DIY - How To Gesso Canvas or Board

Learn how to prime your canvas with Gesso and what Gesso is used for. Gessoing a canvas or priming a board is an easy task to do yourself. Find out what supplies you need to gesso and prime your more


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 Acrylic Gesso

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!

Comments (8) -


That is really great it's an easy task for DIY and we wind up with our ideal painting surface with just a minimum of effort! The instructions you have shared they are really useful for us. Thanks for sharing this great post.


Really your great idea for gesso wall art design. great design and looks no nice lovely wonderful thanks for sharing your great idea. I like it.


We are glad you all liked it and was helpful! Save More Create More!

Niall Dooley

Hi Guys,

Interesting post<

WOndering if you could help me with a query i had..?

I'm planning to make quite a large painting on a large square of free canvas rolled out on the ground.

I'm using a roll of preprimed basic canvas..
So my query is as i'd like to thicken it out with extra primer of some sort, making it stronger yet quiet malleable to roll.

I would like to make this light enough canvas almost weighed and aged by the application kind of like the feeling of an old wax jacket. It doesn't necessarily have to be a oil finish, as im not sure if im going to be using oil or acrylic yet.

Im planning to paint on the ground in public and it will take a lot time to finish so ill be rolling it up and out many times, taking it out and bring home everyday, therefore these extras layers will make the large sheet of canvas just more substantial as in durable also.

If anyone gets the kind of feel for how i want to process this pretty flimsy large rectangle of canvas, before i take it on to the street then Please let me know what i should do, or any suggestions would be appreciated greatly thanks.

Regards from Berlin,

Niall D.


Very helpful.  I didn't know you needed to add water to regular gesso and mine was too thick on my board.  The mystery is solved!  Thanks so much!

Pearl Simila

You have made your point quite nicely!.

tom stratton

Hi I'm wondering if a canvas can be gessoed on both sides? I have an open air studio in florida and have been seeing mildew on the back side of the work.


Tom, lots of artists gesso both sides of the canvas. This is essentially what one has when one glues a gesso canvas to board. Both sides of the canvas are sealed. I have a painting I did this way 5 years ago and it's perfect. The canvas never sags no matter what the climate. It's stays tight and looks great. Many bad mouth this process saying it "doesn't allow the canvas to breath." Then these same artists glue their paintings to board and some how that's okay? Best to you.

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