Did you wonder how artists paint with such thick even brushstrokes over a whole canvas? Chances are they probably used gesso as the base layer to emulate the brushstrokes, and have finished the painting using a much thinner paint.
One benefit of having gesso is you can use it on any surface and then apply paint on it. Keeping that in mind, the possibilities are endless. You can take any wasted object from the house and use gesso to make it into a canvas. For example, I use old doors to paint on, an ironing board, or an old chopping board. If you have palm trees in the garden, as we do in the Bay of Plenty, the husk can make a really effective piece of art.
Another benefit of gesso is you can use it to stick objects onto your canvas at the same time you are preparing your canvas for paint. It acts like a glue and bonds your paint to the surface. It also bonds other objects you may wish to stick onto the canvas. I like to add a single layer of tissue paper to my canvases in this way when I want a subtle texture to my art. Sand or Builders Mix cement makes a very textured look.
What Is Gesso?
But what is gesso? To make it easier to understand, it is a type of primer. It prepares the surface for painting. Once you apply gesso, it becomes stiff. If you touch it, you will realise the area has gained texture. If you look at it, you will find it similar to white acrylic paint but it is thinner. If you use paint on the canvas without gesso, it will soak into it.
In the market, you will find various types of gesso. They come with a different consistency. You will find gesso’s that are drippy, gloppy, and thick. Also the different surfaces you use will have distinct visual effects after painting. Once you start using them on paintings, you will have a better understanding of how to use them.
So just get started and have a go! In the painting world if you don’t like it then you can easily paint over it. Wait until it’s dry first though. Gesso is great for painting over used canvases as well if you want to start over again.
How to apply gesso to a canvas?
Applying gesso to the canvas is easy. Take a flat brush. Dip it into the gesso. Brush the entire canvas, cover every part with the primer. Try to keep the fluid even throughout the area. If you want to be creative, you can apply a few techniques to make it artistic. For example, you may use a thinner or thicker layer of primer. Making the gesso thinner is easy. Add some water to it, and then start with your brush. Thinner gesso makes the surface smoother. So, now you can change the exterior texture and add effects to your painting
If you can’t make it smooth enough before the gesso becomes stiff, use a piece of sandpaper to sand it completely smooth. Make sure it has completely dried first. Use the sandpaper to rub the covering gently and smoothen any rough solids on the canvas.
How many layers of gesso primer should I apply on the canvas?
Honestly, only you can answer this question. It depends on your preference, how many layers you want to apply. If you are new to this, you should try to make various layers and paint on them to see the difference.
Most people at least apply two layers of gesso to get the entire surface covered right. However, if you can complete your painting in one application of primer, there is no issue.
Some painters combine acrylic paint with gesso to make a tinted gesso and use it on the surface. Another technique is to use texture media along with primer and paint to make a painting.
How do I add texture using gesso?
You can use gesso to make textures on a painting. First, apply the primer layers on the canvas. Wait until it is dry and stiff. Now take a thick layer of gesso on the canvas surface. While it is still fluid, you can use any tool to make the texture you want on the area. You can use a brush or a palette knife to curve the covering.
Some popular choices to create texture are sponges, metal brushes, plastic fork, palette knife, etc. Once you have these tools, use your imagination to make your painting. You can create various patterns on the surface, pull on the gesso to changes its shape, or press with the knife to create textures.
What are the gesso substitutes I can use?
In case you don’t have gesso, you can use alternatives like PVA glue, acrylic mediums, texture gel, texture putty, modelling compound, or clear gesso. If you use acrylic paint or a pre-primed canvas, there is no need to use a primer to hold the colour. It is only necessary for incorporating texture or building up some layers onto the canvas.
When do I need to apply a primer on a canvas?
In most cases, buying pre-stretched canvas is pre-primed – so you can start painting on it right away after opening the package.
However, sometimes you may notice that the canvas does not have much absorbency, or you if you are stretching your own canvas from a roll. If this is the case, you’ll need to prime the canvas before painting.
Take gesso and apply a layer or two until it becomes suitable for painting.
If you are confused about when you should add a primer to the canvas, you can test it by applying paint to a small portion. If the paint mottles or sinks on the canvas, it is a sign that it needs a good primer. Apply a layer or two to start painting on the canvas.
Gesso makes sure the painting surface is ready to accept paint. Mainly gesso is available in white colour. But companies are getting innovative with the primer and you will find gessos in diverse colours. You can also add paint to the primer to start your painting and add texture to the canvas. It all depends on your creativity. So, get your hands on some and use your imagination to make a masterpiece.