Working with Gesso!
Acrylics are a fun and fairly easy type of paint to work with, but knowing how to properly prepare your canvas can be very important to your final piece. Primers (also called grounds) are helpful in providing a suitable painting surface and heightening the brilliance of your colours. Here are just a few tips and suggestions for priming in advance of acrylic painting:
Acrylics will stick to most clean, dust-free surfaces without a coat of primer being applied. However if the surface is very smooth the paint may scratch off easily, and an unprimed surface may, unfortunately, not give you the results you’re expecting!
Some surfaces may not need any preparation as most art supply and craft stores sell canvases that are already coated in white gesso (which is the most popular primer). If you want to prime your own canvas, there are many types of gesso to choose from, each offering a different end result or effect; it can be fun medium to experiment with! Although white gesso is the most common and the most readily available, you can also find clear and tinted gessoes. Clear gesso (from brands such as Holbein, Liquitex and Windsor&Newton) is great to use when you want to keep some of the wood grain visible on a wooden support. Coloured gesso (Holbein has a huge range!) can also be fun to work with and can help establish the tone of your painting before you apply your first layer of paint. Grey and black gessoes are also available at most art supply stores, they are used for creating a dark/tinted background to start painting on. They can be really cool for creating a piece with a darker mood.
Some brands (such as Golden) also make a variety of different primers such as “Absorbent Ground”, which can produce staining and watercolour effects when used with acrylics.
In addition to choosing the right gesso for your project, it’s also important to consider the brush you will use to apply it. A good gesso brush can be an extremely valuable tool! Brush hairs left behind in your gessoed surface can be messy and time consuming to pick out. I find that the best tool for gessoing is a foam brush, and these are available in a variety of sizes at most dollar stores and art supply stores. Foam brushes are great because they are inexpensive and have no bristles that can get left behind. Alternatively, a quality flat brush is also a good choice.
Priming your work is a very personal thing and most artists take different approaches to it! You may just apply one coat of gesso, or you may want to do a few. You may even want to sand the primer between coats for an extra smooth surface.