How to Prepare a Canvas for Acrylic Paint?

When it comes to acrylic paint, many artists agree that the canvas is the most important part of the painting process.

The wrong type of canvas can ruin your work before you even start, while the right one can help you create a masterpiece.

prep the canvas before painting

Preparing the canvas before painting is as important as picking up a quality canvas. In this article, we will discuss how to prepare a canvas for acrylic paint.

Needed Materials

  • Acrylic Gesso
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Your Stretched canvas
  • A wide flat paintbrush (paint roller or foam brush) – the size depends on the size of your canvas. 
  • Paper towels or rags
  • Container for water
  • An empty container
  • Newspaper, newsprint, or drop cloth
  • Pushpins (or glue)

1. Stretch your canvas on a rigid support

Whether you’re using a cotton or linen canvas, you need to stretch your canvas tightly on a rigid support. The rigid support can be a canvas board, wooden or plastic frame, or a stretcher bar. The rigid support holds the canvas in shape and creates a proper and convenient work surface for the acrylic painting.

Stretch your canvas tightly over the rigid support and secure your canvas to the support using the pushpins (or glue). Ensure that the rough edges of the canvas are also pinned down to the back or sides of the frame.

2. Clean your stretched canvas

Place your stretched canvas on a newspaper, newsprint, or drop cloth on your workspace. Make sure that the canvas is slightly raised off the workspace using props. This prevents gesso or paints from getting all over your workspace.

Using a slightly dampened lint-free cloth or paper, wipe down the surface and sides of your canvas to remove dirt. You can use alcohol or water to dampen the lint-free cloth or paper. If you choose water, make sure that the cloth or paper is not too damp.

3. Get an acrylic gesso

Although you can make acrylic paintings directly on a canvas unprimed, the absorbent surface of the canvas will absorb most of the paint. You, therefore, need to prime the surface of the canvas before you paint. A primer seals the absorbent surface, giving the canvas a less absorbent surface for excellent acrylic painting.

The primer also gives the canvas a smoother surface for the acrylic paint to bind. This helps the finished acrylic painting to stand out and last longer. The acrylic gesso is suitable for priming the surface of the canvas.

Make sure that you get a gesso product that can be used for both oil and acrylic painting. Stir the acrylic gesso thoroughly before applying it to break down the tiny lumps in it, this is important. Also, gesso dries quickly, so you should pour out the little amount you need per time and close the jar to prevent the whole jar from drying out.

4. Prepare the Acrylic Gesso

Priming should be done in two or three coats. As said above, this will enhance the texture of your canvas and prevent it from absorbing too much paint. If you still chose to apply only one coat of primer, you can skip this step.

For one application, use the acrylic gesso without diluting it for added thickness and surface priming. However, if you’re doing two or three coats of gesso, you need to dilute the gesso. Please note that different gesso brands have different thicknesses, so you have to be discretional when adding water to your gesso.

Pour the right amount of gesso into an empty container and mix it with about 20% water. You can make the gesso a bit more diluted to enable it to easily spread and seep into the canvas.

5. Apply the first layer of gesso

Using a wide flat paintbrush, apply the gesso evenly on the entire surface of the canvas. Keep to a particular thin stroke direction from edge to edge. You can either go from left to right with horizontal strokes or top to bottom in vertical strokes but not both.

After an even application of the gesso on the canvas, leave it to dry for about an hour or more. While waiting for the canvas to dry up, slightly move your canvas, and clean off any spillage with a paper towel or rag. You should also wash the gesso off your paintbrush immediately with soap and water, dried gesso is difficult to clean off.

6. Sand the surface

Once the first layer of gesso is thoroughly dried, you may need to even out the surface of your canvas. Using fine sandpaper, lightly sand down any bumps or visible brush strokes that appear on the surface of your canvas. This gives your canvas a smoother surface.

After sanding the surface, clean off the dust on the canvas carefully.

7. Add a second layer of gesso

Apply another even layer of gesso on your canvas but this time, in a perpendicular direction to the first layer. This will ensure that the entire surface of the canvas is well-primed. The second coat should be a bit thicker though.

Leave the second layer to get dried before touching.

8. Sand it down again

If necessary, sand down the surface of the canvas once it’s dried for a smoother surface. If you chose to prime the third time, apply the gesso as explained in step 7. You may wish to add a hint of acrylic color to the gesso to give your painting a background color.

After then, leave it again for hours to dry. Once the coat is dry, you may wish to sand the surface of the canvas again to achieve a very smooth texture.

To Conclude

You have now learned how to prepare a canvas for acrylic paint. These steps may sound like a lot but once you get used to it, it becomes second nature. The most important thing is to be patient enough to let each coat of gesso dry thoroughly before moving on to the next step.

Now that your canvas is ready, it’s time to start painting!

We hope you found this guide helpful and that you enjoy painting on your new primed canvas.

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