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What Is Gesso And Do You Have To Use It For Acrylic Paint By Numbers Kits?

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Do you know what you and medieval Italian have in common? It’s gesso paint. But What is gesso? It’s safe to say that you might not be too familiar with it, which is why you’re here. I’m pretty sure that you’ve also got some questions about using gesso for acrylic paint.

But is gesso really necessary? what is gesso, and what is the best gesso paint?

If you’re a beginner, you might be a little hesitant using gesso for acrylic paint. But this popular material is no great mystery. All you need to do is buy gesso paint and get a gesso canvas.  Arm yourself with a couple of tips and tricks.

Luckily for you, we’re going to explore all of your questions. Buckle up!

Part One: Preparation

Step One: Understand Traditional Gesso

Binder joined by chalk, gypsum, and pigment: that’s what Gesso is made up of. Sometimes, this white paint mixture varies. It could consist of any combination of those three main ingredients.

Gesso’s purpose lies mainly in its performing as a paint’s adhesive. It serves as a base to prep for any number of mediums, including wood panels and canvas.

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Historically, gesso was applied profusely in oil paintings. It was used to prime a surface, which helped it adhere to oil paint. When applied, it would protect the fibers of the canvas, providing a reliable surface. That way, the canvas wouldn’t crack if rolled.

For example, take a look at medieval and Renaissance tempera paintings. Artists initially coated the paintings’ surfaces with a film of rough gesso, which was made of coarse plaster.

Then, the surfaces were covered with a series of finishing gesso layers. Made of fine plaster, the finishing gesso left the paintings’ surface opaque and reflective.

Step Two: Understand Modern Acrylic Gesso

Acrylic Gesso

What about acrylic gesso? While historically used by oil painters, acrylic gesso is the gesso widely used today. Modern acrylic gesso is a mix of a binder, pigment, chalk, and some other chemicals. All of these components together guarantee paintings for a long lifetime.

Notice how the glue is absent from acrylic gesso. This is because acrylic paints are non-corrosive and durable, which means you don’t have to worry about canvas damage to the paint. This renders the addition of glue to gesso useless. (Remember, traditional ‘glue’ gesso oil soaks up in canvas fibers, and helps protect them over time from the corrosive nature of the oils.)

There’s an array of gesso containers in art stores nowadays. These modern containers contain what’s considered a particular variety of acrylic gesso. After all, acrylic gesso quickly became the most widely used painting ground for acrylics as well as oil paints.

It’s easy to understand why: it’s inexpensive, straightforward to apply, dries up very quickly, and is effortless to clean.

Gesso bottles can be a bit tricky. To make sure that what you’re holding in your hands is acrylic gesso, scan the ingredients of the container. Decent art supplies manufacturers often make their contents clear.

Step Three: Buy a Gesso Primer

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Here’s a common question from acrylic painters: is it mandatory to use a gesso primer?

Technically, it’s not. But it certainly won’t harm your work. Gesso primers allow for nicer, more absorbent surfaces. Its features can yield excellent results if you’re working with board or raw canvas.

However, applying a gesso primer on a pre-primed canvas is unnecessary. Remember: your pre-primed canvas already has a layer of gesso on it from the art store.

Pre-Primed Gesso

When you purchase a pre-primed canvas or panel, you’ll find that it’s already been primed using acrylic gesso.

This isn’t a surprise. Like we said earlier, acrylic gesso has been the most commonly used painting base that artists use. Manufacturers often use up to three coats of gesso to get even coverage.

What that means is that you don’t have to do anything with store-bought, pre-printed canvases. They’ve already been armed with gesso.

Part Two: Working with a Canvas

Step One: Prepare Your Canvas

Many painters want to prepare their canvases themselves. It’s not hard to prime a canvas with acrylic gesso. However, you must remember to equip yourself with a wide stiff brush and take your time.

When working with gesso, you can always experiment with its different possible consistencies. There are various measures of thicknesses that you can whip gesso into. However, you’ll find that applying it in a dense cream consistency is best.

Some acrylic gesso types in the container are already available in thicker consistencies. Therefore, you’ll need to dilute them with water.

If you have the appropriate consistency, all you need is a stiff-bristled brush. Then, apply the gesso to your bare spread canvas.

It would help if you’d avoid using those extremely cheap brushes. Otherwise, you could seriously harm your painting surface.

Step Two: Prime Your Canvas

Canvas Priming

Wondering how to gesso a canvas? Here you go:

  1. Mix the gesso until it forms a proper consistency.
  2. Make sure to use water, and only when needed.
  3. While working quickly, smear a thin layer of gesso over your canvas.
  4. Keep working until the canvas is completely covered.
  5. Wipe the brush off.
  6. Brush back and forth over the surface.
  7. Pop any bubbles.
  8. Uniformly lay down the paint.
  9. The brush should be perpendicular to the canvas, barely reaching it.
  10. For optimal evenness, use a cross-hatching pattern.
  11. Once dry, sand-paper your surface slightly.
  12. Repeat steps 1-4 until the surface you prefer is obtained.

Step Three: Look After Your Canvas

It’s tempting to apply a lot of gesso all at once. However, if you paint it on thin layers with sanding in between, you’ll reach a much better finish. Consider thinning the gesso with water, and layering on the canvas evenly and thinly.

You should repeat the priming/sanding process enough. This way, you’ll end up with an incredibly smooth surface. But if you want a completely smooth surface, you should only be operating on a plate.

Don’t sand the gesso to the touch once it’s dry. For optimal results, the gesso is best left to dry overnight. You’d notice that acrylic paints like acrylic gesso can feel dry to the touch. However, if you try to wash them, they will become gummy. Remember: stay patient.

Part Three: Working with a Panel

Step One: Prepare Your Panel

Acrylic gesso will enable you to paint in no time. One or two coats are all you’ll need to paint the board. However, you should remember that achieving a smooth surface is nearly impossible if you’re using a brush to apply gesso.

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What you want to use is a paint roller. It’ll help you achieve the smoothest results. And if you spray your gesso, you’ll end up with even better results.

When shopping, you should think again before you catch one of those large paint rollers. They are more suitable for walls. People who tried them know that they’ll yield an orange peel texture on the stand. Instead, opt for a 6-inch foam roller that doesn’t have a nap at all for the smoothest result.

You may want to sand the panel gently to make sure that the gesso has ample teeth to hold on. This is especially the case in some Masonite boards and tempered hardboards with hard, super-smooth surfaces.

Step Two: Prime Your Panel

Get your panel ready. Is your gesso out yet?

  1. Sand the surface of the panel gently.
  2. Clean up the dust with damp, lint-free cloth off the surface.
  3. Mix the gesso until it reaches the right consistency.
  4. Roll the gesso on evenly, flat on a table.
  5. Once dry, sand-paper slightly.
  6. Repeat steps 1-4 for a shiny white surface once more.

Step Three: Look After Your Panel

It would be best if you’d wait until the first layer of gesso is removed. Then, you should try to smooth out any gritty patches with low-grade sandpaper.

To get a satisfactory result, apply a second coat of foam roller to gesso. After it dries, wash it over again. Apply a minimum of 2 coats of gesso and sand in between.

If you’re working with a basswood panel, don’t hesitate to follow the same set of instructions. The only extra thing you’d have to do is prime the back of the panel.

Clear Gesso Vs White Gesso

When it comes to creating a masterpiece of acrylic painting, you can’t go wrong with white gesso. Gesso is a white paint primer that improves the adhesion of acrylic paints when applied over surfaces other than canvas, like wood or paper. It gives an even white surface to work on, allowing your colors to stand out from the white background and making them brighter.

Clear gesso is great for transparent layers and experimentations in watercolor paintings as white doesn’t come into play because it’s clear! However, if you’re looking for a white background as well as allowing your white acrylic paints to do their job – white gesso is definitely your go-to option!

Gesso vs No Gesso

The use of gesso when painting, especially on canvas, has been around for centuries – but what is it and what does it actually do? Gesso acts as a primer to help paint adhere to a surface, and is generally made out of a combination of chalk and binder. Most commonly referred to as the traditional white gesso, the originators of this process created tinted variations for extra help in hiding what may be underneath their paintings.

When painting on canvas with no gesso, you’ll find that the painting can be quite transparent as the composition and material simply doesn’t lend itself well to adhering paint without some sort of assistance. So choose wisely: either go bold with your originals and use no gesso or add an extra layer of protection to your masterpiece by using traditional or even tinted gesso.

Using Gesso for Acrylic Paint, Is It Really Needed?

So, is gesso necessary? That depends on what type of paint you’re working with. For example, you’re not required to use gesso while working with acrylic paints.

Nonetheless, a raw canvas is very absorbent. It isn’t for most painters’ brushing styles. Raw canvas soaks up all of the paint’s liquid. It’s best suited for reaching a “staining” effect, rather than blending.

So acrylic painters don’t need to use gesso, but they’ll probably want to.

Why? When oil comes into contact with raw canvas, the canvas becomes brittle with time and eventually disintegrates. This is commonly called a “rotting canvas.” This is why oil painters should always include a barrier of sorts between the paint and the raw canvas.

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When there’s no barrier, oil paints can rot a canvas. Many oil painters move past this problem by employing acrylic gesso to use. By priming their canvases with it, they create a barrier between the canvas material and the oil paints.

What is Alla Prima Painting Method?

Alla Prima is an Italian phrase meaning “at once” and it’s a painting technique that allows for wet paint to be applied directly onto the canvas—without prepping the surface first with gesso or other primers. This method was popularized by Bob Ross, who died in 1995, and has since become a popular hobby for many people.

Gesso is still used by some to create an even surface, but it’s not necessary for alla prima painting. Hobby Lobby sells gesso specifically for this purpose and can be purchased online or in-store. Alla Prima paintings are typically created quickly and with fewer layers of paint. The technique is well-suited for smaller paintings, as the artist has to complete it before the paint dries.

Painting alla prima requires skill and practice in order to achieve a desirable finished product, but it can be a rewarding experience for those willing to put in time and effort. The alla prima method combines traditional painting techniques with modern tools, making it a unique and enjoyable painting technique.


If you’re just getting started, don’t bother with complicated and costly oil painting primers. Instead, try to stick to something more accessible. It’s better to spend your efforts mastering the basics at first.

Using Gesso for Acrylic Paint may not be the same as the actual gesso used by medieval oil painters. Nevertheless, it provides an excellent base for any painting medium. There are even different colors: white gesso, black gesso, clear gesso, etc.

Good luck!

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