Prepping the canvas

This post is largely for new artists who would like more details on how I prepare my canvasses. I’m very interested in making sure that my paintings, particularly in the last two series as well as the one I’m working on now, have a three-dimensional quality. So my process for that type of painting is very specific.

I start with a clean, stretched canvas, of course.  You can see for the one pictured above, I’ve used a very large canvas. I want viewers to feel like they can step into the painting. 

Anyway, I then applied three coats of gesso—a paint mixture that includes binder, chalk and gypsum that prepares the canvas. You can apply the gesso with a brush or a roller — I always use a brush.

In between each coat, it’s important to let the gesso fully dry, which usually takes a half a day or so. Then I sanded each coat using fine grit sand paper, being careful to brush away any dust before I applied the next coat of gesso (a perfectionist may vacuum up the dust, but that’s not me).  If you want more texture on your canvas, you can skip the sanding, but I prefer to develop the painting’s texture using layers of acrylic paint, not gesso.

After three coats, with sanding in between, the finish is then very smooth. 

Now it’s time to apply the gloss coats. The gloss layers are not a background, rather more of an underpainting. It serves to give your painting depth.

Before I start, I’ll tint my gloss, often a shade of blue, but it can also be red. I’ll apply at least three layers of the gloss (and often more), which dries much faster than the gesso.  There’s no sanding these layers.  On the canvas above, I think I did about five coats.

Once it’s fully dry, I’m ready to begin sketching, which I tend to do using a brush and paint — not a pencil. Some people will use pencil or charcoal, or whatever works for them.

Happy painting!

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