Know-How: Prepping a Canvas

There are many steps to making a painting. Like building a house, you’re going to want to start with the foundation. In this case, the foundation is your canvas. Here are 3 tips for preparing your canvas for oils or acrylics. Discover how to gesso a canvas, how to tighten a loose canvas and what those little triangles that come with your canvas are for.

Instructions:

How to prepare your canvas for painting

 

Applying gesso:

For most acrylic and oil paintings you are going to want to prepare your raw canvas with gesso before painting. Gesso prevents your paint from absorbing into the canvas instead of sitting on the surface of it. If you like the raw colour of the canvas, transparent gesso is also available. Gesso is also great for reclaiming a canvas painted in acrylic that you would like to paint over.

 

Technique:

Using a wide brush, apply a thin even coat of gesso to a dry and clean canvas. Be sure to always brush in the same direction. Allow the coat to dry and lightly sand the surface with sandpaper. Apply a second layer of gesso in the opposite direction, allow it dry and sand again. Repeat the process as many times as you like. Two coats of gesso are usually sufficient.

 

 

Tightening a loose canvas with water:

Sometimes a pre-stretched canvas can become a little loose. It’s better to paint on a surface that is stretched tight without sagging especially when attempting a pour painting. A simple way to fix this is to shrink the canvas with water.

 

Technique:

Turn the canvas over on your table or easel. With a spray bottle filled with warm water, gently mist the back of your canvas until it’s damp. Immediately dry the canvas with a hairdryer. Repeat this process until the canvas is as tight as you would like it to be.

 

 

Using corner keys (wedges):

The little triangles that come with your pre-stretched canvases are actually called “canvas keys”, “stretcher bar keys”, “corner keys”, or “wedges”. Over time the surface of a painted canvas can become loose. These triangles are intended to be inserted into the corner slots where the stretcher bars are joined together to tighten the tension of the canvas by forcing the mitre joint apart.

 

Technique:

Insert the pointed end of the canvas key into the slot in the corner of the stretcher bar. Make sure the flat side of the wedge is against the bar. With a hammer, gently tap the key down into the slot. Don’t force it all the way in. Insert all the keys into all the slots and work your way around the canvas, evenly tapping them down until the canvas surface tightens.

You will need:

  • Canvases
  • Gesso
  • Wide paintbrush
  • Sandpaper
  • Spray bottle
  • Hair dryer
  • Canvas wedges
  • Hammer

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