Types of Gessoes for Oil Painting

Preparing your own art board will cut cost in oil painting. Many surfaces can be used, such as MDF, card, cheap canvas and watercolour paper. All that is required is an artist’s sealant known as a “size.”

Preparing Your Own Art Board

The numerous purchases of art boards and stretched canvases will prove costly unless the artist knows how to prepare the surfaces themselves. A little knowledge on the materials required and its application will cut costs drastically.

What is Sizing?

Proper preparation of the surface for the oil painting is important, or the rotting effects of the linseed oil which are found in oil paints, will sink into the porous material and cause it to degrade. The oil paint will also crack and become dull. The sealant that prevents this from happening is known as a "ground," or a "size."

Sizes and Grounds Available for Painting

Various types of grounds are available on the market depending upon the requirement of the artist.


This type of sealant has been around for hundreds of years and have been used by traditional artists. It is in two parts: the glue, usually rabbit skin glue, and a chalk powder, known as "whiting." The glue is warmed and applied onto the painting surface prior to a second coat of glue, which is mixed with the whiting. This white layer is the gesso.

Oil Primer

For a smooth and glossy finish, some artists like to use an oil-based primer. Again, a coat of warm glue or size is applied first. The oil-based primer is then applied on top. This preparation takes about a day and the brushes must be cleaned in solvents afterwards.

Acrylic Gesso Primer

Acrylic primer is available in DIY shops as well as art supplies. Using a good quality primer is recommended for oil painting; a large tin will go a long way and it is by far the easiest sealant to use. Being water based, there are no odours and the brushes can easily be cleaned in warm soapy water afterwards. However, once dry, it provides a tough and water-resistant surface ideal for oil painting. 





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Cheap Gesso for Oil Painting

Acrylic primer is suitable for most porous materials, which means that most types of wood, card and even paper (so long as it is at least 300gms in thickness) can be used for oil sketching. This demonstration on how to size canvas or wood is quite simple.

How to Size Artist's Surfaces

If the surface of the wood has a glossy finish, lightly sand the surface with fine glasspaper in order to provide the primer with a key on which to adhere. Brush off any dust. Before applying the acrylic primer, give it a little stir with an old length of wood.
Gently dip the end of a wide bristle brush into the primer and apply liberally onto the painting surface. Move swiftly in all directions and brush away any ridges to gain an even coat. Allow the paint to dry.

If extra smoothness is required, gently sand the surface again, as sometimes the surface of the wood will burr up. Brush off and apply the second coat. Again, move the paint in all directions and smooth off any ridges. The brushes must be cleaned in warm soapy water afterwards.

Sizing Paper

Fasten a sheet of watercolour paper onto a stiff board to help keep it flat whilst it is drying. Bulldog clips are ideal.
With a wide soft brush, lightly apply the primer onto the watercolour paper brushing briskly in all directions. To retain the surface of the watercolour paper, apply the primer in a thin layer. Once dry, apply a second coat.

This site comprise of pictures and excerpts taken from my 2 art instruction books. Oil Paintings from Your Garden can be purchased direct from the author, or through Amazon.


My other book, Oil Paintings from the Landscape can be purchased direct from Amazon.


© Rachel Shirley 2010