DIY – How To Gesso Canvas or Board


How to prime your own canvas and board for painting!


Have you ever found the perfect painting surface — be it canvas, paper, panel, board, or even a wall– but it is bare and unprimed? Never fear! Gessoing a canvas or priming a board is an easy task to do yourself, and you wind up with your ideal painting surface with just a minimum of effort!


Supplies Needed:

  • Raw canvas, wood panel, heavyweight paper… whatever you’d like to paint on!
  • Primer suited to your chosen painting medium: gesso for acrylics or oils, oil primer for oils or alkyds, pastel primer, absorbent gesso for watercolors… take your pick!
  • A wide, soft-bristle primer brush
  • A very small amount of patience!

How To Prime a Canvas Instructions:

  • Step 1: First, ensure your surface is clean and free from dirt or oils. A quick wipe with a paper towel or some rubbing alcohol should be more than enough.
  • Step 2: Take the primer brush and dip it into the gesso — most primers are ready to use right out of the tub, and so long as you don’t drop stuff in it, you can use it straight from the packaging.
  • Step 3: Apply the gesso in a thin, even coat to the surface, working all in one direction (say, all horizontal strokes, or all vertical ones).
  • Step 4: Allow the first coat to dry. (This is where the patience comes in! If your gesso is acrylic, you can speed the drying time with a hair dryer.)
  • Step 5: Lightly sand the dried gesso with regular sandpaper. This both smooths any ridges left by the brush, and allows for a slight “tooth” for good adhesion of following layers.
  • Step 6: Apply a second layer of gesso, working the brush in the opposite direction from the first layer.
  • Step 7: Allow to dry again, sand again, and repeat steps 3 through 5 as many times as you like!

Ta-da! Once your final layer of gesso is dry and lightly sanded, you are ready to paint! Many artists like to go through and prime a large number of canvases or boards at one time, to ensure there’s always the perfect surface ready whenever inspiration strikes.

Gessoing your own canvas

For a handy reminder sheet on DIY canvas gessoing, feel free to print out this PDF and keep it in your studio!

Jerry’s Best Selling Gesso

World’s Greatest Acrylic Gesso Primer


Interested in reading more? Check out this post provided by Ampersand artist panels, on how to prime boards for painting.

Artist Joe diGiulio explains how to use some of our favorite primers: Matisse Acrylic Gesso and Grounds. Check out his advice in the video below!

What about you? Do you prime your own panels or canvas for painting? What’s your favorite gesso, medium, and priming method?

Tell us about it in the comments below!



You may also like...