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Surface Preparation | Priming Canvas

Priming your canvas properly helps to tighten canvas, protect it from oil and gives you a bright even surface to work on. Especially with oils, it is important to prime the surface, or the oil can sink into the canvas and leave your painting dull. Here we are using Winsor & Newton Acrylic Gesso in three ways: white gesso, a clear formulation of gesso and clear gesso tinted with acrylic paint (never tint acrylic gesso with oil paint) to provide a coloured ground. Using a stiff, short bristled brush in a circular motion, with a small amount of water added to gesso to help it soak in, brush the gesso into the canvas firmly and let dry. Then sand this first layer and add another layer, and sand that as well until it is smooth again. To keep a natural look to your surface, you can use clear gesso in just the same way and, if you want a coloured ground you can tint the clear gesso with acrylic paint. You can also tint white gesso as well. All three techniques are presented here so you can see how to best apply your primer and three possibilities for your surface.

Video Transcript
0:12    Hello. Today I'd like to show you how to prime a hand-stretched canvas. I'm masking off three areas to show different primers next to each other. Priming does a number of things. It helps to make the canvas tighter, protect it from oil and gives you a bright and even surface to paint on. It's especially important to prime your canvas if using oils, as the oil can be absorbed into the canvas, leaving your painting dull and lack-lustre.

0:39    First, I'm using Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylic White Gesso, which is made from a quality acrylic resin and is a highly pigmented primer that can be used as a surface preparation for both acrylics and oil. If I was using an oil primer, I would first need to coat the surface of the canvas with a size, like rabbit skin glue.

0:56    I'm starting with a stiff, short bristled brush to apply the Gesso. For the first coat, I'm using a circular motion, to cover the surface completely. You can thin the first coat with a little water so it's easier to apply, and it will help the Gesso soak into the first layers of the canvas. I'll let that dry. Now, I'm rubbing some fine sandpaper on the surface to give an even finish to the primed canvas before applying a second coat, brushing smoothly across the surface. When that's dry the canvas feels even tighter than it did before.

1:41    Some artists like to keep a natural look to the canvas or linen they're painting on. This is clear Gesso, which is a great way of sealing and protecting your surface, while keeping the natural look of the material. I'm using the same technique, but this will dry completely clear. You can also try mixing professional acrylic colour with clear Gesso, to make your own surface preparation colour. This works well with acrylic, but should not be done with oils. It gives a bright base layer to my painting and gives an excellent surface for my next layers of colour.

2:36    Here are all the areas again; white Gesso, Clear Gesso and Clear Gesso and Acrylic Colour Mix. I hope you've enjoyed learning about priming a canvas.