How to gesso your own canvas

When teaching painting classes I always get interest from students in wanting to learn how to gesso their own canvas, I therefore thought I would go ahead and outline the process in hopes that it would help others who wish to learn the same.

1) The first step I undertake is to cut out a piece of canvas that is of a desired size and will fit on my wood board. I then proceed to iron out the fabric. Although the act of gessoing a canvas can itself get rid of the creases, I prefer to first press out the fabric so I can start out with a smooth canvas.

2) Secondly, I smooth out the canvas onto my board so that it is flat against the wood- being careful that there are not any straggling pieces of canvas string underneath (this will make your canvas slightly raised -so make sure it is flat!).

3) Take your push pins and place one in one corner of the canvas about 1/4 in from the edge. Place the second push pin in the opposite corner from the first—while at the same time pulling (but not too hard) the canvas so that there is slight tension so as to avoid it having creases. Place the next push pin in the next corner whilst pulling the canvas a little and the one after that in the opposite corner. Continue to follow this pattern of placing the push pins in the opposite place of your previous placement - this will help secure your canvas down and prepare you to gesso your canvas.

4) Depending on what type of gesso you have, you will want to dilute it with water. The better the gesso, the thicker it will be and the more you will need to dilute it. You want it to have some thickness to it, but be fluid at the same time. It should have the consistency of a viscous soup. I most prefer to use a painting trowel to mix the water and gesso together in an aluminum pie tin.

5) Now the gessoing begins! Place a dalop of gesso in the center of your canvas and press it outward with your painting trowel. You want to press it into the canvas as if you are trying to scrape it off the canvas—this way the gesso will get into the ribbing of the canvas and give you a good first layer. Continue to place more gesso as needed onto the canvas and continue to gesso from the center outward towards the edges until the surface is covered. Let the canvas sit for 30 min. to dry before starting your next layer.

6) Repeat the step above two more times (giving yourself 3 layers). Be sure to let your canvas dry for 30 minutes in between each layer. Depending on what type of canvas you have, you may need more or less layers of gesso. Knowing how much you need is something that you will be able to tell by touching the surface—if it is so rough that it will take paint with difficulty then you will want another layer. Conversely, if it is too smooth, you will know for next time to use less gesso.

7) When your freshly gessoed surface is dry to the touch, you are ready to take out your push pins out and start painting!

I hope this little tutorial was helpful to you!

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The completed gessoed surface!

The completed gessoed surface!