hi Miranda,

        I wouldn’t advise painting the back/reverse of the canvas because you’re working with oils.

        The reverse of the canvas probably hasn’t been sized to protect it and you run the risk of not letting the air getting to the oil to dry it fully, as oil dries by oxidation,

        I hope this helps,


        1. When preparing a support (canvas or board), there can be an argument for preparing the back at the same time, especially if you use traditional materials in your grounds .
          Emphasise at the SAME time, don’t wait untill work has started, or has been finished – you’ll risk introducing new, un-planned effects.

          With canvas, it will slow the drying as Will suggests, but will help with (archival) preservation of the support,
          For boards, preparing the back will help reduce warping due to shrinkage of the ground (size & primer).

          1. Cheers Robert, good advice for boards.



  2. Hello Will
    Very grateful for your reply.
    I misled you using saying boards. What I have is linen preprimed 4 times and sealed. I will do what you propose with gesso and I think using a coloured ground is a good idea . I will let you know how this works out.

    best wishes


    1. Hi Robert,
      You’re welcome.
      The coloured gesso on the linen will work out well and give you that extra absorbency you were after. I have found those particular linen canvases to be very nice to work on especially for portraits (I used the same brand for a recent self portrait) looking forward to hearing how you get on with them,

      Good luck,

  3. So you are against pre-primed fabric canvases?
    So what can I do, I don’t have and will time to prepare canvas in old techniques.
    On the other side acrylic gesso is drying my oil colours!!

    1. Hi Mathew,
      I’m definitely not against pre-primed fabric canvas, in fact I use them in most of my work!
      I do have reservations, however, with pre-primed canvas boards.
      With the cheaper ranges manufacturers often use a seal on top which creates a resistant surface which is not as enjoyable to paint on.
      Especially if you are using watered down paint or student quality paints.
      Not many people do have the time to prepare canvas from scratch and I always recommend my students use pre-primed canvas’s, of a decent quality.
      Acrylic Gesso shouldn’t dry your Oils, how much turpentine or thinners are you adding to your Oil paint? as this will rapidly increase drying time. Maybe experiment with a bit more Oil in your medium.

      Hope this helps

  4. Hello Will

    I need to prime some large canvases (at least 11 canvases, each 4 x 2m) – how far can I expect gesso to go? how much gesso do I need per metre? I am trying to estimate costs for the project

    thank you so much

    1. Hi Jo,
      That is a lot of gesso!! As a general rule of thumb coverage is about 100ml per metre squared. This can of course vary depending on the coverage you want.

      Some artists prefer a thinner application others want a completely opaque finish.

      For the number of canvases you are working on that would be:
      88m sq x 100ml – 8,800ml
      A UK gallon is 4545ml (a US gallon is 3785ml)
      so 2 x gallon – 9,090ml
      If you are still unsure you can always buy a smaller tester pot and just try it out until you find a coverage you are happy with.
      Hope this helps,

      1. Great!!
        I have been looking for this information! Thanks a lot. Am just about to start a 7mx3m acrylic on raw canvas project and it is hard to calculate the cost for the paint! Thanks again!

  5. Hi Will,

    I came to Oil painting from Watercolour- and then Acrylic. I’ve got the hang of the painting ‘backwards’ (i.e. Dark to Light) but in my layering of paint I’ve had some trouble with sections drying and then shifting… leaving a horrible contrast, as I had primed the raw linen with white Gesso and was trying to get a warm yellow ochre-ish shadow.

    The canvas is sized with Rabbit skin glue and only sections are covered by the ground as I want the objects/images to ‘hover’ on the linen surface. I wasn’t having this problem when I started and wondered whether it could be because the section I’m working on now has a thinner coat of gesso?

    Do you have any suggestions/tips?

    Many Thanks,


    1. Hi Anna,
      The problem could stem from the differences in your gesso ground. An over absorbent ground, or too much solvent used in your paint mixture will be the cause of this difference in colour.

      As some sections of your gesso are thinner than others the absorbency will be different so the about of oil that the layer ‘soaks in’ will change, this will give you changes in colour shift.

      This is called ‘sinking in‘ To overcome the contrast effect you have to “Oil out‘ the area, or apply a layer of varnish that will unify the sheen.

      Hope this helps,


  6. The nuances of the rules: dark-light and fat-over-lean were leading me astray. Now that I am reminded that lighter colours like white and yellow are lean – I know that my solution should be linseed oil in these top layers?! I’d still appreciate your reply though!

    1. Hi Anna,
      Flake white is a quick dryer but titanium whites are usually fatter pigments and are slower drying, a brief guide below.

      Fast Drying [around Two days]:
      Flake, Foundation and Cremnitz Whites [lead], Umbers,Prussian Blue, Raw Sienna,

      Medium drying [around five days]:
      Blues and Greens [phthalocyanines], Burnt Sienna, Cobalt Violet and Greens, Ultramarine Blues, Mars colours [synthetic iron oxides], Sap Green, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Ochres, Cadmiums, Titanium White, Zinc White, Lamp Black, Ivory Black, Pyrrols, Bismuth Yellow, Perylenes.

      Slow drying [more than five days]:
      Quinacridones, Alizarin Crimson.


      1. Thanks for this sum-up. Have been trying to piece it together from comments here and there, this helps.

  7. I have a beautiful painting, that is unfortunately oil on a thin, raw canvas. If I paint the back of the canvas with gesso or whatever, will it soak in and preserve the painting? Was done about 5 months ago by a friend in art school. They had no suggestions on how to preserve it now but it is too beautiful to just not try. Any suggestions are appreciated

    1. Hi Luella,

      What a shame such a beautiful painting has been done on raw canvas.
      As far as I’m aware there isn’t much you can do to protect the canvas once the oil paint has been applied to an unprimed canvas as it would have already soaked into the fibres.
      It may take years to deteriorate but a good conservator might have some good suggestions.
      Good luck,


  8. Hi Will,

    I am working on wood panel. Would gesso be necessary before painting with the acrylics or could I just start painting?



    1. Hi Laura,

      With acrylics you can just paint straight onto the panel, you don’t need to gesso the panel.



  9. Just a note Will, hoping you are well. I have been moving back to Canada after 50 years residence in the U.S. and busy as a cat covering left-behinds! Just did not want you thinking my interest is flagging. At my age this will be my final move, and although I will be painting in Southeast light instead of north, it will make no difference in the limited painterly knowledge I possess. My kind regards to you and yours. You are an awesome teacher, my man. rod

    1. Hey Rod, great to hear from you!
      I’m good, I’ve been really busy on a new collection of paintings and planning a new series on colour mixing.
      Good luck with your move,
      Speak soon,


  10. I plan to paint a large piece of canvas as a mural. Can I roll up the painting after using gesso or will it be to stiff?

    1. Hi JJ,
      Due to gesso having a flexible consistency it will be fine if you roll the murual after you have finished painting it. Especially if you are using acrylics which stay flexible once they have dried.


  11. Hi Will
    Just started painting with acrylics paints,and I’m not sure if I should prime my canvas first or just start painting. The canvas is a Winsor & Newton that is triple coated with acid free sizing and two coats of highly pigmented acrylic primer will this be good enough for painting on. By the way, great site.

    1. Hi Jimmy,
      Thanks for the comment, yes, the canvas your using is ready to go!
      With acrylics you can paint onto practically any surface without priming or sizing as there is nothing in the paint that will damage the surface you are working on. However, a primed surface such as the one you are using just takes the paint of the brush that bit easier.

      I always recommend a coloured ground to start on as it helps to take the fear out of starting the painting and takes away the glare of the white. It only has to be with a thin coat of paint. If you have a look at my video on it I’m using a winsor & newton canvas.

      Good luck,

  12. Hi Will,

    Great job on creating such an awesome site!

    I’ve just started painting with acrylics with the aim to start selling them – Im pretty new to the world of materials, and stuck to linen canvas at first, then this week I bought a few Winsor and Newton deep edge cotton canvases (double primed weight is 8oz unprimed, 14oz primed)

    My worry is that they might not be good enough as a surface for professional use – mainly from a longevity point of view. (I’m using Golden acrylics on them)

    Do you have any advice on this one?


    1. Hi Verity,

      Thanks for your kind comments.

      Regarding the longevity of the cotton canvas, as you are painting with acrylics they will be fine, there is nothing in the paint that will damage the canvas over time. The only thing to look out for with those particular canvas is a warping of the actual stretcher bar.

      If you are working quite small this will be fine, but I have found with some of the larger sizes ( 24 x 48 inch) there can be a warping due to the quality of wood used in the stretcher bars. As with all things, art material wise, usually the more expensive the better the quality, which of course can be tricky when you are first starting to sell your paintings!

      I use cotton duck for most of my landscapes as they are on quite a large scale but switch to linen when painting a portrait.

      Hope this helps,

  13. Hi Will,
    First off, thank you for having such a great site for us! I am a beginner at this. I just got an acrylics starter kit for Christmas and I’m going to give it a try soon.

    I have two questions for now.
    1) How long should it take each layer of gesso to dry?
    I live in the state of New Mexico which has the very arid, dry climate of the desert and the thinner air of higher elevations from the Rocky Mountains.
    2) Do you always use gesso?
    I have a friend who is a painter here locally and she says that the one time she didn’t use it, her acrylics crackled and flaked off, but it didn’t seem like you used it in your demonstration video for how to apply a ground. I’m wondering if our climate or her painting methods might have influenced the situation.

    Thank you so much for your time.

    1. Hi Stevie,

      Welcome to the world of painting! The acrylic gesso will be touch dry in about 10 minutes, with the warmer climate you’re in, probably even quicker. You can then paint the next layer ontop. A few thin layers is better that one thick layer.

      I always use gesso on my paintings. In the ‘How to apply a ground’ demo, the white gesso is already painted on to the canvas before I apply the coloured ground.

      Hope this helps,


  14. Hello!
    I just wanted to drop in and just say thanks. I think this is the first time I’ve come across a place that explains things easily without thinking the reader an idiot.
    Too be honest I’ve been a bit frantic on looking up on theories and methods on all forms of painting. I’ve just been put in charge of painting courses at a local craft store I work at for kids 5-16 on just the premise of ‘Well, you paint and kids like you so no choice.’
    And yes I paint, have taken numerous classes but most of them consisted of ‘draw this, paint that and you need so many pieces done for your portfolio by this date.’ different technique was never covered unless the instructor didnt like what we did. And up till this point it was never a big deal as I just played with paint as a stress reliever or what have you.

    I’m just glad I stumbled upon you, since I don’t want to disappoint these kids nor myself by turning a true learning experience ( for both parties! ) in a slap dash paint by number.

    So really no point to this comment beyond thank you. That and the helpful sigh of relief when I do devel into oil I won’t be at a complete loss.


    1. Hi Sam,

      Thanks for the kind comments and really pleased to hear the articles can help with planning your painting classes with the kids. Using the coloured ground is really helpful with kids because they always leave white canvas when they paint. You’ll achieve some fantastic results.

      Good luck with the classes,


  15. Hello Will,
    I am very happy I have run onto your site. I was looking for a large painting for above my bed, I wanted a mountain forest with water and a moose. I was unable to find one so I decided to learn to paint with acrylics and do my own! Will, I can not draw a convincing stick figure! However, I thought if I take my time to learn I will get to my painting someday!
    I read three different books on acrylics, bought my supplies (I did invest in artist quality on some brushes and paints.) I have my studio organized and but brush in paint for the first time! Not a very good result! I decided to start on paper as I really have no art background and figured once I started to get down techniques and had some success, I would move to canvasses. I am putting gesso on my paper (140 lb. cold press.) I am putting 2 coats of gesso on each side to combat rippling. This seems to give me a good surface, but I am wondering if there is an easier way for me to start. I figured once I looked at a painting and said to myself, “I wish I would have put that on canvas!”, I would be ready for canvas. I have watched a few of your videos so far and will continue to do so, they are lovely and informative, I am glad I read the books I did, but seeing you wield the brush sure gives me a better feeling!
    I have promised myself I would not give up or get discouraged, so any starting off info you can share would be great! I am truly excited about this and am looking forward to a beautiful painting hanging over my bed ………. someday!


    1. Hi Kelly,

      You sound like your ready to take the leap into canvas now.

      The gesso and paper situation is sounding like a lot of work before you’ve even started painting! If you want to work on paper, then I would double the thickness to a 300gsm and ditch the gesso, it isn’t necessary.

      My advice is to buy a couple of cheap pre-primed canvasses and get wielding that brush on an actual picture. Follow one of my free step-by-step video lessons (there’s a landscape one) and don’t worry if you make mistakes, you can easily paint over them with acrylics.

      The best way to learn is to actually paint, discover different brush-marks and get a feel for the materials.

      Go for it and have fun, let me know how you get on,



  16. Hi Will, Here in S. Spain Gesso is very expensive and Black unheard of. There is a product called T-KROM, a transparent latex adhesive for sealing paper, wood, tiles etc. would this work to seal the canvas ok. thanks.

    1. Hi Patrick, I’m not sure about the suitability of the latex, it won’t give you a good ground surface to work onto. You can buy white Gesso and just add black paint to it, or paint a coat of white Gesso and then a coloured ground of black with acrylics. It might be worth contacting a couple of the local art schools, they might be able to sell you some at a better price, or tell you whi they buy it from.


      1. Thanks Will for that info, there is also in a hardware store ,a powder gesso, which may be better. One more question please, what is liquid clear, and liquid white, these are mediums, so is there equivalent liquids in a hardware store for these items. many thanks for your assistance. Patrick.

        1. Hi Patrick,

          Liquid white & liquid clear are brand names made famous by Bob Ross, who often applied a coat of ‘liquid white’ onto the canvas to work the paint wet into wet. Liquid white is a fluid paint, making it easy to apply and mix with other colours. Essentially, it is a thin mix of titanium white that has been made liquid by added oil and solvent thinner. Liquid clear is the medium without the titanium white.



          1. Thanks Will for that, so liquid white consists of mixing a quantity of Titanium White and adding what oil or solvent to achieve the thinner white for Acrylic painting., wet on wet. Patrick.

          2. Hi Patrick, liquid white is a thinned oil paint, it is not used with Acrylic paint. You can paint acrylic under oils but you can’t paint oils under acrylics.


  17. Hello

    I’ve been working with oil for eight years now ….and I wanted to try acrylic for a change ..I doesn’t flow the same on the canvas ….. I gesso it before I started ….. What do I mix with it to make it blend or flow better

    1. Hi Irene,
      You just need to add in some water to the paint. If the paint is still ‘beading’ on the gesso you can add a few drops of ‘acrylic flow release’ which will reduce the surface tension in the paint and create more of a stain effect.


  18. I want to use gelatos on my canvas but I was told that they need to be gessoed first. My canvases say they have two coats of highly pigmented acrylic primer on them, they are made by Winsor & Newton, is this the same as gesso??

    1. Hey Kerri, the ‘two coats of highly pigmented acrylic primer’ is the gesso, so you can paint straight ontop, you’re good to go!


  19. Thank you so much for this help, I am almost 70 years young, and am only starting to learn to paint, I am so grateful to people like you, who have taken the time to pass on tips, I appreciate this more than i can express.
    Many thanks from a Silver surfer.

    1. Hi Emily, thanks for dropping by, and great to hear you’ve discovered painting. Enjoy the tutorials,


  20. The more I paint and try different grounds, the more I realize that you are absolutely right. lol
    Not saying I doubted your professional opinion, never. But usually one tends to buy the cheaper things especially when one has just started. And it is so true, I am afraid to “waste” good quality stuff with my amateur skills. Today I was trying to paint the still life cherry again (last time I used acryllic paper) this time on a cheap canvas and my colours refused to stay on, no matter how much I took. I use the students palette of royal talens. But even my first touch with the canvas left the behind almost blank.
    On the other hand I used a better quality canvas for my landscape picutre (still on the cheaper side though), even though I had similar problems they were not so severe like mentioned above. Maybe I should get over the fear to ruin canvasses.
    Thanks a lot

  21. Hello,
    I am having a bit of a dilema. I just started this great new painting (fortunately not too far into it, but I don’t have the means to keep running out buying paint). Anyway…I bought some ‘used’ canvases recently and have no idea what kind of paint is on them. I needed a big canvas for my new project, so I picked one of these assuming it was acrylic paint that was already on it. Sooo…I painted the entire thing over with a layer of black acrylic and let that dry overnight. This morning, I was working away drawing on my idea with a pastel pencil and I noticed that every now and then the black paint wants to peel off’. Have you any idea what could be causing this? Is it that the previous artist may have used oil rather than acrylic? If so…can I use these for acrylic paintings by gessoing? I need HELP! Please! :)

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Jo,

      It sounds like the painting was an oil painting. As the oil paint surface contains oil the acrylic won’t adhere to it. That’s why you’ve had the flaking. You can paint oils ontop of acrylics, but not acrylics ontop of oils. Even if you gesso the surface you will still have a weak paint film and the acrylics won’t behave like normal.

      Hope you can find some fresh canvas!


  22. hello,
    I am in a bit problem as i am making a painting on a canvas for the first time….i am confused in getting a pre- primed canvas or a simple one which i have to prime. i dont know which is better….plz help me in this….plz

    1. Hi Navya, the quickest way to start is with a pre-primed canvas. You only really need to prime your own canvas when you’re working with raw cotton duck.


  23. Hey!
    Have you ever tried or seen detailed charcoal drawings done over a gesso coated canvas/board?
    Does it work at all?

    1. Hi Maddie, yes this would work, ideally you would work onto a board so you sand the gesso to get a super smooth finish. For very fine work you could also try using the Golden drawing ground, it’s designed for silverpoint but also works well with graphite and charcoal.

      Hope this helps,

  24. Hi Will,
    I need to glue paper onto a canvas, and then paint with on it. Is it possible to glue it with gesso? Thank you very much!


    1. Hi Diana, I would use a gel, such as soft gel gloss as a glue, then you can intermix the acrylics and it will adhere better to the canvas than using gesso.

      Below is the process from the Golden Acrylic website:


      What follows is the basic process for “gluing” paper or canvas to a panel:

      First prepare the back of the printed element, paper, canvas or other compatible flat collage element, with one or two thin coats of Soft Gel (Gloss). This can be accomplished most easily by brushing the gel on thinly with either a varnish brush or a soft bristle brush. The Soft Gel will seal the absorbency prior to actually attaching the piece to a panel or other surface.

      For paper, this process could cause buckling, especially on thinner sheets, in which case this step my need to be eliminated, depending on the paper used.

      The destination panel or surface should simultaneously be prepared. Apply a coat of Soft Gel (Gloss) to seal the absorbency of the destination surface.

      By pre-coating both surfaces, less Soft Gel is needed for the actual gluing process, and in turn a better bond is created. This process also reduces the chance of edges curling and air pockets developing due to lack of gel between the two materials.

      When ready to glue the two pieces together, evenly apply a thin coat of Soft Gel (Gloss) to the panel or other material you are gluing to. A useful tool for evenly spreading the gel is a notched trowel, typically used to apply flooring and wall coating glues, and found in any hardware store. This tool will “comb” the gel and effectively provide an even distribution. For some types of collage, a simple brush or palette knife application will work fine. Carefully lay the piece that you are adhering down onto the wet gel and gently position it.

      Place a cut sheet of polyethylene plastic over the piece you are adhering to protect its surface, especially if it is delicate artwork. Starting in the center and either using a brayer ( rubber roller used in printmaking ) or a bunched up soft cloth, gently roll or rub outward with very even pressure to move any air pockets out towards the edges. Excess gel will ooze out at the edges so be ready to gently wipe it off with another piece of cloth. Allow the layers to dry.

      Hope this helps,


  25. Hi,
    I paint with acrylics, and I already had a painting on the canvas, and did 3 coats of gesso. When I try a new painting on the gesso canvas it started to Pitt on me. I did sand it down before I applied the gesso. What happened?

    1. Hi Ann, could you explain what’s happening on the canvas surface?

  26. Hello Will,
    I have a couple of questions. When painting acrylic paint on a canvas that has been primed with Gesso, does all of the Gesso have to be covered with acrylic paint? If I leave some of the areas unpainted (because I prefer the bright white of the Gesso) will those areas yellow over time? I intend to spray the painting with UV Archival varnish.

    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Lee,

      Thanks for dropping by, to answer your question:

      No, you don’t have to cover all the gesso with paint, it shouldn’t yellow over time.

      Yellowing of paintings happens most prominently in oil paints, and can come from the oil paints themselves or most likely from the traditional natural varnish that was used.

      Hope this helps,


  27. Hi Will,
    I am copying a Japanese Woodblock of a Geisha using acrylic paints. I want the effect to be flat and smooth on the canvas. Do I draw on the canvas first, or do I prep the canvas with Gesso and then draw? I am a beginner. This is my second project. I would appreciate your help. Thanks.

    1. Hi Michele,
      To get a flat and smooth surface paint onto board such as MDF (Masonite). This would give you a very smooth surface.
      Apply a couple of coats of acrylic Gesso and sand in-between layers to achieve the flattest surface.

      Alternatively, use a fine, tight weave canvas, apply the Gesso first and then draw onto the canvas.

      If the canvas is white, it will already have Gesso onto it so you can draw straight away.

      Good luck with your painting,


  28. being 86 and not able to do much golfing or what ever i decided to take up painting to help pass a lot of my spare time..and so glad i did..i was born and lived in the small town of Castine, Maine for most of my young life so what i paint mostly is pictures of the old homes and sea and boat pictures which i have been able to sell in that town..But i was never really pleased with my paintings until i read in your paper about the use of Gessel to prime the canvas..and what a difference it made..i can even now use dry pastels on canvas as well as Acrylics…Then i seal my paintings with clear acrylic sealer….Thanks for the help and hope others will follow your advice….gene

    1. Hey Gene,

      Really pleased you found the article helpful in your painting, you might also be interested in Golden Acrylics Absorbent Ground for pastels, you can paint this onto any surface to give you a good ground before using your pastels.



  29. Muy claras las explicadiones. He usado Gesso como base en telas con lijado previo pero algunas veces la superficie se torna muy absorbente aún para los óleos, Esto provoca que se sequen muy rápido lo cual dificulta su trabajo. Pregunto: Esto se debe a la calidad del Gesso o a otra razón?

    1. Hi Lidia,
      la absorbencia del yeso está determinada por el contenido de tiza en el yeso. Puede variar de una marca a otra, por lo que valdría la pena experimentar con otra marca de gesso sólo para ver si eso hace la diferencia. También puede tratar de trabajar a bordo que será mucho menos absorbente que el lienzo. Espero que esto ayude,

      Hi Will,
      Explanations very clear. I used Gesso fabrics based on preliminary sanding but sometimes becomes very absorbent surface even for oils, This causes them to dry quickly making it difficult to work. Question: This is due to the quality of Gesso or another reason?

      Hi Lidia,
      The absorbency of the gesso is determined by the chalk content in the gesso. It can vary from brand to brand, so it would be worth experimenting with a different brand of gesso just to see if that makes a difference. You can also try working on board which will be much less absorbent than canvas.

      Hope this helps,

  30. First, your awesome. I JUST (2 days ago) decided I wanted to paint. I didn’t know what the differnce between oils and acrylics were so I googled it while standing at walmart ready to grab my first set (and make my first mistake!…. a walmart set /slaps forehead) Your site came up so I booked marked it after deciding to go with acrylics. Since then I have made non stop trips to a real are suply store and have pretty much bought everything I’ve seen in your videos. Anyway all that to say what a freakin great resource best out there for me! (I started with acrylics for dummies but since I have NEVER painted before I had no clue what the crap I was supposed to be doing)…. On to the question at hand:

    Do I dip my brush into water, then into my tub of gesso?

    1. Hey Johnny, great to hear from you, and glad you’ll finding the site useful.

      It is more than likey that you have bought a canvas that is white.

      If it is, it has already had Gesso applied in the factory.

      So has been ‘pre-primed’ with Gesso, sometimes the say, ‘triple primed canvas’ which means ‘triple primed with Gesso canvas’

      So you don’t need to add your own layer of gesso, you’re good to go.

      If the canvas is raw (looks like natural canvas or linen) then dip the brush in water to bring all the bristles together, and dilute the first application of gesso with water so it’s the consistency of single cream and paint it on.

      Wait for it to dry, and then paint on a slightly thicker coat.

      Hope this helps and good luck with your first painting!



  31. Hi Will, great article, thank you!

    I have a question regarding brands of gesso. I’ve never used gesso so not sure what to choose and which brand to go for. Is there a brand you use a lot? I mostly use acrylic.

    At the moment I work on illustration board, so it has a hard and smooth surface which allows me to erase the paint away for textures, highlights etc.. Will this same erasing technique work on gesso?

    Thanks in advance. :)

    1. Hi Sebastian,

      Pleased to hear you enjoyed the article. I usually use Golden brand gesso and they have a couple of options you might find helpful.

      Standard acrylic gesso and they also have a hard sand-able gesso, which will give you a smoother surface to work on to, closer to the illustration board.

      Hope this helps,



  32. Hi Will,
    I found your website when I was finding out how to apply gesso on a canvas and more, I have a few questions.
    1.) I looked at some of the comments on this page, and a person said something about a traditional canvas, that the store people apply the gesso on the canvas, so you don’t have to. My question is I don’t know the difference, I buy my canvas on Amazon (8×10), and I wondering if you could tell me if I need to apply gesso.
    2.) Also when you are thinking of painting, do you need to prepare a day before, so you can let the gesso dry, because I looked at other websites and they say that you need to add 2 layers of gesso and it takes a long time to dry, so you have to wait.
    3.) My last question is, when you are applying gesso, does it matter what brush you use, or can you just use any brush?
    Thank you Will for sharing the information. :)

    1. Hi Leaira,

      To answer your questions:

      1.) I looked at some of the comments on this page, and a person said something about a traditional canvas, that the store people apply the gesso on the canvas, so you don’t have to. My question is I don’t know the difference, I buy my canvas on Amazon (8×10), and I wondering if you could tell me if I need to apply gesso.

      If the canvas is white, it has gesso painted onto it.
      If the canvas looks like fabric (dull cream colour) it doesn’t have gesso applied.

      2.) Also when you are thinking of painting, do you need to prepare a day before, so you can let the gesso dry, because I looked at other websites and they say that you need to add 2 layers of gesso and it takes a long time to dry, so you have to wait.

      Oil primer(gesso)used specifically for oil painting takes longer to dry.
      Acrylic gesso is quicker to dry, you can usually apply two coats in the day, but ideally a 24hr wait before painting ontop.

      3.) My last question is, when you are applying gesso, does it matter what brush you use, or can you just use any brush?

      I’ve found a decorators brush works best, try to buy a good quality one or you’ll spend your time picking out hairs! An old pair of tweezers can can be handy for picking out any rough brush hairs.

      Hope this helps,


      1. Thanks Will,
        I’ve started to notice that a lot of my brushes, when I paint, hair start coming out and I have pick them off my canvas. How do you know what good quality brushes are, I usually buy mine from Micheals.

        1. You’re welcome Leaira,

          It’s often best to flick the end of a brush before buying it just to check that none of the hairs come out, you usually always get a few stray ones though.

          Have a look at this video, to see my ‘flick-ability test’

  33. Hey,

    is it a problem to apply the gesso before stretching the canvas?
    I was afraid of that it might crack when I finally stretch it.


    1. Hi Guz, it’s a better approach to stretch the raw canvas first onto the stretcher bars before adding gesso as you will get a tighter stretch on your canvas.


  34. Hello Mr. Kemp,
    I just received my very first piece of canvas and I am so excited to create an abstract.
    As I am no artist I have no idea what to do first except to use the gesso, do I stretch the canvas first or wait?
    What all should I purchase? Is there any preference on paint and brushes for the first timer?
    I would actually like to do a self body painting on this canvas, any suggestions as to what I should do?
    Thank you for your time,


    1. Hi Jessica, pleased your excited to get painting with abstracts, usually you work with the canvas having already been stretched when you’re first starting, and as you get more experienced can learn to stretch your own canvas.

      I always recommend starting with an artist quality white and then building up your paints from their.

      Have a look at this article on a beginners paint palette.

      Enjoy your painting,



  35. Hi Will,

    Your work is great.

    What are your thoughts on using an acrylic medium in the place of gesso for priming a canvas? I am experimenting with leaving a raw appearance to the canvas, while maintaining a proper seal. My concern is that the medium is not of adequate strength to provide a solid, long-term base for the paint (ie might flake because not fully binding to canvas fibers). I am using acrylics with the occasional oil stick currently (to be used over the acrylic medium).


    1. Hi Mairin,

      I’ve used acrylic mediums before on raw canvas and they can work quite well, rabbit skin glue always seems to give the canvas a bit more tightness when working with oils, but if you’re mostly using acrylics and just using a touch of oil bar they should work fine.

      This is from the Golden acrylic website on replacing Rabbit skin glue with acrylic mediums:

      Replacing Rabbitskin Glue:

      Traditionally, rabbitskin glue (also known as hide glue) was used to reduce the flexibility of canvas before painting. Although the rabbitskin glue does reduce flexibility, it is extremely brittle. It is hygroscopic, which means that it will always be water-soluble. Even when the glue is completely dry, high humidity will re-introduce water into the film, causing it to soften or swell up. Over time, this constant swelling and drying of the film can cause severe paint-film cracking and delamination.

      GAC 400 can be used in a similar fashion for stiffening canvas. Although the GAC 400 will not quite achieve the stiffness of the rabbitskin glue, it does not remain water-soluble. Apply one or two coats directly into the raw canvas, coating both front and back for maximum stiffness. It is imperative that it be applied directly to the raw canvas. I

      t is ineffective over any other medium, and most likely will flake off and cause delamination of subsequent paint layers.

      Since it is an acrylic polymer, it is not hygroscopic. However, neither rabbitskin glue nor GAC 400 is completely effective against oil penetration, and the use of GAC 100 over GAC 400 is recommended for oil painters.

      Note: Since GAC 400 is brittle, it is important that it not be rolled tightly, or bent back upon itself. This will cause cracking of the polymer film and may transfer cracks into additional paint layers. This is especially a risk with cured oil paints.”

      Hope this helps Mairin,


  36. Im a total newbie. I want to paint both oil and acrylic, but doing acrylic for now.but the paint dries quickly and gets sticky. What can I use to keep the paint moist enough to work on for a lengthy it gesso?

    1. Hi Susie,

      Gesso won’t help with the drying times of acrylic, for keeping paints wet on the palette try a stay-wet palette. For on your painting you can add a touch of acrylic retarder, which helps to stop the paints dry quite so quickly.


  37. Hi Will,
    I’m using acrylic paints in block form on bare canvas,I’ve noticed transparency in the colours,i.e,uneven brushstrokes and light breaking through from the back of the canvas.
    Do i need to prepare the canvas beforehand or apply more coats?
    I need to keep bright vibrant colours,so opaques are out of the question.

    Kind regards James.

    1. Hi James,

      It depends on the effect you are after with your painting, have a solid gesso ground will make it easier to apply paints to the surface. If you are using student quality paints these can often need more coats for the same coverage you would achieve with artist quality paints.

      Hope this helps,


  38. Hi will,
    This site was very useful and i mean it.i actually started painting as a hobbie on just a normal paper first with water colours and now i am using acrylic.Many people after seeing my painting want me to sell them but i am afraid that it wont be nice to give them such an unprofessional painting and i dont even know how long it will now i want to start painting on canvas and i understood the use of gesso but i don’t know anything about canvas and i wanted to know how can fix a canvas before applying gesso like how to hold the canvas in place and after painting with acrylic does the paint go on the back side of the canvas?I am very new to canvas so wanted your suggestions.and as i stay in India there is less awereness about canvas and stuff
    Thank you

    1. Hi Swathi,

      Really pleased to hear you’ve been finding the articles helpful,

      “how can fix a canvas before applying gesso like how to hold the canvas in place”

      You usually apply gesso when the canvas is horizontal, so on a table is just fine.
      To hold the canvas in place most artist use an easel – either a tabletop easel or stand up easel.

      “After painting with acrylic does the paint go on the back side of the canvas?

      No, you leave the back side of the canvas ‘raw’

      Hope this helps,


  39. Hello,
    I will paint with geomatrical shape by using arcylic.So,it is should have toned ground for it background because it does not landscape drawing but just geomatrical pattern.

    1. Hi Lina, if you’re going to be painting solid blocks of colour then you don’t need to add a colored ground.


  40. Hi Will,
    Thank you so much for the website. It has been so helpful and resourceful. I am reading it everyday and try to learn more about my favorite old master and impressionist painting techniques. You have helped a lot! Thank you and please keep doing what you are doing for this online art school. It is indeed wonderful.

    1. Hi Selina,

      Thanks for your lovely comments, so pleased you’ve been finding the articles helpful.



  41. Hi Will
    Thanks for all the tips! I was wondering if you could give me some advice please? I have made a few of my own stretchers which I have painted on and I am now wondering how to finish off the edges on the back. I have been left with raw, fraying edges and staples on the cotton canvas. Could you recommend a high-tack tape or something like that please? I an trying to achieve a professorial finish. Thanks.

    1. Hi Lindsey, the best thing to do is get a roll of brown framers tape, you can run this over the back of the frame and it will look sweet. Have a look at these frame sealing tapes. I always go for the self adhesive rather than the gummed version.

      Hope it helps,


      1. It certainly does help Will, thanks for the link too.

  42. I am looking to paint a large canvas; 4 feet by 8 feet. If I buy a canvas painters drop cloth and size it and put on three coats of gesso and then stretch it on a frame, would that work for painting with acrylics.

    1. Hi Gmb,

      If you get the canvas, then stretch it onto the stretcher bar, then apply gesso (you don’t need to size the canvas for acrylics) you’ll be golden!



      1. awesome. thank you so very much.

  43. When painting on paper with acrylics do you use a primer?

    1. You don’t have to prime the paper to work with acrylic, but some artists add a coat of gesso as they prefer the surface.



  44. I have a bit of a predicament, and I’m wondering if you could help me out. I’m currently working on a painting, but I bought cheap canvasboard, and a sizeable part of it has nearly no tooth to it. I’m attempting to gesso over it without ruining what I already have painted (using professional grade acrylics), and I’m still getting a smooth surface. I’ve been using 150 grit sandpaper, but it’s not doing much. Any advice on creating a bit more of a rough surface?

    1. Hi Colie, to get a more textured surface I wouldn’t use sandpaper as this will smooth the surface. If you’re painting with acrylic you can mix in textured gels with your paints (here’s an example of a glass bead gel) or just apply the gesso more thickly using a stiff brush.

      Hope this helps,

      1. Thanks for the reply! Sadly, I don’t have money or time to go get any kind of textured gels, as the nearest store that would supply something like this is about 45 minutes to an hour’s drive away from me. I don’t have any really stiff brushes in the size I need at my disposal, but I have one that’s about medium stiffness. Do you think this could work, if I go horizontal one layer, vertical the other, and use light pressure to create the brushstrokes/ridges necessary to achieve texture?

        I will never be using cheap canvasboards again, haha! This is such a terrible drain of time!

      2. Another question, could I mix something like sand or something into the gesso to give it texture? Something like beach sand? I have a little bit from Redondo Beach, California in small mason jars in the bathroom, and could use a little bit from that mixed into the gesso, if this could work.

        1. Hi Colie, yes you can mix in sand with your acrylic, gesso or a standard gel.


  45. I just happened across this site (which is fantastic) and I am interested in painting across a map of Wash ington DC as part of a wedding gift. What should I do to prepare the map to take acrylic paint? Any thoughts? Lisa

    1. Hi Lisa,
      You don’t need to prepare the map at all you can just paint the acrylic straight on top.

  46. I applied my first coat of gesso on 12oz cotton canvas. I forgot to dilute the gesso with water on the first coat. In your experience do you think it will crack over time? Thanks for help.


    1. Hi Sherena, no the gesso won’t crack over time, it will be fine.

  47. How many oz of gesso do I need for 3 foot by5 foot surface

    1. Hi Chris,

      As a general rule of thumb coverage is about 100ml per metre squared.

      So 3ft x 5ft = 1.39 metre squared

      So 150ml should do it.

      Most small pots come in 225ml


  48. I never tried the single sheet canvas that is tear away like drawing pages. So I started to paint on a sheet of canvas and found it was very difficult painting.I was using acrylics and my color and detail became lost soon after applying. After completing half of my subject blue jays I realized that i had painted the opposite side of the gesso. Is this the cause of my burden? I didn’t start over due to the fact of shipping date. It is to be a gift to my Father. The reason I used the tear out canvass to begin with was due to shipping. I have applied generous amounts of paint and it still seemed so grainy. Errrrrr

    1. Yes that will be the issue scott, the raw canvas will make it harder for the painting to flow on the surface.

  49. Hi… Let me say you thank for you kindly support, advice and shared experienced with us. Sometime I surf on your site for tips and trick, is a amazing island of wonder!

    Well, I’m a watercolorist on paper. Could you suggest me some advice for using canvas instead paper for watercolor? My first proof were a stunning disaster (color creates stains on the canvas and spreads everywhere). Then I’ve used golden absorbent ground on primed canvas, and the paint don’t soak; but when I try to add new layer of color (still wet), the underlying color slips away while brush… Could you suggest me anything? Grazie!

    1. Hi Mary,

      My first, albeit not very helpful advice, would be to stick with watercolours on paper for the best result. If you want a harder surface to work onto you can mount watercolour paper onto a wooden board. You can use soft-gel gloss or spray mount to attach the paper to board.

      When you try to paint onto canvas, even with an absorbent ground (the Golden is a good choice) you’ll still have issues with:

        The paint can be ‘lifted off’ very easily when you paint a new layer ontop.
        The paint will stay wetter ontop of the canvas
        The paint can ‘pool’ is the surface doesn’t absorb as much of the paint liquid.


  50. hi will.

    firstly – thanks heaps for your kind and informative website. Its very generous of you to share your amazing knowledge and skill like this. Second off all, do I need to size MDF board before applying gesso?



    1. Hi Ella, if you’re using acrylics, no, if you’re using oils, yes.


  51. I don’t know if this question fits here, but I am a beginning acrylic painter but I paint on cedar. I have been using a sealer mixed (as recommended) with my base coat but the paint absorbs VERY fast! It makes it very difficult to and time consuming to produce anything. Is there any other way to prepare wood for painting?

    1. Hi Brandy, what sealer and/or gesso are you using?


      1. I’m truly showing what a beginner I am! I didn’t know you could use gesso on wood! After your response I googled all kinds of gesso and there are a lot! What are some good kinds for wood? I am on a small budget so am looking for the best bang for my buck. For my drawing supplies I shop at Dick Blick online. I noticed they have a line of artist acrylic paint and gesso and a variety of other things. I’m assuming brands like Golden would be better, but to start would using something like the Blick brand artist quality paints, mediums and gessos work?

        1. Hi Brandy,

          The Blick brand gesso’s would be fine, I’ve found the Golden brand Titanium white has a really good opacity so is worth the investment, but many artist quality brands have a good feel to them. I haven’t personally used the Blick artist quality paints but have heard good things about many of their own brand products such as the Blick Studio pencils.


  52. hi Will I’m a agedcare woman just started to paint in acirylics need a pastime as I’m in agedcare bedroom most of the day I’ve started painting sea scapes and been told I have talent will look forward to all your advice in the near future i wS very interested in the painting the canvas different colours I’m going to try it thank you so much Pauline

    1. Hi Pauline, great to hear from you and so pleased you’re feeling inspired to paint. Hope you find the tutorials helpful.

  53. Hi Will!
    Your blog, indeed is very informative and encouraging, am passionate about drawing and i know that i have good skill, have worked with pencil colors and soft pastels and the out come is really good, people have told me why dont i pursue this sill on professional basis.

    The problem is that am not sucessful with either water colors or acrylic paints, as soon as i have brush in hand, am not able to create a painting…i have bought pre-primed canvas Titanium Fine Art trade mark canvas and want to pursue and pidilitte paints…please can you guide

    1. Hi Aashish,

      Nice to hear from you, so pleased you’ve been enjoying the lessons, the transition from drawing to painting can at first seem a bit tricky as the skills you have with a pencil can at first seem alien to painting. The best place to start is with a simple two colour painting, get used to holding the brush and making brushstrokes, and then you can introduce more colours as you progress.

      Hope this helps,


  54. Hello. I stretched a canvas myself for the first time and I’ve never applied gesso before. I’ve applied about three or 4 layers already and it doesn’t seem to be covering very good. When i look at it at a different angle, it looks patchy, but straight on it looks normal. Should I be unable to see any light through the back of the painting? Or can I just start painting?


    1. Hi Kristy,

      It sounds like you’ll be able to just start painting, as depending on the weave of the canvas you can often hold it up to the light and still be able to see the weave even when it’s ready to paint.


  55. What a wonderful website!!!
    So I bought a roll of 2.5m x10m raw cotton canvas.
    The plan is to make two painting with this using acrylic paints.
    I have black gesso..
    1) Do I have to stretch the canvas before I gesso and paint or can I do it as is and then mount, stretch or frame etc?
    2) The size of these paintings is clearly quite large so I was hoping to gesso, roll away (hide from kids and dog), paint a bit, roll away, paint more, roll away, etc till I finished. Is this possible or do I really have to stretch and painting like that?

    It’s an aboriginal style painting if that helps. Dots of paint.

    3) Also what’s involved in ‘stretching’. I have down it before not have the tools yet. Guess I need some stretching bars etc? I was kinda hoping to just do the painting and then pay someone to stretch, mount or frame etc.

    Hope you have some advise for me!
    Thank you in advance. :)

  56. Thanks. I get what’s involved for stretching and I more interested in the – Do I have to stretch – can I paint and roll up and stretch at the end – those questions above. Cheers wendy.

    1. Hi Wendy, personally I would always stretch and leave on the canvas, If you are painting with acrylics (which have more flexibility) and are working on a flat surface, you could roll out the canvas, paint an area and then roll it back up and then stretch the final piece, but you’ll loose the feeling of painting on a tight painting surface. If you keep on unpicking the staples from the stretched canvas every time it would also be very time consuming to do this every time you painted.
      Hope this helps,


  57. I want to thank you very much, I’m just getting started in abstact acrylic painting, I did not know that you had to prime the canvas before, but as I read your comments about you need to do it made a lot of since, so it’s ok to mix acrylic paint with gesso will it still give me the color I need or is it best to let the gesso dry sand it then put another thin layer on it, sand it then paint, please let me know, before my art was cracking like crazy, thank you so much


    1. Hi Sonny, if you’re working with acrylics your paint surface shouldn’t be cracking if you mix the gesso with the acrylic, or paint a coloured ground ontop of the gesso. You can use either method depending on the aesthetic ell you’re after.
      Hope this helps,


  58. I want to prime my board with Gesso. Do I sketch my drawing before or after applying the gesso primer? I am using a charcoal pencil.

    1. Hi Lily, you apply the gesso before you do your sketching.

  59. Hi Will,
    I am new to the world of acrylic painting. I have been spending my time learning
    and trying different techniques, and gradually building an arsenal of supplies/tools.
    My question is about gesso. I understand its purpose now, but wonder why would
    one tint it. What does one consider when choosing a tint. Thank you for the great

    1. Hi Denis, it helps to form a base tone to work onto which will make it easier to judge tones if you’re trying for a realistic look with your paintings.

  60. Hello Will !

    Thankyou for such a treat of a website with all these wonderful tutorials !
    wanted to ask you something.

    I am trying to follow your 5 step oil portrait and i just got a canvas from the market which says ACRYLIC DOUBLE PRIMED ….

    Do i need to apply anymore layers of ACRYLIC GESSO if painting in OILS or am i good to go ??

    1. Hi Dennis, usually the pre-primed canvas with say ‘suitable for oil and acrylic’ and if it is double primed yes you’re good to go!


      1. Hello Will, I have been reading all the comments and questions on this site. How delightful to find so much knowledge on one page. Thank you.

        I have 24X48 gallery wrapped, pre-primed canvas’ from the hobby stores. I have been oil painting. I had liquid white on the canvas in question and had laid my first patches of color for the sky when I became ill and had to leave the painting sit (dry). I have managed to remove most of the oils across the sky with turpentine. (There is still some color on the canvas)
        What do I do next?
        Must I re-prime my canvas with Gesso, if so, should I use oil gesso or acrylic?

        1. Hi Mari, if you’ve removed most of the oil from the sky you’ll be able to apply your liquid white and work from there. If you can still see the white gesso on the canvas you wouldn’t need another gesso layer.
          Hope this helps,


  61. Hi there,

    I work with oils on wood. When I paint I like for it to be slightly transparent for the patterns and the grain of the wood to show through similar to the work of Audrey Kawasaki. I was wondering how you gesso or prime the wood and still be able to get that effect ?

    1. Hi Melena you can get a clear gesso that is a resin, then work with layers ontop of that.

  62. Hello! I am painting with oils on a canvas that I stretched and gesso’d myself for the first time. I sanded the surface before I began painting with oils. After the first day of painting with oils, I see a “ghost” of my wood stretcher through my painting. I am wondering if I may have sanded to hard over the stretcher and accidentally sanded off all the gesso in those areas. My stretcher is a “T” configuration and it crosses in the middle of my canvas. Does this sound familiar? Is there anything I can do at this point to remedy it? Would it be appropriate for me to dampen the back of the canvas to see if it just needs tightened? Or can I gesso the back of the canvas in the areas that seem to have lost the gesso? Thank you for your time and consideration!

    1. Hi Alyssa,

      It just sounds like there wasn’t enough layers of gesso painted onto the canvas and this is why you can see the T, tightening the back by dampening it won’t help with the see-through nature of the canvas, but you could apply a coat of gesso to the back to create a more opaque canvas finish.

      Hope this helps,


      1. Hi! Thanks so much for the tip. I have mistaken the purpose of poppyseed oil and have been using it like paint thinner in the first few coats of paint on two paintings. Now my paintings are tacky to the touch, blotchy and glossy. I still plan on working on them some more, but I am afraid that they may crack with more coats of paint. I have since done research and now understand the fat over lean process. Are my paintings doomed, or will they dry enough in a few months time to continue working on them? Thank you for your time. I look forward to your response!
        Sincerely, Alyssa

        1. Hi Alyssa, the poppy oil is classes as a semi-drying oil and often has dries added so will dry eventually its just more slow drying than linseed oil.

  63. Hi Will,

    thank you for being generous and creating this website. I’ve been reading all your articles. My drawings aren’t bad but, sadly, painting is still a major challenge. I am a complete newbie.

    At the art supplies shop I’ve seen some gorgeous brown fabrics. Could I use clear gesso on top of it? I want my fabric to stay brown and grainy if possible. If so, I wouldn’t need a background colour, am I right?

    Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi Katya, yes you can apply a clear gesso to your fabric, but I would recommend artist canvas so you can pull it tight on a stretcher bar to give you a taught surface to paint on top of.


  64. Hi Will,
    I am working on an acrylic landscape with two foreground mountains to the sides, one midground, and another background. The midground one still appears a bit too dark even though it isn’t very detailed. I was thinking of leaving it but hazing it up a bit.
    Will a light wash give it a lighter, hazy look or will it smear the work? Is there anything
    else I might consider? Thank you sir, best of the holidays, and I may try to concoct
    some of those whiskey macs you mentioned! Raise a glass to the teacher!

    1. Hi Denis, you can use Zinc white, which is a transparent white, this will give a lovely hazy effect.

  65. I will be starting a larger canvas than I normally work on– 24″ x 48″. It has no center wood support. Do I need to gesso the back at all?

    1. Hi Karen, you won’t need to gesso the back of the canvas but you might get a bowing of the stretcher bars in the middle (on the longer side) if you’ve after a very taught, tight canvas.

      1. Thanks Will! I just found your website and will subscribe to it. What a great tool to have in the studio!

  66. My mother was given a very large roll of unprimed canvas. She wants to cut it up and make her own painting What does she need to do to prepare it for painting? She tried coating it with Gesso but it soaked right through. What can she do?

    1. Hi Carolyn, if its acrylic painting she would just need to apply a couple of coats of gesso to the canvas, ideally stretched onto stretcher bars to keep the canvas taught. Yes, sometimes the first layers of gesso will drip through if it is a loose weave on the canvas, you can then just apply another coat on top.
      Hope this helps,


  67. Hello Will, I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, but just two days ago got interested in painting with vitrail after seeing the effects that can be created. I bought a small canvas and did a sketch on it, just to learn I have to prime it first (like I said, completely new). Anyways, can you give me any advice on what brushes or tools will I need. I’ll greatly appreciate your help.

    1. Hi Walter, you don’t need much to start with just a surface to paint on and a couple of brushes. If you watch through any of the free tutorials you’ll see details of the specific brushes I use and what techniques they are used for.

  68. Hi Will,

    I have just stumbled across your blog in my search for help. I am thinking that you in your wisdom will be able to help me. I am a photographer, and am wanting to create some painted canvas backdrops. The backdrops would be rolled up when not in use. I have purchased a roll of pre-primed 10oz canvas from an art supplier. My questions are:
    1. Do I need to prime it again with gesso to ensure that the paint that I paint on it does not crack when it is rolled up, stored and unrolled again?
    2. What kind of paint should I be using? It will be a solid colour on the backdrop (not a design).
    3. How many layers of paint should I be painting on? I have heard to get great coverage, I can do up to 7/8 layers (mostly for texture in the backdrop?
    4. Do I need to seal it with something to ensure that the paint does not peel/crack?

    Thanks so much in advance for any advice that you can give me.

    Ange :)

    1. Oh and do I need to stretch the canvas while I am painting it? Or can I just lay it down and paint away?

      1. For what you’re using the canvas for just lay it down and paint straight on top.

    2. Hi Ange,

      To answer your questions:

      1. Do I need to prime it again with gesso to ensure that the paint that I paint on it does not crack when it is rolled up, stored and unrolled again?

      No, as it’s a ‘pre-primed’ canvas it has already been primed with gesso.

      2. What kind of paint should I be using? It will be a solid colour on the backdrop (not a design).

      Acrylics would be best for flexibility

      3. How many layers of paint should I be painting on? I have heard to get great coverage, I can do up to 7/8 layers (mostly for texture in the backdrop?

      It depends on the opacity of the paint and the intensity of colour you’re after.

      4. Do I need to seal it with something to ensure that the paint does not peel/crack?

      No you don’t have to.

      Hope this helps,


  69. Hi Will,
    Just thought I had to comment on your excellent site.
    I’ve wanted to start painting for ages now and feel your site has given me the incentive to put brush to canvas at last.Don’t know how good/bad it’s going to be, but what the heck! Some really good tips that I’m sure will help have come out of your site, so here goes. Thought I might start with an easy L S Lowry copy as there are some readily available. Will let you know how I get on.
    Kind regards from sunny England [ I wish]
    Colin Eccles

    1. Hi Colin, thanks for dropping by and for your kind comments, hope the Lowry copy goes well and you find the site helpful.

  70. Hi Will. I’ve just started to paint with acrylics after using watercolour and I’m so glad I came across your site, it’s so informative. Just a quick question, can I prime MDF with white emulsion instead of gesso? Or is that totally insane! Rosie

    1. Hi Rosie, you could use a white emulsion, but you’d loose some of the absorbent quality and archival quality you have with acrylic gesso.

      Hope this helps,


  71. Hello Will. I am relatively new to painting and have just discovered this site. I’ve learnt much from it. So far, I have used cotton boxed canvases but today bought a couple of “burlap” 100% linen boxed canvases. these were relatively small and not expensive. My problem is this: Do I need to gesso these or will a couple of coats of white paint be ok? I tried gessoing the first one and put 2 coats of white background colour over the gesso, but I found it difficult to totally erase any brush marks left by the gesso by sanding between the coats of gesso and the paint over the gesso didn’t really improve it. I am painting in acrylics. Many thanks, Rose.

    1. Hi Rose, the gesso is a good base because it will have more absorbency than standard white paint. Are you diluting the gesso with water? this should help to erase the brushstrokes on the canvas.

      Hope this helps,


      1. Much appreciated. :)

  72. I have been painting with acrylics about five years, learn something new with each painting. Lately I am using a thinned layering process on portrait paintings. My problem is the toothiness of the canvas is showing through from the watered down acrylic. How do I get that to seal so the teeth will be covered?
    Thanks, love your site and articles.

    1. Hi Robert, if you’re working with very thin layers then the easiest approach would be to use a finer tooth canvas or even board. This will give you a smoother finish with the thin layers.


  73. I generally work in pyrographics, (burning), so this information for my next project is greatly useful as I attemp a large painting behind a burning! Thanks very much.

  74. Thank you very very much for taking the time to produce such an incredibly helpful website. The section about pre-primed cheap canvas boards was a break-through for me as I couldn’t figure out why my paint wasn’t staying put! I use them for practice since I’m a beginner and didn’t think I needed to gesso them but now I know better. Your explanation on color bias was also a break-through and I can only imagine how much my painting will improve as I work my way through your lessons. You are a saint!

    1. Thanks Cathie, so pleased you’ve been finding the lessons helpful, yes, those shiny surfaced pre-primed panels can be a really tricky surface to paint onto!


  75. hi,i just found out your very informative site,and thanks a lot for helping us out here,duly appreciated your help.i would like to know could i prime my 48′ x 60′ pre-primed canvas with a normal wall paint roller?or must i get any special kind of roller?this is a very big canvas,i intended to paint a geometrical abstract color painting,4 colors using diluted yellow as background color.the reason i want to use roller to prime my canvas is i think it should be faster and without the brush stroke with using a brush.i am new to acrylic painting.hope you could help me out here.thanks!

    1. Hi, yes, you can use a roller for larger scale applications, sometimes the wall rollers will leave tiny textured effects on the surface in comparison to a brush, the best thing to do is test a smaller canvas first to see if you like the aesthetic. One thing to note if you’re using a ‘pre-primed canvas’ you won’t need to add another coat of gesso, you can paint straight ontop.


  76. Hi Will,

    some very generous and great tips – thanks for your website.

    have painted for a little while but never really understood the surface prep for oil painting. I am a little confused with sizes and gesso for oil paints. I usually use marine ply boards to paint on and was told at an art store that acrylic gesso on the board is ok for oils( 3-4 thin layers sanded between coats) I then start with acrylic underpainting then move to oils. should I be using a “size” on the board first before the gesso ? if so what size do you recommend? should I use oil gesso instead of acrylic?

    thanks and cheers Alexis

    1. Hi Alexis, the ‘size’ is used for protecting the surface of a canvas support and sealing the fabric. Without the protection of a size layer the canvas (or linen) can be more susceptible to rot.

      Wooden boards or panels only need to have a ground, they don’t need a size layer.

      If you are painting with an acrylic underpainting using an acrylic gesso is the best choice.

      Hope this helps,


  77. Hi Will,

    Im a finance analyst by profession but has been painting since 3rd grade. I really find your site very informative and helpful, especially for art enthusiasts like myself.:)

    Just a question: Ive tried priming my own canvas cloth with Gesso and already applied two coatings but I noticed that some layers seem to have very thin Gesso paint on them – I’m actually worried these parts are not fully covered yet.

    Will it be advisable then to apply a third layer of Gesso, or two layers should do the trick? What will happen to the painting if some parts of the canvas aren’t completely covered with Gesso?

    1. Hi Jilds, pleased you’ve been enjoying the site, yes I’d apply another coat of gesso to get a more even surface. If the surface is too uneven you’ll have different absorbency rates. This would be most noticeable if you are painting with oils because you’d have different ‘sunk in’ areas where the oil has been absorbed into the gesso. If you’re working with acrylics it wouldn’t be as noticeable.
      Hope this helps,


  78. Hi Will. Thanks for sharing so much information. I truly appreciated it.
    I have 2 canvas backgrounded with oil paint. Can I put gesso over and then continue with acrylic?
    Thanks for your help.

    1. Hi Rebekka, you can paint oil paint ontop of acrylics, but not acrylic paint over oil. The acrylics won’t adhere very well to the oil surface and will prevent the oil paint underneath from drying correctly.


  79. Excellent, well-written article! Thanks!

  80. I live in Costa Rica and am about to work on three large canvases. Because the art stores here don’t have such large canvases, I bought the stretched canvas from my printer which are usually used for giclee fine art prints. It has a white coating type primer made for ink. Do you happen to know if I can gesso on top of this primer, or if I need to gesso on it at all. This is for an acrylic painting. Would appreciate any advice you may have. Thanks!

    1. Hi Nathan, if you gesso on top with acrylic gesso you will be able to paint on top it’s just the surface might repel the paint a bit due to the coating used for the printing surface, I would test a small section of the canvas with and without gesso to see which one adheres to the surface better.

  81. Hi Will. I stretch all of my canvas and I’ve always done okay with 3 layers of acrylic gesso under a canvas, however, I didn’t like how my colors would sink in and look flat. Varnish is a good way to bring the colors back, but I wanted a more accurate and faster way of getting the saturation that I needed.

    It was recommended to me that I use an oil-base primer on top of the gesso. I asked if I could use a KILZ oil-based primer, which I could and did, but now the surface is starting to crack. I’ve never had cracks happen before with gesso. Did I apply too much primer? What can I do to repair my surface before I start painting on the canvas. Should I sand it off or is there a glue like-medium that will protect the cracking?


    1. Hi Kerra,

      I haven’t personally used the KILZ oil-based primer, although at first glance it looks like it’s been developed for surfaces that are more stable than canvas. Most gesso for painting is a combination of glue (or binder) and pigment, so the paint has the flexibility within it. Cracks usually appear when there is one thick layer, rather that a few thin layers. Any glue size medium would usually be applied under the gesso surface so I wouldn’t apply a glue ontop. Personally, I would start a fresh and do a few small test pieces on scrap canvas to test if it was the thickness or the inherent lack of flexibility in the primer.

  82. Dear Will Kemp,
    I have just been told that sanding my canvas after painting it with white gesso creates a serious problem. Apparently the Titanium white is toxic when inhaled . If inhaled over a long period of time is a carcinogen.
    Would it be safer to use clear gesso for priming the canvas? I use it on ready made stretched canvas to make the surface smoother to paint on.
    Is the Titanium safe if left contained in the paint and not sanded?
    If not what other white could I use,please.?
    Thank you, as always, for all your help and advice.I really appreciate you and admire your work and generosity .


    1. Hi Susan, if it’s a larger canvas that you are extensively sanding then it can be a good idea to sand the canvas outside, but often it’s just a very light sand to take down any bobbles from the paint application. If you’re after a very smooth surface you can get prepared boards (such as art boards from ampersand) that are super smooth and would require no sanding. For smooth canvas, I would look for a portrait canvas that has a finer weave so you have a smoother surface intially.

      Hope this helps,


  83. If gesso is left bumpy or textured, does this creat a more interesting painting?

    1. Hi Linda, it will create a more interesting texture, which can add interest if you’re painting quite painterly.

  84. Hello Will.
    I paint acrylics and I’ll build my own canvases for the first time.
    I have bought fabric canvas and acrylic gesso.
    Is it necessary to size/prime the raw cotton fabric with something prior to apply the layer of gesso? Do you recommend to sand the surface of the last gesso layer?
    I’m planning to give 3 coats of gesso and I plan to make glazing effects in my paintints.

    1. Hi Alan, if you’re using oils you need to size the canvas, if you’re using acrylics you don’t.
      I’ll usually do a very light sand on the last coat.


      1. I have noticed a few tiny gesso balls on the back of the canvas when I apply the first and sometimes the second layer. Is it that normal?
        I have added some water to have a syrup to make it a bit more liquid since it’s too thick to apply in the canvas.
        I have noticed even after 3 layer I still can see the fabric weft.
        Should the weft be not visible?

        1. Yes, that’s normal depending on the weave of the canvas for the gesso to soak through to the back of the canvas. And yes you still want to see some weave as this will drag the paint from the brush.

  85. To get a more absorbent surface I would have to use gesso or acrylic gesso?
    Sorry this is a little confusing for me.

    1. Hi Alan,

      To add absorbency to your acrylic gesso you would add in more chalk (calcium carbonate – sometimes called whiting) to the gesso.

      Acrylics gesso is a mix of pigment, chalk and binder.

      If you want the gesso to be:

      More absorbent add more chalk
      More flexible add more binder
      Less absorbent add more pigment.

      Hope this helps,


      p.s if you’re after a very absorbent surface you might be interested in trying the absorbent ground medium from Golden Paints, which is designed for more staining watercolour type effects.

      1. calcium carbonate/whiting = the pure powder calcium carbonat they sell and it’s applied in walls?
        What could I use for binder?

        1. Hi Alan, personally I would use the existing acrylic gesso and then add to that rather that trying to create a gesso from scratch.

  86. Hi Will.
    Will I get the same easy to work and absorbent surface after I put the first layer of glaze in a gesso primed canvas? Or will the surface repel the paint on the next glaze layer I add? I’m afraid the paint doesn’t soak into the canvas as I keep adding more layers.
    How long would the gesso help in this situation to avoid the paint sit on the surface instead of soak in? Are there another alternatives to that?
    Thank you so much!

    1. The surface quality will change as you add more layers of paint (get less absorbent as you add more layers of acrylic) You can add some of the flow release to your water when working with acrylics. The best way to find out if it gives the results you’re after is to use lots of small postcard sized samples, they don’t have to be stretched up, and then experiment with different ratios to find the right look you’re after. Often these experiments can end up with an unexpected path that you hadn’t first imagined that can help to guide your style and work.
      Hope this helps,

      1. Hi Will.
        The flow release seems to work nice as it makes the paint soak into the canvas.
        I’ll see if I can find it.
        Does matte medium have similar effect or it has nothing to do with flow release?
        I ask because I saw some videos from Michael Lang on YouTube and he says he uses matte medium and he makes nice shading and it appears the paint soaks into canvas fast and nice layers after layers.

        1. Hi Alan, the matte medium would have a different effect on the paint as you would mix it in with your acrylics directly, rather than mixing them with the water, it can still work well for thin applications.

          1. Is the flow release able to soak into a surface already painted with acrylics?
            That’s all I want. Be able to put many thin layers and have them soak instead of sitting on surface.

          2. It’s best used for the initial staining layer onto canvas, for multiple layers ontop of already painted acrylics a medium would be a better choice.

          3. The Flow release should be used on raw canvas only or could be as the layer on gesso primed canvas?
            I wanted to be able to put new layers on specific areas and wanted the paint soak in after rubbing the brush sometimes.
            Currently when I do that the paint continues to go further and don’t stop the point I want.
            In resume I wanted to put as many layers as needed but just on some areas and have the layer (shadow or shade) go until the place I want I don’t want the layer to cover the entire canvas. Wanted to put small amount of color layer by layer on specific areas on the objects on the canvas to build the shadows.
            For example imagine a cube with darker areas at bottom.
            When I paint the cube let it dry and put new layer at bottom to darken it the paint doesn’t soak and continues go further.
            Sorry long messages I just wanted to get a better idea on what products I could by and try to create this.

          4. Hi Alan, you can read the details on the Golden flow release here, you can use it on raw canvas or gesso primed, for the method you’ve described of layers ontop of existing paint a medium would be better suited.

  87. Hello Will,
    I find your website very interesting. Thank you.
    May I ask you a question :
    I made a stretch linen canvas for painting with acrylic. This canvas looks ok but I wonder if it is good enough to last years. I built it this way : first I have put acrylic matte medium gel on both sides of some raw linen canvas, then I stretched the canvas and later I put several layers of acrylic white gesso (I lightly sanded every layer). Do you think this method is good to build a quality canvas that will last years ?
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Yann, pleased you’ve been finding the website of interest, the canvas will last well, you wouldn’t need the matte medium onto the canvas first if painting with acrylics. If you’re working with oils and want to size the canvas first to protect it from the oil paint using products such as GAC100 or GAC400 from Golden paint can be a good choice rather than the matte medium, you can read more in-depth here on the Golden website.
      Hope this helps,


      1. Hi Will,
        Yes it does help, thanks a lot

  88. I’ve just started getting back into painting. I used to dabble in watercolors. I just wanted to say your site has been a lifesaver and inspiration. I’ve done several acrylic paintings and was pleased but then became horrified i would lose the work because i hadn’t prepped the watercolor paper i was using. But now i am relieved to learn from your site that all is well and i also understand about canvases being sized and already prepped. Thank you! Laurie

    1. Hi Laurie, lovely to hear from you and so pleased you’ve been finding the lessons helpful.

  89. hi will. I bought several oil primed canvases. I want to tone the canvas but use one layer of acrylic. is there any way I can use this on a pre primed oil? thanks

    1. Hi Lorion, it can be tricky with an oil primed canvas because the water mixed in the acrylic will be repelled from the oil primed surface so you’ll get a very uneven finish that won’t have really ‘grabbed’ onto the surface.

      I would apply a tonal ground for an oil primed canvas using quick-drying oils or quick-drying white mixed with an earth colour rather than acrylics.

      Hope this helps,


  90. Hello Will!
    Here acrylic gesso is expensive.
    I would like to make my own.
    Would you suggest a recipe I could use?

    1. Hi Alan, I don’t have a specific recipe for making your own acrylic gesso, but if you used an Archival PVA glue, powdered calcium carbonate (whiting) and Titanium white pigment you would get a basic acrylic gesso substitute.

      Here is a recipe for a traditional Chalk gesso using Rabbit skin glue. is a great resource for learning about grinding your own paints.

      Hope this helps,

      1. Could I use calcium sulfate instead of calcium carbonate?
        Could I use something to make PVA glue archival?

        1. Hi Alan, I would stick to calcium carbonate and there isn’t anything that’s I’m aware of that would make a standard PVA glue archival.


  91. Hello Will.
    When using PVA glue to make home made gesso it’s considered acrylic gesso because of the PVA glue or it will still be traditional gesso? Will it be flexible? I read acrylic gesso should be flexible to avoid cracking in the canvas right?

    1. Hi Alan,

      PVA glue is not used in a traditional gesso.

      Rabbit skin glue is used in a traditional glue gesso.

      But neutral PVA glue is a recent modern alternative will less chance of movement on flexible supports than Rabbit skin glue which remains Hydroscopic.

      This is from the beginning of the article above:

      Traditional Oil ‘glue gesso’ was made with an animal glue binder, usually rabbit-skin glue, chalk, and white pigment, usually Titanium white.

      PVA glue is more flexible than Rabbit skin Glue, which remains hygroscopic, so can absorb water in the future and lead to cracking on flexible supports.

      This is from the Gamblin paints website:

      This is the traditional size for fabric support. Conservation scientists caution painters that rabbit skin glue absorbs atmospheric moisture on damp days and swells, gives off moisture on dry days and shrinks. This movement of the size layer can cause aged oil paintings to crack according to the Smithsonian Conservation Lab.

      Gamblin have recently introduced a neutral pH PVA glue:

      Diluted with distilled water, PVA size is a contemporary size for fabric support. Conservation scientists recommend painters use neutral pH PVA size on linen and canvas instead of rabbit skin glue. PVA provides a good size layer that seals the fabric but does not re-absorb atmospheric moisture, swell and shrink like rabbit skin glue does. There are hundreds of different formulae of PVA. We acknowledge and appreciate the research of the Canadian Conservation Institute that helps painters and conservators identify the best PVA to use. Gamblin PVA Size is made from PVA that has a neutral pH and does not yellow. It also retains its flexibility and does not emit harmful volatiles

      This is from the Golden paints website:

      Traditionally, a hide glue (typically rabbit-skin) was applied directly to canvas or linen to stiffen the fabric and protect the support from the acidic oils.

      Initially this made hard, brittle paints like tempera and oils less susceptible to cracking.

      Ironically, it promoted cracking later on when the artwork was introduced to varying temperatures and humidity.

      Rabbit-skin glue and other known glues of the “Old Masters” era are hygroscopic, meaning they will always have the ability to absorb water. When moisture, usually in the form of high humidity, is re-introduced into this film, the glue swells, changes dimensionally, and becomes less rigid, causing the paint film to crack and, over time, flake off. This is most prevalent on cotton and linen canvases as their inherent flexibility allows the stress to be passed along to the oil paint film. With rigid supports such as wood panels, the chance of swelling is much lower, and this glue size is more appropriate.

      Hope this helps,

  92. Hi There,
    Great informative article. I am mostly self taught and I’ve been experimenting with painting on birch bark. I’ve been using a “clear” acrylic gesso because I love the color and texture that the bark brings to the paintings. I’m not sure if it’s necessary for me to use gesso on the bark, but I hope it helps preserve the paint and also helps with absorption. Any thoughts on this?
    Thanks so much!
    Julie Gargan

    1. Hi Julie, the clear gesso will give you a good surface to paint on, the absorption will vary depending on the surface of the bark you’re using. I would try a test piece with no gesso, one coat of clear gesso and two coats of clear gesso and then see which surface quality you prefer for your pieces.

  93. After priming (acrylic gesso) on canvas then adding a coat of acrylic binder, is this stable enough for Oil Painting, as the binder leaves a gloss surface that doesn’t absorb the colour (chroma) like Gesso, Thanks.

    1. Hi Scott, for oil painting you would usually size the canvas and then apply the gesso ontop. If you apply the binder ontop of the gesso you’ll get a very slippy non-absorbent surface which won’t take the following layers of paint aswell. Modern sizes such as archival PVA glue can be an easy to apply protection for the raw canvas surface before you apply the gesso.

  94. I just stretched and primed my very first canvas, but I didn’t dilute the gesso with water at the start -as per your instructions. Have I completely ruined it?

    1. Hi Kenneth, that will still be fine the canvas won’t be ruined, you can still paint ontop.

  95. Im very new of this painting things. What do u think of using acrylic wall sealer as gesso?

    1. I personally wouldn’t Ika, as it wouldn’t give as nice an absorbent tooth to work onto.

  96. Hi Will,
    I have a tub of liquitex acrylic gesso for beginners that I bought over ten years ago and never opened it until now ( 2-20-2016 ). It has been in a fairly stable temp and not exposed to sun. I am just getting back to painting after few years away from the brush and want to know if you think this old product is still viable as I don’t want to use it and have it adversely affect the acrylic paint I will use over it.
    Thank you in advance for any help. Doug

    1. Hi Doug, under those conditions I think it would be fine to use, you could check directly with Liquitex just to be doubly sure.

  97. Hey Will,

    Wow. I just discovered your site and gosh – what a resource. You have done an incredible job on content creation here. I know what it takes to develop a site of this quality and magnitude (I work full time in online marketing, copywriting and content creation) so I understand what has been invested in the amount of content you offer – just, wow – my hat off to you dude!

    I’ve actually just started a Bach of Fine Art this week and am LOVING it. But find the lecturers/tutors aren’t giving us the ‘juicy stuff’ that I want and need to know. In less than an hour on your site I’ve learnt more than I expect I would have in 3 weeks at Uni. You can’t beat one on one training and your videos do that perfectly in terms of demonstrating a technique.

    I really want to ace my Introductory Painting subject so will probably pay for your acrylics course. I have no problem paying for that type of tutoring when someone has done such an amazing job of providing value through their free material.

    So this isn’t a question, just a comment to say I’m blown away by what you’re offering here – and what a service you’re providing for the world (I’m in Australia). I hope it’s really paying dividends for you personally. You deserve it.

    So thrilled this resource is here for me. It’s exactly what i need!

    Thank you ! Thank you!

    1. Hey Camilla,

      Nice to hear from you and thanks so much for your lovely comments, much appreciated. Hope you’re enjoying your BA and find the lessons and tutorials can help as a jump start to your introduction to painting, I think you’re going to ace it!

      Have a great day.

  98. Hi. I hope you can help me please. I applied 3 coats of gesso to a canvas and it still feels sticky after 3 days. Can I go ahead and paint on to this surface or should I wat longer/
    Thank you

    1. Hi Sandy, I would always wait for the gesso to be dry before painting ontop of. If working with an oil gesso it can take a few days to dry depending on thickness of application, acrylic gesso should dry within the hour.

  99. Hi,

    I am starting out large scale acrylic painting. I assume I do need to prep with gesso? Do I also need to apply a toned background? And what are your tips for brands/types of paints and making them go a long way as I use them SO quickly with such large pieces! Thanks so much for all the useful info.


    1. Hi Erin, you don’t need to use gesso or a toned background when working with acrylics, it’s just a classical approach to building up a painting that can work well. You can work onto raw canvas or straight onto white depending on the style and effect you’re trying to achieve with the finished painting. You might find this article of interest on the absorbency of your paint surface.
      Hope this helps,


  100. Hello Will,
    It might be a stupid question, but is it possible to mix products of different brands? I want to try Golden acrylic paint but I’d like to keep on using my acrylic primer of another brand (also an artist quality product). I wonder if the result would last well…
    Thanks for the useful information on your website. Your acrylic course is also great.

    1. Hi Yann, not at all, yes you can mix different brands together, sometimes there can be subtle difference with the sheen or drying time as different manufacturers all have slightly different production methods, but it is a common practice to use different brands as you’ll find some colours and/or pigment qualities that you like are specific to certain brands. Glad you’re enjoying the acrylics course.
      Hope this helps,


      1. Thanks for your swift and helpful reply.

  101. Hi, i have a few questions. Do you prefer painting before of after stretching the canvas? If you prefer to stretch the canvas first, do you gesso before or after stretching the canvas? And how each step will affect the painting. Thank you.

    1. Hi Zunun, you stretch the canvas first, then prime the canvas with gesso.

  102. Hi, i have a few questions. Do you prefer painting before of after stretching the canvas? If you prefer to stretch the canvas first, do you gesso before or after stretching the canvas? And how each step will affect the painting. Thank you so much

  103. Hello Will,
    Your website is a real help. Recently I have a project to paint a photorealist portrait in oil medium. I have been working (the mode/style o making art) in drawing mediums specially with pens, charcoals and watercolors. Oil will be my first venture to explore. Feeling very tensed but I really want to do it with all my efforts. Money is also an issue . I want to make a black and white photorealist portrait. Please let me know the details to prepare my canvas and the materials I should choose. I live in west bengal, India. So, climate here is one of the biggest issues. The size of my work will be 36inchesX30inches. Need help.

  104. Hi Will,

    Hope this message find you well.

    I am painting with acrylic. I found that there are some severe mold problem on the back of my acrylic paintings. I have tried many method (ie. Backing board, dehumidifier, bleaching…) and still couldn’t stop them appear again, they just become more and more and dominate the canvas back…

    The canvas I used are per-primed linen canvas and I have no idea what material they used to prime these canvas. I am so worried that the mold on the back would damage the painting, do you think I should seal the back of the canvas with medium or vanish or any kind of material to prevent moisture from entering the canvas back?

    Please kindly give me some suggestions, I don’t want to ruin the painting :(

    ps, there isn’t any art restoration center in my country.

    Many thanks!!!


    1. Hi Ana, mould can grow on any fabric surface if the paintings are stored in a damp environment. If you test the area you’re storing your paintings with a humidity monitor you can see if that’s the culprit.

      You might find this article helpful on art restoration and canvas

      Here are the details recommended for mould on paintings:

      To deal with the MOLD growing on the paintings, lightly spray (do not saturate) the canvas, front and back, with Lysol spray (not the liquid). This will help arrest the mold growth, and you may need to repeat this a few times. When the mold is dry and powdery it is now dormant. You can then take the canvas outside it and the residue can be brushed with a clean dry paint brush. Remember to wear a mask so as not to inhale the airborne spores, and be sure to remove all the debris from the back and not to allow it to accumulate under the stretcher bars!

      Do not wipe the mold off, do not use anything stronger than Lysol, and above all do not use BLEACH or TILEX or anything with bleach in it, as this will cause more damage than the mold will cause and is not reversible. The paintings may still need professional cleaning and conservation, but this will help stop the mold from getting any worse until that time.

      Here is a link to some other types of Mold cleaner from Moldblogger
      Hope this helps,


  105. Hi Will, I would like to do art and craft with children I want place removable vinyl letters on canva paint the entire canvas acrylic paint then remove the letters. Can I use this canvas for this project? Need to know stat as program starts 7-5-16 need to get supplies.

    1. Hi Pat, yes you could use canvas, just try to get one that’s quite fine or it would be easy for the paint to sneak under the letters if they’re not super stuck down, I’d try a sample canvas with the technique to see how it works.

  106. Hi Will
    My first canvas I prepped using gesso and water. All good.
    But his second one I tried to get a smoother finish and did 50% gesso and 50% acrylic medium. It´s taking ages to dry.
    I think I confused acrylic base with acrylic medium.
    Am I going to be able to use this canvas? (once it dries)
    What do you recommend for the second coat?
    Thanks a lot

    1. Hi Regina, the acrylic medium will give you a more slippy surface to paint onto (depending on how much medium is added) but you can still paint ontop of it.

      1. Hi Will,
        It took TOO long to dry. it went mouldy!!
        So, I won´t be using medium in my gesso anymore.
        I had to throw it out.
        Thanks anyway.
        It´s a whole process to learn how to stretch your own canvasses. Painting is easier!

  107. Hello Will. I am thrilled about your website and tutorials and all the information you are just giving out. I was wondering, today i gessoed a large canvas 1,95×1,30 cm. Because of its large size some of the edges were cracked so i laid a thicker stroke of pre-dilluted gesso. The surface right now is uneven and i will sand it tomorrow. I thought to have around 4layers of gesso so it will become thick and glossy to paint acrylics on it. I am going to paint a landscape with trees, waters and mountains.

    Do you suggest to use a color ground on top of the gesso for better results? And which color shall i use? The mountains are a bit grayish, blue waters and lots of green trees. Shall i go with the imoressionists and paint a red or orange?

    Also i just finished a big painting of a dancer and i wanted to ask you if you are using varnishes when you finish your paintings. And what varnish should i use? Also do i need to put a medium in my waters like you have suggested in your website?

    Thanks again for your insightful website and comments.

    Thanks for the lovely opportunity to talk to a professsional artist and get advice.

    Cheers Will


    1. Hi Evi, to answer your questions:

      Do you suggest to use a color ground on top of the gesso for better results? And which color shall I use? The mountains are a bit grayish, blue waters and lots of green trees. Shall i go with the impressionists and paint a red or orange?

      I usually work on a coloured ground as it suits my painting style but it’s a personal choice depending on the final finish you’re after. What can be handy to do is make small postcard sized sketches using different coloured grounds to see which colour you prefer before starting on the larger piece.

      If you are using varnishes when you finish your paintings?

      Yes I do, for acrylics, I apply an isolation coat (to separate the paint surface from the varnish layer) and then a coat of removable varnish. you can read more about it here:
      3 Reasons why artists varnish their work (and why some artists don’t)
      Adding an Isolation Coat to an Acrylic Painting

      Do I need to put a medium in my waters like you have suggested in your website?
      It depends on the absorbency of your painting surface, you can read more about it here:

      Hope this helps,


  108. I’m painting a large piece of thin wood with acrylics for a permanent backdrop. In trying to save cost, I used a latex wall primer and now my paints are peeling off. Two questions: can I cover my work with a finish that will keep it from peeling? For my next piece, would gesso prevent this issue?

    1. Hi Janet, if the paint is peeling the only option really is to try and paint on a thick varnish-like yacht varnish or apply a layer of golden gel medium that will act like a glue. I wouldn’t want to say it would ‘grab’ on 100% though and not continue peeling. Yes, an absorbent surface to that bonds into the wood and still gives the paint a tooth to adhere to.

  109. Hi Will,
    I have stretched and put 2 coats of gesso on a rather large canvass ( 7.5 ‘ x 4.5’ )
    I was planing on painting a thin black and white acrylic value underpainting and then switching to oils.
    I have not sized this piece of canvas. Is there something I can do to make the canvas acceptable for oil. Will multiple coats of gesso work?
    Thank you so much for all your knowledge!


    1. Hi Bow, was the gesso straight onto raw canvas? the acrylic layers would help a little to prevent the oil seeping through but couldn’t say 100% it would be protected. It’s a tough balance because you don’t want too much acrylic on the underlying painting or the subsequent oil layer won’t grab on.


  110. Hi! this is really helpful, thanks. However, I still have a question. Is gesso also used so that there is more “open time” for acrylic painting? Like does it help blending and allow the paint to stay undried for longer so you have time?

    1. Hi Safa, the gesso will often reduce the workability time because it’s designed as an absorbent ground for the first layers of paint to ‘grab’ into. For increasing working time you can add a retarder to the acrylics or use a medium, I like the acryic glazing liquid gloss from Golden paints.


  111. Hi Will,
    Firstly I would like to say thank you for all the information and tutorials you put out there for us. I am a beginning artist…
    I need some advice.
    A couple of my canvases have acquired brown spots on the back of them. I live in Asia where it is humid. The canvases were already prepared by the manufacturer, I assumed it would not get mold. I was wrong. Is there anything I can do to remove this? One of them I have already painted on. Online it says to use ‘gesso’ can I apply that to the back of the painting? Or am I simply bolting the stable door after the horse has fled?

    Thanking you in advance for your advice.

    1. Hi Audrey, thanks for your kind words, so pleased you’ve been finding the articles helpful. I wouldn’t personally apply gesso ontop as you’ll be trapping the mould in.

      You could try placing the back of the canvas in the sun until the mould goes dry and then spraying with a light bleach solution. A mixture of bleach and water in a spray bottle is effective when sprayed on and wiped away with a rag. It would only need a short time on the canvas before wiping off the mould. However, as you mentioned, if it’s a raw canvas that you haven’t started painting yet I would either restretch the stretcher bars with a fresh mould free canvas as the application of the bleach solution could damage the canvas fibres more than the cost implications of new canvas.

      Hope this helps,

  112. Hi Will,
    Hope you’re well. I have a couple of questions for you regarding gessoing and painting my ground.

    Do I need to purchase a special “gesso brush”? What brush do you recommend for applying gesso?
    I read that gesso should be quite heavily diluted with water (I believe it was 20 – 30% water to 70 – 80% gesso). What do you suggest? I do note that you recommend the last coat of gesso be undiluted.
    I also heard that to properly paint my ground I should use 60 – 80% airbrush medium to 20 – 40% acrylic paint. What is your opinion on this? Good idea?

    Thank you, as always, ever SO much for all your guidance.

    1. Hi Susen, I use decorators brush, but any 2-inch ish wide brush would work well, the softer the bristles, the smoother the application.
      You can use airbrush medium to dilute the paint but if working on an absorbent canvas water will be fine, or you can use a fluid acrylic. I primarily use golden gesso which can be diluted with water and they recommend not going over 25% water.

      “Dilution of the Gesso is only necessary for spray application, but may be desired for brush or roller applications as well. When diluting with water, we recommend a maximum dilution of 25%.”


  113. Hi Will,
    I used the prepared Gesso on my canvas and when I poured it and started to brush in the Gesso, there seemed to be a lot of little and large lumps on the canvas (like skin on boiled milk). What is the reason for this? The bottle is always tightly closed after use. Have you ever heard of this happening? Thank you for your help. New to painting.

    1. Hi Anna, just sounds like some of the gesso has dried within the pot, you’ll often find it around the inner edges of the pot.

  114. Hi Will.
    I’ve decided to try fabric paints. Do I need to prime my canvas with gesso?
    Do I do the same process that you described here – 3 layers?

    1. Hi Regina, it would depend on the fabric paint, but usually, 1 or two coats would work fine.

  115. So I plan on using oil gesso for a cotton canvas and I was wondering if you would know if there would be any negative effects if I were to repeatedly bend the canvas. Like folding it and such. It mostly for a large set design using oil paints.

    1. Hi Hugh, an acrylic gesso will have more flexibility as depending on the pigment used in the oil gesso it can go brittle with age. Paints that contain zinc oxide can become brittle within a few years, look out for PW4 on the paint tube.


  116. HI Will
    This is all very helpful information thank you Will.
    I have a question for you as I’ve heard of other artists using paint rollers to apply smooth gesso. I’ve usually used brushes but am always dealing with lines and rarely get a truly smooth look. Would you recommend trying a traditional paint roller to apply gesso?
    with thanks.

    1. Hi Andrea, pleased you found it helpful, you can try with a roller but personally, I’ve found I get a smoother result with a brush. I’d try both and see which you prefer.

  117. Hello Will,
    Thanks so much for all your helpful information. I love your art program. Here’s a question: Is it advisable to “size” a stretched raw cotton canvas before applying the gesso?
    Many thanks.


    1. Hi Pam, pleased you’ve been enjoying the site, Yes, you would always apply a size to a raw canvas first before applying a gesso.
      Hope this helps,


  118. I’d like to do a series of acrylic painting. I have a frame for stretching and priming the canvases. Can I stretch and prime the canvas with gesso and remove them before painting my painting with acrylics? I’d like to stretch and prime a series of them so I can just pin them up afterward and work on them. Trying to avoid building a number of frames as they are larger than average.

  119. Hi Will, I apologize in the case this question has already been asked, but there are too many comments here to check it out!
    You say it is not recommended to paint over an acrylic gesso with oil…what would you suggest to prime a canvas with to paint the first layers with acrylic and then overpaint with oil, for a professional result?
    Thank you very much.

    1. Hi Elena, nice to hear from you. You can paint over an acrylic gesso with oil, but can’t paint over an oil gesso with acrylics.

  120. I’m a beginner painter and have a Fredrix artist canvas, medium texture cotton duck. It is acrylic-titanium priming suitable for oil and acrylic painting with the canvas permanency protected with acid-free sizing. Do I still need to use gesso on the canvas?

    1. Hi Liz, no, that canvas will have already have gesso applied, you’re good to go!

  121. Hi Will, I am loving your website, very helpful indeed. I’m just wondering if you have a recipe for making your own Gesso. I know there are plenty of ‘youtube’ videos showing how to do this. However, I am interested in what you think about making your own compared to buying.
    ps. I paint a lot and my canvases are getting bigger and bigger, therefore making my own seems like a viable option. Am also interested in your thoughts on this.

    1. Hi Pauline, pleased you’ve been enjoying the lessons, I don’t have a homemade gesso recipe as I tend to use ready-made, you can make your own with a mix of Titanium white and plaster of Paris (or Calcium Carbonate which is also known as Whiting. Mix this with some archival PVA glue (Gamblin make one). You can see a simple homemade gesso recipe here.

      Hope this helps,


  122. can you use gesso on chipboard? i have a chipboard table that i want to paint. i know i need to prime it. was planning to use acrylics. please help.

    1. Hi Elizabeth, yes you can use gesso on chipboard.

  123. Hi Will,

    It is indeed an useful article.

    would you mind providing a detailed article on mediums/retarders and varnishing too.

    I am really very confused about uses (and consequences) of mediums/retarders and varnishing.

    Especially, for acrylic paintings.

    Best Regards,
    Tarun Singhvi

  124. Firstly, may I congratulate you on your fantastic responses to all these queries!
    I have a couple of questions which I haven’t seen covered yet though…. I love the effects I get working with watercolours/gouache and conte crayon on gesso. Especially the gesso paper pads. Is there any way I can fix these paintings or do they have to be framed behind glass to protect them?
    I read of someone who seals her charcoal lines by applying acrylic medium over the top, but I have found that a bit risky on my still-soluble surfaces!

    Also, is it possible to paint over acrylic paintings which have been varnished? I have some varnished with spray, some with painted-on acrylic varnish (W&N in both cases) which I would like to adjust or paint over – I can’t find any info on this anywhere. Is it safe to just paint over the varnish with more acrylics?
    Perhaps a layer of clear gesso would give an interesting surface, but would it flake or crack in time?

    Many thanks for your patience and generous knowledge!

    1. Hi Jeni,

      So pleased you’ve been enjoying the site.

      Is there any way I can fix these paintings or do they have to be framed behind glass to protect them?
      I read of someone who seals her charcoal lines by applying acrylic medium over the top, but I have found that a bit risky on my still-soluble surfaces!

      Yes, applying an acrylic medium can be tricky onto the delicate soluble surface. You can spray fix charcoal but it will alter the aesthetic of the surface. Schmincke make a Watercolour Fixative but again it will slightly alter the watercolours appearance, so i’d try on a test piece first.

      is it possible to paint over acrylic paintings which have been varnished?

      It’s possible but not really advisable because of the adherence of the paint to the varnish layer and the fact that if you ever wanted to clean and replace the varnish in the future it would be extremely tricky because of the paint layer on top of the varnish layer.

      Hope this helps,


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