Okay maybe you have done some painting, maybe you have bought canvas and paint. You may have noticed that canvas’ are sometimes labelled pre-primed. Maybe you were in the paint isle and saw something called Gesso. You might be asking yourself, “Is it necessary for me to prime or treat the canvas before I start painting?” Maybe you have no ide what I am talking about. Well, read on because I am going to talk about preparing a canvas for acrylic painting.
To Prime or Not to Prime? Pre-Primed?
Priming is just like it sounds. If you have painted walls or cars or steel or anything for that matter, you have likely heard the word primer or priming. Primer is used to prep a surface for painting. In some instances, it is meant to help the paint bond to the surface. Canvas should be primed to stop the paint from soaking into the weave of the fabric. It creates a solid surface for the paint to adhere to and will make the painting stand out.
What Is a pre-primed canvas? You may have noticed that many of the pre-stretched canvas you see in stores is labelled as Pre-primed. This just means that the canvas has been treated or primed already. The manufacturer’s usually use a gesso. To what extent the canvas has been primed varies by company.
In most cases it is not necessary to prime a pre-primed canvas and you can start painting on it right away. However, you may find that you want to add more primer or gesso to the canvas to get different results. So, to dig deeper into this I will explain things when it come to the world of GESSO.
Gesso? What is Gesso?
Gesso is a term used to describe the priming of a canvas. “The artist was careful to gesso his canvas prior to beginning his masterpiece.” It is also used as a name for the compound used to perform the action. Acrylic Gesso is an acrylic polymer, calcium carbonate, and pigment. This is different from traditional Gesso used for oil painting.
Gesso is basically meant to seal the canvas and give a solid surface for the acrylic paint to adhere to. Pre-primed canvas likely has a layer or two of gesso. Depending on the desired effect one is looking for, the amount of gesso and type or consistency will vary. Usually two coats will do but three or four is not unheard of.
There are two types of gesso Student and Artist. Student gesso is thinner because it contains less pigment and more filler. Artist’s gesso has more pigment and will often be thicker. Both types can be thinned out with water, and student gesso can be thickened up by adding paint. Using a thicker gesso with give texture and can even be used to “sculpt” the surface of the canvas. Thinner gesso will spread easier and leave a smooth surface.
NOTE: You can use sand paper in between coats of gesso to smooth the painting surface. Just be sure that gesso is completely dry before sanding.
Typically, gesso is white, but you can find clear and black. There is no problem If you chose to add color to the gesso. Actually, I have read articles from some professionals that say they always start a painting with some color for a “ground”
How Do You Apply Gesso?
Use a wide brush like a decorator’s brush and apply the gesso in even parallel strokes in one direction. Work your way across (or down) the canvas. Let the gesso dry completely. If you choose to sand the gesso in between coats do it now. Then turn the canvas 90 degrees and repeat going perpendicular (across) the first coat. This will ensure full and proper coverage. Repeat these steps as many times as you like.
The type of gesso you use and the number of coats, along with how thick or thin you apply it is up to you. Try a few different methods on several canvases then apply some paint to each. Try to mark each one to keep track of which is which. This will help you to understand how your paintings will differ using different approaches.
Gesso Much to Take In!!
Pre-primed canvas does not need to be primed. New untreated canvas does not NEED to be primed. The difference is how the paint reacts when applied, and that is the choice the artist needs to make. Just remember that untreated canvas will soak up the paint more. That could be the effect you want, but if you want the paint to lay on top of the canvas give the canvas a good gesso.
This might seem complicated, but it is not. If you are intimidated by this, then just buy the pre-primed canvas and go to town. If you want to try something new and branch out, do it. As I state in most of my posts, it is your painting and your world, try new things and experiment.
I hope this gave you a further understanding of what gesso is and priming of a canvas in general. I have left a link here which directs you to Amazon to look at the different options out there. If you have questions or comments on this post feel free to leave them below. I try to respond to everyone.
Thanks for reading