Tag Archives: canvas

How to Prepare a Canvas to Paint

I spent the day prepping canvases. So that means I’m between paintings right now. I have several ideas in various stages of development and for me, that is the perfect time to get ‘er done–while I’m still in the thought and sketch mode.

I know many beginning artists dislike prep work. They want to get on to the good stuff with the brushes and pigment. But, if a canvas is not prepped properly it can ruin an otherwise beautiful painting. I didn’t like it at first and tried to create shortcuts, but they never worked out and my art suffered for it.

Somewhere along the line, I made peace with it and can honestly say I enjoy it now. How much prep your canvas needs will depend on your own preferences and sometimes on the technique you choose to use. For instance, if you were painting impasto, which is a technique using thick, textured paint (think Van Gogh), you could get by with just applying primer and sealer. But if you are anything like me, you’ll want a smooth canvas with hardly, if any, weave showing.

There are many products out there and many ways to prep canvases, but I’m going to tell you what works for me. Since I like a very smooth surface, it takes time and it’s easier to prep a number of canvases at once. Prepping will take several days.  I encourage you to comment with your favorite or unique way to prep surfaces, if they differ. The more information available the better it is for beginning artists.

First, I use a medium length palette knife to scoop out a large dollop of DecoArt  Acrylic Gesso and spread it over the canvas.  If the canvas is large, I may use a drop or two of DecoArt Traditions Extender and Blending Medium to keep it pliable longer. Then I use the knife to smash the gesso into the weave of the canvas, scraping the excess as I go.  I wipe the excess onto an area not yet covered and smash and scrape again. Continuing until the whole canvas is covered with a thin layer. (Some prefer to use an old credit card or a paint spatula, instead of a palette knife for this.)

Don’t try to fill and hide the weave with one layer. This is a multi-layer process. Each layer must dry thoroughly and then be sanded before the next layer is applied. If you apply another layer over a layer that has not dried completely, you risk cracking the gesso. But it won’t happen right away. It may wait until you have your beautiful artwork on it.  For that reason, I give my canvases a long dry time. Pending on the season, I may dry then in the shade outdoors. Some use a hair dryer, but I don’t trust that a dryer is getting below the surface.  This is why it takes me so long.

Okay, let’s talk about sanding. I use a fine sandpaper that is meant for wet sanding. Get the sandpaper wet and move lightly over the surface. I use a circular motion and spend extra time on any areas that appear thicker than the rest or any ridges. I take my time to make each layer as smooth as possible. Then I use a clean shop towel to wipe it clean.

I usually use 3 or 4 layers in all. When the last layer is dry and sanded I seal with DecoArt Traditions Multi-Surface Sealer. I let is cure for 24 hours before I would start painting on it. I’m probably over cautious, but hey, I want to make sure this baby’s good enough for my finest work.

Well, that’s the nuts and bolts of prepping. If you found it helpful, share it with your friends. And if you have an even better way to prep, please let me know.

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