How to Make Gesso for Canvas

By Brandon Getty
Create a lasting canvas piece by first applying gesso.

Gesso is a priming material commonly used on artistic canvases or wooden paneling. The prime components of gesso are glue adhesive and white powder, usually fine chalk or gypsum. Gesso is applied in even layers over the canvas, and once dry, it provides a durable painting surface. Though gesso can be purchased ready-mixed at most art suppliers, some artists prefer to make their own mixtures for greater freedom over the proportions of glue and powder.

Mixing the Hide Glue

Open your container of hide glue. The glue usually arrives in a powdered or granular form, so it must be mixed with warm tap water to become adhesive.

Mix the hide glue and warm tap water using a 1:11 ratio. For reference, 1 cup of this mixture will provide enough gesso to coat two 8-by-10-inch canvases. You may alter your proportions as needed to suit your canvas size.

Stir the mixture using a wooden spoon for 5 to 10 minutes. Allow the mixture to sit undisturbed overnight, or until it has the consistency of thick gelatin.

Pour the mixture into a measuring cup and note its total volume. You will need to add 1 1/2 times as much powdered chalk or gypsum to the mixture to create gesso.

Making the Gesso

Place your double boiler on the stove and fill the bottom pan about halfway with water. Empty the hide glue into the second inner pan. Warm the glue over a medium heat setting.

Add the powdered chalk or gypsum to the hide glue mixture slowly and cautiously. Spread the powder around the pot so that it soaks into the glue evenly.

Allow the gesso to soak for 10 minutes. Stir the mixture thoroughly for 5 to 10 minutes.

Begin applying the gesso to your canvas while it's still warm, using a flat paint brush, or pour it into an airtight storage container for later use.

Tip

All materials can be found at your local art supplier or crafts retailer.

Warning

Do not leave your double boiler unsupervised.

About the Author

Brandon Getty began writing professionally in 2008, with columns appearing in "Thrasher" magazine. He received a Bachelor of Arts in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and lives in Stockton, Calif.