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Canvas stain over Gesso off the shelf canvas?

is it ok to stain an art store off the shelf canvas that’s already been sealed with Gesso? Will the oil based stain dry properly? Will the oils over the top bubble up, crack, or just otherwise misbehave? I like the concept of beginning with a neutral canvas rather than white. Eventually I’ll begin stretching my own canvases.


  • Oil over Gesso obeys the "fat over lean" rule, and so will be fine.  Break the rule and you get cracking.
  • edited November 2017
    Yes and be aware that your canvas might only have 2 coats of gesso which is enough for acrylics but oil needs at least 3 coats of gesso to guarantee the oil wont get through and reach the canvas. If this is the case add 2 more coats of gesso then stain it. To stain you can also just add a bit of brown or black acrylic paint to the gesso to tint it and then apply to canvas. You dont need an oil primer stain layer

    If i buy a pre gessod canvas like that i just add two more coats of tinted gesso then sand it a bit and it's good to go with oils
  • Thanks for the replies. Let me get this straight...The stain over Gesso is ok, but now what if I'm staining an previously unprepared cotton canvass. Then Is it better to Gesso these before staining or just go with Mark's recommended stain. Is it that there may eventually be deterioration without Gesso? I wonder what the longevity is...perhaps it's well past my lifetime. Still I would like to paint on something that will withstand deterioration.

  • @drdoug, if oil paint comes into contact with canvas, the canvas will rot over time.  So we seal ("size") the canvas to prevent the two from coming into contact.  But we don't like to paint on rabbit skin glue, so we gesso to achieve texture and/or tooth.  Oil can penetrate gesso.  The stain is for color, and it has the effect of slightly smoothing the surface.  Depending on the stain, oil can penetrate that also.

    Staining unprepared canvas?  No, sealing is the one step you shouldn't skip.
  • edited November 2017
    You can't apply marks stain to a raw canvas... You either have to do 4 coats of gesso first or use something else instead of gesso... There are a few other options but gesso is easy and what I like using.

    If you want your masterpieces to last as long as possible you can also try aluminum dibond type panels or something like that to paint on instead of canvas which will naturally break down over time. I'm not sure what lasts longest but aluminum must last longer than cotton or linen.

    Even if youre using wood or aluminim panel you still have to gesso it first or use something else to put between the raw surface and your oil paint
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