How to Gesso a Canvas

How to Gesso a Canvas

How to Gesso a Canvas

Gesso is a primer that helps to create a smooth, even surface for painting.  Priming a canvas helps give it “tooth” and prevent oils from bleeding through the canvas.  It also helps to protect the canvas from the oils in the paint, which can cause the canvas to deteriorate over time.

If you buy a pre-primed canvas from a store, it's generally safe to paint on with acrylics. However, depending on the canvas quality, I recommend adding two more layers of gesso for extra protection.  My college art professor emphasized the importance of priming canvases for oil painting to prevent oil from seeping through.  I learned this lesson the hard way.  I used cheaper canvases for oil painting without properly priming them.  A few years later, the oil left noticeable marks on the back of the canvas.  Definitely not ideal! Learn from my mistakes and always prime your canvases before painting.


  • Gesso - Some will say student grade or professional grade.  Pick whichever fits the budget.  For the student grade, add one to two more layers.
  • Paintbrush - I use a broad 2 in. brush.  The cheap ones at the local home improvement store should do fine.  
  • Canvas
  • Fine-Grit Sandpaper


  1. Prepare the canvas. Make sure the canvas is clean and dry. If the canvas is new, you may need to sand it lightly to remove any rough spots.
  2. Apply the gesso. Apply a thin, even coat of gesso to the canvas using a paintbrush. Make sure to cover the entire surface of the canvas, including the edges.
  3. Let the gesso dry. Allow the gesso to dry completely before moving on to the next step. This may take several hours, or even overnight.  Make sure you clean your brush in water!
  4. Sand the gesso. Once the gesso is dry, sand it lightly with a fine-grit sandpaper to smooth out any rough spots.
  5. Apply a second coat of gesso. Apply a second thin, even coat of gesso to the canvas. This will help to create a more durable surface.
  6. Let the gesso dry completely. Allow the gesso to dry completely before moving on to the next step. This may take several hours, or even overnight.
  7. Your canvas is now ready to paint!

Gesso is a vital step in preparing a canvas for painting, as it creates a smooth, even surface that helps the paint adhere better and prevents the oils from seeping through. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can easily gesso a canvas yourself and ensure that your paintings look their best.

Have you ever gessoed a canvas before?  If so, I would love to hear about your experience.  Leave a comment below and share your tips or experiences with priming any other surfaces! 

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