You might have heard painters talk a lot about gesso and that it is applied to your canvas before painting and so on, but what exactly is gesso? Well, gesso is a paint that holds many traits similar to that of acrylic paint. However, it is harder and more translucent than regular acrylic paint. When applied to the canvas, gesso will seal the fabric and prevent the canvas from soaking up the paint. It also gives the surface a smooth but still rough surface that is ideal for painting.
The great thing about gesso is its ability to stick to almost anything, and that opens up a lot of opportunities for alternative types of canvas and mediums for painting. I have for instance used gesso to prepare rocks for painting and also regular plastic buckets and believe me there really are no limits.
So when do you apply gesso?
I always apply gesso, even on pre-stretched and pre ‘gessoed’ canvas, since the factory made canvases often hold just one layer of really low grade gesso. I most often go with two coats of gesso to ensure that the canvas is sealed properly and to make sure that the surface is nice and even.
Does gesso come in different colors?
The most used gesso is white and/or opaque, however, most art supplies also sell black gesso and in rare cases you might come across multicolored gesso. However, if you want gesso in a color other than black or white, you may add a little acrylic paint to the gesso and that will give you the color you desire on your canvas. I often mix in some ultra-marine blue in my gesso to set the foundation for a sky whenever I do landscape paintings.
You can buy two different grades of gesso, student grade and artist grade. The difference in the two is the thickness of the gesso itself and how well it covers and sticks to the canvas. This is determined by how much filler and how much pigment the particular gesso holds. Usually, the artist grade gesso is thicker and more translucent than student grade gesso. If you buy black or colored gesso it is often artist grade, since student grade gesso only comes in white/opaque.
How to apply Gesso?
To apply gesso, you will need a large, wide brush and a paint-roll. Make sure to use nice even stokes when applying gesso and don’t make the layers too thick. I often start out by added the gesso with the brush, spreading the paint evenly on the canvas. Once I have covered the entire canvas with gesso, I use the paint-roll to smear out the gesso and prevent any brushstrokes from being visible in the structure. I then wait for the gesso to dry up completely before I add the second and final coating.
When you buy gesso, remember to buy a lot since it tends to get used up rather quickly, depending on the size of canvas you use. I hope you done need more info in this regard.