Do You Need To Gesso Canvas For Oil Paint

Oil painting has been a popular medium for artists for many centuries due to its vibrant colors and unique texture. One common question that arises, especially among beginners, is whether it is necessary to gesso a canvas before beginning an oil painting. The answer is unequivocally yes, and there are several reasons why. Let’s explore them in more detail.

Understanding Gesso

Gesso is a white paint mixture containing a binder mixed with pigment, chalk, and a hardening agent. It plays a vital role in oil painting, especially when it comes to preparing the canvas. It’s not merely a protective layer; it’s a vital part of the painting process that ensures the longevity and vibrancy of your work.

Why Gesso Is Important

The use of gesso has three significant benefits:

  • Protection: Oil paints are corrosive in nature. If applied directly to the canvas, they can cause it to decay over time. A layer of gesso prevents this from happening by creating a barrier between the paint and the canvas.
  • Texture: Gesso can be used to create an ideal surface texture that oil paint can adhere to. It provides a slightly textured surface, which helps the oil paint to grip better, resulting in a more vibrant, long-lasting painting.
  • Color enhancement: Gesso’s white color helps to enhance the pigments in the oil paint, making them appear more vibrant and rich. This is particularly helpful if you’re working with lighter colors.

Applying Gesso

Applying gesso to a canvas is a pretty straightforward process. Here’s a simple step-by-step guide:

1. Purchase a commercial gesso - they are readily available in art supply stores.
2. Using a wide, flat brush, apply an even layer of gesso across the surface of the canvas.
3. Allow the first layer to dry thoroughly.
4. Apply a second layer if necessary, allowing it to dry as well.
5. Once the gesso is completely dry, you are ready to start painting with oils.

Remember, gesso dries quickly, and it’s essential to let each layer dry before applying the next. This will create a surface that is smooth, even, and ready for your masterpiece.


So, do you need to gesso canvas for oil paint? Absolutely! Not only does gesso protect your canvas, but it also enhances the color and texture of your oil paint, making it an indispensable tool in your oil painting process. Happy painting!