What is Gesso and how to get the best painting results with Gesso!

What is Gesso

If you are new to paint by numbers, you may be wondering - what is gesso and why do other people use it? This page will tell you all about the wonders of gesso and how to use it!

 What is gesso

Gesso is an essential art supply to get your canvas prepared for painting. You can buy gesso from any art supply shop. Gesso is very similar to white acrylic paint, only thinner. It dries hard, making the surface more solid. Gesso prepares (or "primes") the surface for painting, creating the surface slightly textured and ready to work with acrylic paint. Without gesso, the paint would soak into the weave of the canvas. Which gives your paintings unstructured flow to the paint.

The word gesso is a noun, but many artists also use it as a verb. For example: "You need to gesso your canvas before you paint."

The beauty of gesso is that you can use it to nearly any surface, and then you can paint on that surface with acrylic paint. For instance, you can apply a layer or two of gesso to vinyl records, rubber duckies, or cigar boxes, and voila - you can now paint on that object with acrylics! What fun. The possibilities are endless!


What is Gesso

Different types of gesso

Gesso is usually white, but today you can also buy blackclear gesso and colored gesso. You can also tint your gesso to make any color you want. Just mix a little acrylic paint to the gesso, and you've got some tinted gesso! But for a paint by numbers canvas we usually use only the clear white one to see the numbers.

There are two diverse grades of gesso: Artist grade and Student grade. The difference among the two amounts to the different ratios of pigment vs. filler. The Student grade is cheaper because it holds more filler than the Artist grade. Artist grade has extra pigment than Student grade, making it thicker and more dense. These differences are returned in the price, and also in the quality.

The reliability and texture of gesso will vary from brand to brand. Some are more liquidly and others are more thick. Some apply more smoothly and others leave a more textured, thick surface. You'll have to try with different brands to find the one you like best.

Gesso comes in both squeeze bottle form and in large tubs or jars. With the squeeze bottles, you can squeeze the gesso right onto canvas and then smooth it out with a brush. You can also put some onto your palette first if you want to mix the gesso with paint or water. If your gesso comes in a jar, you can stick your paintbrush right into the jar and apply it to the painting.

Gesso is also available as a spray. What is gesso spray? You shake the can and spray the gesso straight onto your canvas, with no need for a brush.

Gesso comes mostly in a white color, but totally clears up when brushing the gesso over the canvas.


Do I need to gesso my canvas if it is pre-primed?

It is generally advisable to give the canvas another coat or two of gesso.

How can you tell if the canvas shortages tooth and absorbency? If you paint acrylics onto it, and the paint either mottles on the surface, or sinks into the weave of the canvas, then it's a good idea to give the canvas a coat or two of gesso.

Eventually, it's really up to you. There is no one way that is the right way. It all depends on how you want your painting to look.


How to prime canvas

Priming a canvas is easy! To apply gesso, use a wide, flat brush. The bigger your surface, the bigger brush you will need. Dip the brush into the gesso, and brush it onto the canvas. Be sure that you cover the entire surface of the canvas equally.


Depending on the consistency of your gesso (whether it is thick and gloppy or thin and soppy), you may or may not want to thinned it a bit with water. Thinning gesso with water will make the layer more smooth.

To guarantee a nice, smooth coat, make sure you go over the surface enough times with the brush to make the gesso sink evenly into the canvas. Sometimes as you lay out each brushstroke, bumps or lines of built-up gesso will fold at the edge of the brushstroke. Using a different brush that is dry, go over these strokes to smooth them out.

How many layers of gesso will you need to correctly prime your canvas?

It depends on your personal preference. Try a canvas with one coat of gesso, then another one with two, and maybe even one with three. Note the difference in how the canvas feels and in how it accepts the paint. It's usually a good idea to coat the canvas at least twice, to ensure that you've covered the entire surface.


How to use paint thinner - Flow Aid without loosing pigment like with using water? Read that here in our new blog about paint thinners.