Acrylic painting is an art form that can be done in many layers, while also is based on layers of knowledge and skill. Learning to work with these paints is also learning to work with so many other tools and materials, like gesso for instance. We will cover everything you need to know about this product, including answering the question of how long does gesso take to dry, our recommended gesso spray paint and other versions of the product, as well as how to apply gesso. Keep reading to expand your painting world, with this step-by-step guide on how to apply gesso.
Table of Contents
- 1 Gesso Explained
- 2 What Affects the Drying Time for Gesso?
- 3 Gesso Variations
- 4 Drying Times Between Gesso Layers
- 5 How to Apply Gesso
- 6 Making Your Own Gesso
- 7 Frequently Asked Questions
When the gesso was first created, it was intended to be applied to canvas surfaces. The Italian verb gesso means “to wrap with gypsum”, and is made from gypsum or chalk, glue (rabbitskin), and white pigment, which is probably why the product was otherwise referred to as “Italian gesso” or “glue gesso”. But today, we refer to it as just simply gesso.
In order to protect a canvas surface from oil paint, gesso is applied to the canvas surface and is absorbed into the fibers. A sort of roughness is also provided by the gesso, which helps the paint adhere to the canvas without absorbing it, which assisted the oil paint’s vibrancy and painters did not need to apply as much because it stuck better with the canvas surface, ultimately gesso is a primer.
It naturally becomes quite hard when it dries, so it is only recommended for rigid surfaces. The film would crack and fall off if applied to other surfaces that were less rigid. Thus, the gesso was improved by adding linseed oil to improve flexibility which became useful for artists who store their work in rolled-up canvases. These days you will find something called acrylic polymer medium chalk inside gesso which gives it that white and slightly chalky appearance. Luckily, there is no glue in the new and improved gesso formula, and it was mainly produced by a company that first produced it in 1950, called Liquitex.
Does gesso need to be applied to canvas prior to the application of acrylic paint? It is not mandatory or detrimental, but the absorption will be more effective if done so. It is no longer necessary to prime your canvas surface as you can obtain pre-primed canvases that have been pre-gessoed.
It is possible to apply an additional layer or two of gesso to your pre-primed canvas, depending on what you wish to achieve with your painting.
What Affects the Drying Time for Gesso?
How long does gesso take to dry? Well, ten to twenty minutes is all you need for the paint to dry, but we do suggest that you leave your canvas aside to dry completely for a period of 24 hours. Holding a hot air blower over the wet gesso will help it to dry much faster, which can be helpful when working with a short deadline. There are a few variables that will make a huge impact on the gesso drying, we have included some examples below.
The drying times of your project will be influenced by the amount of ventilation or air circulation that it is drying in. A lack of airflow will make the drying time take far longer. You can even try out your air conditioning system because they suck up moisture from the air which means the drying time will be much faster than drying normally, especially if you are indoors.
Otherwise, make sure that there is a window open for some extra flow, and keep the canvas away and out of arm’s reach to prevent any damage.
Hot or Cold Temperature
Because of the temperature difference, a warm climate will allow the gesso to dry more quickly than it would in a cold climate because the moisture will evaporate at different times.
High or Low Humidity
In addition to temperature, humidity can also affect the drying process. A low humidity environment will aid in increasing the drying time as any moisture will evaporate more rapidly.
It is important to note, however, that gesso will naturally dry more slowly if you live in a humid climate.
A major distinction in the appearance of Gesso is its white or off-white color, but it is also available in clear, black, or colored versions, but you have the amazing ability to add your own pigments to the gesso, making your own unique shade. Before applying the gesso to the surface, mix some acrylic paint into it. Of the two variations, there is one that is suitable for students, and one that is more suited for professional artists.
If you are a beginner who is only just starting to grasp the concept of acrylic painting, and you have discovered gesso, let alone how to apply gesso, you need only work with a student’s grade gesso. This will come in an opaque color that you can change up the color by mixing in some additional pigments, any color of your choosing.
Other Benefits are the affordability of this range of gesso compared to the more professional artist grade.
Artist-grade gesso is more costly because there is more to it than with student gesso. There are more pigments in the mixture which raises the price a bit. In addition to being thicker and having fewer fillers, the gesso is also more visually appealing, but even professionals will admit that they find the student-grade gesso suitable as well.
More Variations of Gesso
Among others, there are brands such as Golden, Krylon, Liquitex, and Winsor & Newton. Each brand will have a different consistency, with some being more liquid while others being thicker, but they will also result in different textures when they have dried. It is possible to buy a more hardy gesso that can act not only as a primer but also as a texturing agent. In order to find the right gesso for you, you should experiment with various brands and products to discover what works best for you.
In order to gauge for yourself which gesso is the most suitable for your artwork in min, you must undergo some trial and error. One thing is for sure, gesso will have a rough texture until after you have sanded it down to make it smooth for painting – unless you like the texture of course.
Gesso will come in different vessels for different applications. Look out for some gesso spray paint in the supply stores, this will provide an even smoother finish. But, you can also get the version that comes in a bottle or in a tub that you squeeze or dish out with a paintbrush and brush it out. you might even be lucky enough to find the versions that are made with soy, which are the more eco-friendly version.
Drying Times Between Gesso Layers
We always recommend adding two layers of the gesso, which means we must answer the question. How long does gesso take to dry? You will be able to paint the second cat once the first coat has dried basically, which can take about ten to twenty minutes, depending on the climate. If it feels dry when you touch it, you can add the next layer. In contrast, the thicker the layer, the greater the possibility of a problem which is because the thick gesso will feel as if it is dry on the outside, where it is actually still wet on the inner layers.
Consequently, if you apply a second layer too soon, the first layer can be lifted and an imperfect surface will be created. It is sometimes a good idea to experiment with multiple techniques when painting in order to see what works, which means you could also apply paints or other media to a wet or dry surface to see if you will achieve different results.
Gesso and Acrylics
Once the gesso is dry to the touch, you can begin painting with acrylics. It is possible, however, that the gesso has not completely dried and may lift off as you paint, so we recommend setting the gesso canvas aside till it has dried over 24 hours.
This will help with adding the white opaqueness to the paint that you are working with.
Oil-based Paints and Gesso
Oil painting is very much in a league of its own, having different effects, consistencies, and drying times. The way they dry is also different, ending up more rigging than acrylic paint would be when it has dried. If you are an il-painter by preference, we recommend getting a gesso that is also oil-based. This type of gesso will take a bit longer to dry, between 24 and 48 hours.
Hold the back-side of your hand on the surface and if it feels slightly damp or cool then you must wait a bit longer. In order to save as much time as possible, you can prepare canvasses ahead of time. Gesso should be applied, allowed to dry, and then used as soon as it is dry. Oil paint might seep through to the back of your canvas so adding the two layers of oil-based gesso will help to keep your art in a pristine condition for a longer time.
Gesso Along with Sketching Mediums
Additionally, gesso can be painted on top just as easily as it can be drawn upon. In order to draw effectively on gesso, it is important to let the surface dry completely before applying any drawing medium. If you jump the gun and start drawing before it has dried, it will have a dismal appeal because the gesso will absorb the pencil marks, making the drawing very faint.
You will know if the gesso has dried sufficiently by the way it feels on the back of your palm. This should be quite a hard feeling.
How to Apply Gesso
Perhaps you feel that you have sufficient knowledge to apply it in the real world, or perhaps you believe that you must work while you learn in order for it all to sink in. The following instructions will provide you with some instructions on how to apply the gesso to your canvas, whatever your reasoning may be.
- Apply the gesso to the entire surface using a brush loaded with gesso, unless you are using a gesso spray paint and then you just spray it over the whole surface using steady motions and making sure you are not too close to the canvas with the nozzle.
- Ensure that the gesso is evenly distributed by using steady and smooth motions with your brush. The beautiful thing about gesso is that when applying it, you cannot go wrong. Various types of gesso, such as tinted gesso, thinner and thicker gesso, and other kinds can be used to create different effects.
- Add some water to the mixture if you feel the consistency is too thick.
- It might happen that the gesso builds up between the bristles while you are busy, but these can be smoothed out with another brush. Make sure you wait for each layer of gesso you apply to be completely dry before smoothing it out with ultra-fine grit sandpaper, and you should wait for it to be fully dry before doing this, which can take up to twenty minutes to be safe.
- If you apply before the gesso has dried, you will ruin the smooth effect that the gesso achieved when you first applied it. If you paint before the gesso has dried, the paint will lift from the surface and peel off slowly and not very appealing (yes, pun intended).
- We always recommend adding to coats of the gesso for the most optimal result. The gesso helps to prevent the paint from seeping through the back of the canvas, particularly for oil-based paints, and this will have a better result with two layers, or even three!
In order to move forward in the creative process more easily, you may find that applying a tinted gesso helps you create an underpainting before you start painting on a white canvas. In addition, texture gels are available that can provide a more textured surface.
Making Your Own Gesso
There is always the option of buying gesso from the hops which is much easier than mixing a solution and making a mess.
But, there is something beautifully authentic about making gesso mixtures yourself. Here is what you need to make your own gesso:
- Tap water
- Calcium carbonate or talcum powder
- Acrylic-based paint
- White craft glue
What you need to do in order to make your own gesso is mix about ¼ cup of talcum powder, a tablespoon of white craft glue, and a tablespoon of white acrylic paint. Add as much water as your mix may need, until you have achieved the perfect consistency.
There will always be a trial and error phase with every new skill that you learn, but we hope that learning everything we could share about working with gesso for beginners, including how long does gesso take to dry, but the fun part is taking this knowledge and applying it to the practical side and start painting. Keep in mind that there are no mistakes, only lessons learned and milestones crossed on the road to success.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to Apply Gesso Smoothly?
You can use a gesso spray paint to get a beautifully even finish, or you can paint the gesso in one direction for the first layer and turn your canvas to the side and paint going in the opposite direction for the next layer.
Must Gesso Dry Before Painting?
In the end, it is up to each individual to make their own choice, but our recommendation is to allow the layers to dry before you make the next step. If not, the gesso might start to lift off the canvas and it will ruin all of your hard work. The paint will start to flake off because it lacks the adhesion it needs. You must always set aside the time for it to dry, and be prepared for a long wait if you are an oil paint artist.
How Many Gesso Layers is Enough?
A single layer of gesso should be sufficient when working with acrylics but it is always recommended to paint at least two for sufficient coverage.
Are There Any Major Differences Between Mod Podge and Gesso?
It is important to distinguish between these two products and their uses. Mod Podge can be used to seal craft projects, since it is more of an adhesive than gesso, which is used to seal canvas surfaces and other surfaces, with gesso acting more as a primer for canvas surfaces.
Does Gesso Only Work on Canvas Surfaces?
In addition to canvas, gesso is also suitable for use on wood, glass, plastic, and more. Next, acrylic paint is applied to the primed surfaces. The gesso is absorbed into the surface of non-porous surfaces like metal, whereas porous surfaces will just need one layer, whereas non-porous surfaces like wood require two layers.
In 2005, Charlene completed her Wellness Diplomas in Therapeutic Aromatherapy and Reflexology from the International School of Reflexology and Meridian Therapy. She worked for a company offering corporate wellness programs for a couple of years, before opening up her own therapy practice. It was in 2015 that a friend, who was a digital marketer, asked her to join her company as a content creator, and this is where she found her excitement for writing.
Since joining the content writing world, she has gained a lot of experience over the years writing on a diverse selection of topics, from beauty, health, wellness, travel, and more. Due to various circumstances, she had to close her therapy practice and is now a full-time freelance writer. Being a creative person, she could not pass up the opportunity to contribute to the Art in Context team, where is was in her element, writing about a variety of art and craft topics. Contributing articles for over three years now, her knowledge in this area has grown, and she has gotten to explore her creativity and improve her research and writing skills.
Charlene Lewis has been working for artincontext.org since the relaunch in 2020. She is an experienced writer and mainly focuses on the topics of color theory, painting and drawing.