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Hi all. So I'm a total newbie and I believe I have now finally gathered all my materials and am about ready to begin. I just had a quick question about Gesso and staining. The question is basically do I need to gesso the canvas or is staining the same thing. I talked with an artist and she said that she always gessos before putting on a wash. I have one stretched linen canvas and a couple of panels. I thought I'd give both a try in the early going to see what I prefer. So any help here is appreciated.

Total novice,


  • Hi @jdfick No gesso and staining are not the same. Gesso will give your pigment something to grab on to and prevents your paint absorbing too much into the canvas/linen, it's glue basically. Staining the canvas (once the gesso is thoroughly dry) takes away the stark white of the canvas/linen and gives a more neutral colour on which to paint. I would suggest you look at Mark on you tube staining a pre- gesso'd canvas. I'm sure you will get better answers to follow, I'm just a newby.

  • Okay so do you also have to gesso a panel? I assume there would be no absorption on a panel. Or do you still do it for the sake of coverage? Is gesso essentially like primer that I would use on my walls?
  • I wouldn't like to give you an incorrect answer on the panel. When I buy my panels from the art store I would imagine they are already gesso'd before they are glued to the panel??? Wait for more answers before you do anything, and make use of You Tube, some great advice on there. Essentially yes, a primer. When canvas and Linen are manufactured the roll's have oils on them, this is to stop them sticking together when packed tight, if we didn't gesso we would get uneven coverage and a bad base on which to paint. I hope this has helped? Don't forget, loads of info out there on google and You Tube. I'm sure Mark did a tutorial on gesso somewhere.
  • edited January 2014
    The products in this video are not those I would particularly use but I'm posting it just so that you can see the steps taken towards canvas preparation and why they are important.

    Regarding panels the only thing I could tell you is that artists do gesso them. Most artists I've heard of like their smooth surface, they usually apply 3-4 coats of gesso plus they sand them after each coat dries.
  • Traditional gesso is only for preparing panels and other hard surfaces as it's made from plaster (as in gypsum similar to the stuff dry-wall is made from). Modern acrylic gesso is suitable for both hard surfaces and stretched canvass, but it isn't necessary for oil paint.

    Oil painting surfaces need to be sized and primed, and acrylic gesso does both, but you could also size a canvass using something like modern PVA size, or traditional animal skin glue, and then use an oil primer on top of that.

    If you purchase pre-primed linen, it's either sized and oil primed or it's acrylic primed or acrylic gesso (it should specify which).
  • Thank you all. As it turns out. The panels and canvas I purchased were pre-gesso. I guess since my wife followed the supply list so well that's what she bought. Anyway, I've gone ahead and stained my canvas. I've attached some pics in another more appropriate forum thread

  • If you buy the double or triple primed linen then there's no need to use gesso before staining. If you buy the pre-stretched frames from most art stores, whether cotton duck or linen, its a good idea to prime them with a couple coats of gesso, even if they say that they are pre-primed. I use gesso on canvas board but not on primed board panels.
  • And, if the linen is oil primed, don't put gesso on it. You can put oil on top of acrylic but not acrylic on top of oil. Is that correct? Let me know if I'm saying that wrong.
  • @Ronna no you've said it correctly.
  • When talking panels it depends on what the panel is. I use wood panels many time and the gesso not only give a surface for the oil paint to adhere to but also seals the wood and aides in preventing warping. I always add a coat or two if gesso, even if pre primed. I prefer oil based gesso but it is more involved than acrylic. Acrylic is basically just a coat of plastic.
  • I put gesso on my boards and sand between 3 thinnish coats. I just like doing the prep stages. But on Canvas - i buy good prepared finished product. I used to do the whole thing from scratch - not anymore, melting rabbit skin etc - no way.
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