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How to Prime a Canvas For Acrylics or Oils


When you've stretched a canvas, the next step is to prime it so you can paint on it. With a ready-made gesso suitable for both acrylic and oil painting, this is easy.
Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: Depends on the size of canvas

Here's How:

  1. Make sure you buy a bottle of gesso that's suitable for both acrylic and oil painting. This dries very fast and is painted directly on to the stretched canvas.
  2. Shake the container very well before using. Do not skip this step!
  3. Decide whether you're going to apply one or a few coats of gesso. One coat gives a rougher finish. If you're applying only one coat, use the gesso as it comes out of the bottle.
  4. If you're going to apply several coats, dilute the gesso with a mixture of half acrylic gloss medium and half water.
  5. Using an old, wide brush, apply the gesso directly to the stretched canvas in even strokes. Work from the top to the bottom of the canvas, in parallel strokes from one edge to the other.
  6. When you're done, wash your brush out immediately with soap and water. Once gesso has dried on a brush, it won't come out.


  1. A cheap decorating brush works well, but wash it several times before you use it as the hairs tend to fall out. If you want the brush to be thinner, cut off some of the hairs with a pair of scissors.
  2. Instead of diluting the gesso, you can sand down the canvas between coats if you want a smoother finish.
  3. Gesso thinned with water only, rather than gloss medium and water, tends to crack.
  4. Gesso can also be used to prime hardboard.

What You Need

  • Gesso
  • Wide brush
Related Video
How to Stretch a Canvas

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