Has this ever happened to you? The paint beads up and won't stick to the canvas? (We're talking acrylics here.) When it happens, it's easier to see when you've got more water in your paint. So, what the heck is going wrong, and how do you fix it?
The problem isn't with your paints, it's with that sweet little canvas that you got at such a good deal.... Every ready-made canvas you buy comes pre-primed with gesso (pronounced JESS-oh). Gesso is different from plain white paint, in that it has gluey properties. It covers the surface you're going to paint on, and its gluey properties help the paint stick to the surface. (In years and centuries past, gesso was actually made with glue from rabbit skins.) Most often you'll find white pigment in it (though you can also find black and clear gesso for acrylics).
In order to cut costs and keep the price low on those value canvases, sometimes manufacturers will thin the gesso down to the point where it just doesn't stick all that much. So although the label may say double-primed or triple-primed, the gesso that was sprayed on the canvas was thinned so much that it just doesn't do what you thought it would.
So, the solution? Prime your canvas with a nice coat of gesso. Some people like to apply multiple coats, let each coat dry thoroughly, and then sand it before applying the next coat. Sanding is a nice way of taking out the brush marks left by the gesso when it's thick — if that is important to you.
Then, when it's dry, you can get back to painting. Have fun!
10/16/2017 09:20:30 pm
This has just recently started happening to me. Paint won't stick to entire canvas.
10/17/2017 07:32:03 am
Thank you. I am going to Michaels to grab some.
Hi Bessie! My apologies for not answering before now - I'm still catching up after the California wildfires (I was evacuated, my home and home studio remained safe and I'm home again, though I did lose my barn studio at the ranch of friends).
10/16/2019 03:53:13 pm
I am having the problem with a canvas board I bought from Hobby lobby to practice a new technique. I did 2 coats of gesso and an under painting. Now I can't get any detail. It just beads up and smears. I don't normally use canvas board. Is this an issue?
10/17/2019 06:48:34 am
Hi, Grace! Just to double check, your gesso is acrylic-based, right? (Most of them are these days, but it's good to double-check, just in case.)
1/10/2021 08:55:33 pm
I am a oil painting portrait artist; on my current painting I had to redo the face... remove the oil paint, reapplied gesso, sanded to remove thickness; now the surface is perfectly soft, no texture and the oil paint does not stick to the surface and can't mix the paint on the surface. Any suggestion how I can save my painting? Regards.
1/10/2021 09:49:12 pm
Hi Michael! That sounds challenging; you'd think that would work. Is your gesso oil-based or acrylic-based? Oil and water don't mix; that's why acrylic paints won't stick to an oil-painted underpainting or oil-based gesso. Oils will stick to an acrylic underpainting just fine, though.
3/12/2021 07:48:16 pm
Hi! I teach painting classes to kids and someone was nice enough to donate a lot of canvases. Unfortunately, the acrylic paint takes forever to dry on these canvases (much longer than on the canvases I used to buy) and the kids don't like waiting for so long and most of the class is taken up waiting for the background to dry. Do you have suggestions to make the paint dry faster on these canvases? Preferably a cheap and easy way haha Thank you!!
3/13/2021 12:05:08 pm
Hi Nina — Since they were donated, you don't really have a way of knowing what kind of gesso was used to prime the canvases, but I'm wondering if it might have been an oil-based one. Oil and water don't mix, and, although oil paints will stick to an acrylic base just fine, acrylics have problems sticking to an oil-based primer.
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Karen Lynn Ingalls
I am a working artist in Napa and Sonoma Counties, in northern California. I paint colorist landscapes of rural California, teach art classes, workshops, and private lessons, live in Calistoga, and have my art studio in Santa Rosa, California.
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