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Priming Canvases

Can an acrylic pre-primed canvas be primed again by the artists before starting a painting?  It is best to prime a pre-primed canvas with several more coats of acrylic primer. Otherwise, the paint will sink in and be very dull and lifeless.  The recommendation is to prime with acrylic gesso, sand between coats, and possibly thin the coats with a small amount of water and wait until the surface is dry before painting.

This is a classic case of an artist becoming discouraged by using a pre-primed canvas and having the oil in the painting absorbed (sunk in) by the primer.  While that is exactly what the primer was designed to do because it contains absorbent ingredients in the recipe, many artists are annoyed by this issue.  Repriming is fine, especially if the original primer appears to be very thin or small pinholes can be seen when the canvas is held up to bright light and examined from the rear, unprimed side of the canvas.  If the pre-primed canvas purchases all have these pinhole defects, it is time to find another brand of pre-primed canvas.

I am not an advocate of sanding between coasts of acrylic primer because the chance of creating dust that is not good to breathe is a distinct possibility.  If an artist insists of sanding, it should be done outside and with the artist wearing a dust mask. 

An easy way to retard the primer from absorbing oil and creating the sunken-in appearance is to apply a thin layer of oil paint, perhaps a tone that will enhance the subject of the painting.  This will help to curb sinking-in.


Can I make my own gesso with white glue and acrylic paint plus a bit of water?  Is this a suitable gesso?

While NO (emphatically) is the shortest answer, this question needs to be explored further. First, I believe this question is a mash-up of the concept of real traditional gesso (Hyde glue and gypsum) along with a few modern materials added for good measure. White glue is a PVA, not a Hyde glue. White acrylic paint is not the same as an acrylic dispersion primer.  So frankly, the entire recipe is a dumpster fire.  Some artists have a burning (pun intended) desire to thwart traditional methods and seek a cheap shortcut to making a painting material.


You can make an equivalent of “old school” priming but using rabbit skin glue is time-consuming and difficult. Use PVA instead of an acrylic primer.

Once again, the idea that glue is just glue comes up. PVA is nothing like Hyde glue except that both share the title of being called adhesives.  Mixing chalk with PVA might make an equivalent of odd, sticky modeling clay, but it will never be a suitable primer.  PVA has been recommended as a substitute for using Hyde glue in traditional oil priming.  The PVA seals the raw canvas in the same way as Hyde glue seals the canvas.  The advantage of using PVA is that it does not react to humidity like Hyde glue does so long-term movement that results in cracking of the painting surface is retarded by using PVA as the sizing material. It also protects the canvas because an oil ground contains oil, just as the name implies, and the overarching idea is to stop drying oil from penetrating the canvas.

As a long-term artist, the traditional technique of priming was taught in school.  The canvas was sized with Hyde glue, followed by a primer made of chalk, Hyde glue, linseed oil, and egg.  The egg allows the oil to mix with water since Hyde glue is water-based.

While this method of priming is steeped in tradition, it is both time-consuming and still has inherent vice because of the use of hyde glue. It can be a wonderful experience to make a traditional oil ground, but so many other modern oil grounds are available that achieve the same overall look and feel.  It boils down to how much time an artist wishes to prepare paintings as opposed to using faster methods that will shorten the time to when a painting can be started.


Gesso is a mixture of titanium white paint and gypsum and/or marble dust. Gesso can be obtained at a lower cost than white paint and it is far better to buy a gesso than to make one yourself.

Acrylic or oil primers are not as simple as the reply to the priming question makes them out to be. This is also a case where it would be better for artists to refer to primers as either acrylic primer and leave the word “gesso” out especially when old traditional primers are being discussed that are truly worthy of the name ‘gesso.”


Stop labeling acrylic primer as gesso!  Gesso is made of hide (sic) glue and chalk. Do not use it on stretched canvas.  Acrylic grounds are fine for oil paintings and should be applied in three coats to be effective in stopping oil from penetrating the canvas substrate.  If you are preparing a canvas with an oil primer, use a PVA as the sizing layer applied to the raw canvas.  Rabbit skin glue is hygroscopic.

Unfortunately, companies are wed to calling acrylic primer “gesso.”  The term is too embedded into the culture to be changed.  The remainder of the reply on priming is fine.


Just use acrylic paint for priming, You are wasting your money using acrylic primer.  Having a career in preparing theater backdrop painting, none of the backdrops ever fell apart.

My question is: What is the average lifespan of a theatre backdrop? This is probably the worst argument one can make for the use of simple acrylic paint as a primer since theatre backdrops, in all likelihood, have a short lifespan.  The argument would hold more weight if the author said that paint on a typical household wall does not appear to fail many years after it was painted.  However, walls are not canvas substrates nor are they usually constructed out of wooden panels.  Walls are repainted, or in some cases, remodeled and replaced. Artists expect that a well-made painting can last for hundreds of years. Nobody has stated that house paint can be expected to perform to that degree of longevity.

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