Grant Lankard's Blog

Blog #1 July 23rd, 2016
How to Prepare A Painting Surface Using Gesso

Before we discuss how to prepare a surface, we should discuss how to determine what type of surface you want. You can give the surface a rough surface, smooth, textured, etc.

One of the main things that will determine what type of surface you want is how much detail will be in the final painting. For very precise paintings, you will want a nice, smooth surface that will make a newborn's rear end jealous so that none of your precious, precious detail gets lost in the texture.

For a painting that is more expressionistic or rougher looking, it is appropriate to use a more textured surface.

A canvas texture is by far this easiest texture. Buy the canvas and... Well, there is no second step. Just start painting. This is a relatively subtle texture also.

An example of an interesting texture that you achieve easily, is this texture I used on my portrait of Woody Allen.
Textured Painting Surface

I knew before starting the painting that I did not want it to be photo realistic (or even aproaching photo realism) so therefore a more textured painting surface is appropriate. Because of the strong vertical lined texture, I have actually had people ask me if I painted this on wood. Nope, that's straight up gesso on canvas. This is a pretty easy texture to achieve. The way I got this texture was by applying thick coats of gesso with a large, coarse paint brush (such as this one...Linzer Paint Brush Consumer Flat 1-1/2 ").

The above example is about as textured as I get with my paintings. Some people take it one step further and make spirals with gesso. This is mostly useful if you're doing abstract art (though painting a portrait over a spiral texture might be pretty interesting!). When the gesso starts sticking up from the canvas enough, you can start to blur the line between painting and sculpture. If this is your goal you will want to try using some type of sculpting gel (such as Liquitex Professional Matte Super Heavy Gel Medium, 32-oz). If you're having trouble building up a texture with a paintbrush, you should probably try a painting knife such as Marrywindix 5pcs Stainless Steel Spatula Palette Knife Painting Mixing Scraper Set Pack of 5.

Another fun texture that you can use in your paintings is the crackle texture. This can give a painting an aged look. I applied this to the painting of the plum below. The painting is enlarged on the right in order to show the texture.

Crackle Texture

Thankfully this is another easy texture to achieve! Just buy crackle paste (Golden Acryl Med 16 Oz Crackle Paste) and apply it to the painting surface. Note: you need one layer of very thick crackling paint in order for the cracks to be noticable.

Creating a smooth texture is actually a bit more difficult so I've given more in-depth steps below:

  1. Apply a thin coat of gesso to canvas with a dry brush. Something wide and fine like this... Princeton (1-Pack) 3750 Select Paint Brush Golden Synthetic Hair Flat Wash Size 3/4" 3750FW-075-1P The type of gesso isn't really important. There are several great types on amazon. Pro-Art 16-Ounce Premium Gesso Canvas Primer
  2. Wait for the gesso to partially dry (more or less 10 minutes depending on climate and thickness of gesso).
  3. Go over the gesso with a wet brush.
  4. Wait for gesso to dry. Sand canvas with a medium grit sand paper. Again there are multiple types of sand paper that you can use. Here is the type I use 3M Garnet Sandpaper, Medium-Grit, 9-Inch by 11-Inch, 5-Sheet
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 until you can't see or feel any of the texture of the canvas.
  6. Sand with a fine sandpaper (3M Wetordry Sandpaper, 9-Inch by 11-Inch, Super Fine 400 Grit, 5-Sheet)

Run your fingers along the canvas surface. Doesn't that feel great? Most important tip: Many thin coats > A few thick coats.

OF COURSE... if this is too much work for you, they make pre-gesso'ed boards: Ampersand Gessobord 1.5 Inch Cradle 24X24. Gessobord Cradled 3/4 Inch 11X14 Gessobord Flat Painting Panel Size: 9" H x 12" WThese work great but remember, you'll still need the directions I provided if you mess up on the pre-gesso'd boards and want to start over again.

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