How To Prime A Canvas Board For Acrylic Painting

A very popular method to prep a canvas or canvas board for acrylics, is by using gesso. It is available in a variety of international brands like Daler - Rowney, Pebeo, Liquitex etc. One Indian company that manufactures gesso is Camel.

In many brands of pre stretched canvas boards, they are prepped or primed already and have smooth surfaces. So the use of gesso may not be necessary. Also, it depends on how smooth you need the surface to be.

The pic above shows the pronounced texture on the pre-stretched board. In cases where one is using a mixed media work, the rough texture may actually be boon. Pasting clay, metal, paper, Paper mache and such to the canvas is easier if the glue can have a surface which has some rough texture to it.

In the above canvas, I did not prime the surface at all, since I was using clay elements to the canvas. However, when doing something that is like a mural or some traditional art like Madhubani on canvas, it is better to use gesso to give a better finish to the look.

Each brand of gesso is different. Some are slightly liquid, some paste like and the Camel brand needs to be mixed well before each application, because the liquid and the thick part separate.

Gesso is also available as white, black and transparent. White, in my opinion is most versatile. The application of gesso,is a matter of preference. A few artists like to apply it on with sponge or even fingers. A wide brush is what I find most convenient.

Also, I use the store bought gesso to texture my canvas or painting surface, especially when I want to create a mixed media piece which has some dimension to it. It is thick enough and not so runny. So I find it easy to scoop it up on a thin or thick brush , and create patterns or resists , that I can pain over to get a raised effect. It works very well on stock paper or artist watercolour paper too.

For a canvas board that is about an A3 size, I like to make my own version of gesso. It is easy to make it as thick or as runny, according to personal choice. This is the basic formula for the mix.

Recipe for home made Gesso.

  • Corn flour - 2 tbsp
  • Water - 1 tbsp
  • PVA glue - 2 tsp
  • White paint - 1/2 tsp
Mix the cornflour and water till you get a smooth slurry without any lumps. Add the PVA glue to this mix and then the white paint.

Once you get this mix done, you can try it out on a corner of the board and see if it suits you. If you want it thicker, add more cornflour and glue, or add more water to make it more liquid.just ensure that there are no lumps in the mixture.

Applying the gesso.

  • Load the gesso on the brush or sponge. I find it easy to have the primer not too thick or too runny.
  • Using smooth strokes in one direction, apply the gesso right from one end to the other.
  • Let the first coat dry well, if possible, for a few hours. If time is of essence, use a hair dryer to fix the first layer of primer.
  • If you want to have the finish extra smooth, sand down the first layer. There will be enough texture from the canvas to add a second layer.

  • Again, decide if you need a thinner coat than the first layer, add more water before applying. Let it dry
  • Use sands paper and smooth out all the rough parts.
So below are the before and after pictures of the board. I am self taught , so maybe there are artists who do not agree with this method. Acrylics paints are my favourite medium, and this method works for me.
A way to make life easier, in case you are planning a background that is colourful, is to also add a bit of the paint to the gesso mix, in addition to the white paint. I always add acrylic paint to the home made gesso, but there are a few who say they prefer tempera which is also available in powder form.
I did read that if you mix tempera powder with PVA glue, the result is acrylic paint. So one way or the other, it does not seem to matter.
So this is how I prep my canvas board for painting. There is a lot of information available on Gesso. This is a fairly extensive article I found interesting.

I am planning a mural with my primed surface. While I have used a lot of traditional motifs, I have not attempted a proper mural as yet.

Wondering how that is going to turn out !!



  1. I just bought some gesso cause I kept seeing it mentioned in various craft tutorials. I got the white...maybe I should get clear too.

    1. If you are painting on a white surface, and having it covered fully with paint, a white gesso is good enough. however, if it is a surface like wood, or even a pebble, and you need that surface to show through, you can go for the transparent gesso.


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