Congratulations! You’ve got your canvas, paints, brushes, and palette—you must be ready to paint. Not so fast. Like priming a wall before you paint your home, there are a few important steps to take before you begin painting a canvas.
Stretching Your Canvas
If you plan on painting many canvases, purchasing raw, unprimed canvas and stretcher bars may be a more economical solution in the long run, but you’ll need to stretch your fabric into a paintable surface:
- Join the four corners of each of your four stretcher bars on the floor, pressing them to join.
- Use a right angle to check that each corner is square, using a mallet to adjust the bars until all four corners form right angles.
- Roll out the canvas and lay your bars on the canvas fabric, leaving about 2.5” on each side, and cut.
- Staple the fabric to the center of the top bar, pull the fabric taut, and staple to the center of the bottom bar.
- Rotate your canvas and repeat on the two sides of the canvas.
- Continue, working from the center to the corners of each side, adding staples 1” apart, and pulling the opposing sides taught. Finally, fold over the corners and secure with staples.
You may also choose to purchase pre-stretched canvas on cardboard or wooden frames.
Priming Your Canvas
Whether you’re painting with acrylics or oils, you’ll need to prime your canvas if you purchased it unprimed. Priming helps the paint adhere to the canvas and creates a smoother painting surface, but more importantly, priming protects the fibers of the canvas and enables the canvas to tolerate more layers of paint, for a longer-lasting art piece.
Different altogether than underpainting, priming your canvas with gesso is the final step before painting:
- Choose your gesso color. Gesso is available in clear, white, black, and even in several colors. Any Gesso color other than clear will affect your paint colors and the final outcome of your piece.
- Wet a brush, sponge, or roller and pat dry. Dip into gesso, cover your canvas with a thin layer, and allow to dry for at least an hour. Wash your brush thoroughly.
- When your first layer is dry, check for bumps and ridges. Use a fine sandpaper to smooth the surface of the canvas and brush dust away with a clean cloth.
- Turn your canvas 90° and paint another smooth layer of gesso. Wash your brush thoroughly and allow your canvas to dry overnight. Sand and brush again, if necessary.
- The more layers of gesso you use, the more absorbent your canvas becomes. When you’re ready to paint your final layer of gesso, use a decorator’s brush to apply even, parallel strokes starting at the top of the canvas and finishing at the bottom. Wash your brush and allow the canvas to dry thoroughly.
- Sand any bumps or ridges, brush dust away with a clean cloth, and you’re ready to begin painting.
Do you use canvas fabric or pre-made canvases with your students? Do you involve them in the stretching and priming process? Let us know in the comments below.