Photo courtesy winsornewton.com
If you want your work to last, it is wise to prime your canvas first because oil paint will eventually rot an unprimed canvas. I recommend priming with Gesso when using all mediums including watercolour. It is possible to use watercolour on a primed canvas as per my post, “A Few Facts About Watercolour.”
Firstly, hold your canvas under warm running water. Using pure soap (Sunlight or similar works well), lather up a soft and gentle scrubber (old ones are good) and wash the canvas down thoroughly with the soap and water. This removes the sizing and starts you off with a “clean slate” so to speak.
Rinse until water becomes clear then dry off the canvas using an old towel.
Once dry, go ahead and cover the surface with Gesso primer. You may use the Atelier brand which leaves a lovely chalky finish. If you like, you may make your own Gesso (which is just as good and much cheaper) with the recipe below.
Leave the canvas to dry, preferably outside. This should take about 45 minutes depending on the strength of the sunlight. If there is no sun where you are, a hair dryer will do the job. When dry, softly sand the canvas down with a very fine sand paper and wipe clean with the old towel. I usually prime, sand down and wipe off three times to make the perfect chalky finish for drawing and painting. Don’t forget to allow your primed canvas to dry completely before sanding each time.
This process prepares a fantastic surface to work on and I recommend leaving it for at least 24 hours to set. If I am feeling keen or perhaps doing a commission, I prime the reverse of the canvas too but this is entirely your own choice.
This is a lovely relaxing preparation and sets the tone for wonderful things to come. I urge you to go slowly with this, smile, breathe deeply and concentrate only on the task in true Zen-like fashion. If you love your canvas, your canvas will love you and that is the start developing a wonderful synergy with your upcoming work.
My Own Gesso Recipe
Most of this stuff you will have on hand at home so it is easy and quick to make your own Gesso primer. To make the primer you need a pigment, a binder and a tooth.
- Pigment – left over craft paint or titanium white tube acrylic
- Binder – Cheap white glue or PVA glue
- Tooth – talcum or baby powder
You will need to put one cup of warm water in a bowl, add one cup of glue, one cup of baby powder and a cup or so of left over paint. This will make a syrup consistency. If you want yours to give better coverage, use more pigment. Usually, equal amounts of everything makes a perfect mix. It is best to test first for coverage and drying time. This dries fast!
When storing, rotate the sealed storage jar every now and then to keep the even syrupy consistency of the mix.