Acrylic Gesso is Primer that is used on canvas or any other painting support. Hereby Gesso is used to prepare ("prime") the surface for painting. It dries hard, making your painting support stiffer, slightly textured and ready to accept Acrylic Paint. Without gesso, the paint would soak into the weave of the canvas.
Different types of Acrylic Gesso
Just like with paint, there are two different grades of gesso: Artist grade and Student grade. The difference between the two amounts to the different ratios of pigment and filler. As with paints, the differences are reflected in the quality, and also in the price.
Artist grade has more pigment, higher opacity and is normally thicker than Student grade. Great for the creation of a smooth surface. If you are painting onto a raw canvas the artist grade is also essential due to the increased opacity.
Student grade contains the lower quantity of pigment and more filler than the Artist grade. Student grade is usually available only in white. This one is good for adding a bit more absorbency to a pre-primed canvas.
Regular Acrylic Gesso has a consistency of thin yogurt, it's easy to apply and spread around the support. Another type is a Heavy Gesso. This one has the ability to hold sculptural shape, providing all the attributes of regular gesso. Also, Gesso is available as a Spray. You shake the can and spray the gesso directly onto your canvas, with no need for a brush. Besides, the consistency and texture of gesso vary from brand to brand.
Acrylic Gesso is traditionally White, but you can buy premixed Black, Colored, and Clear Gesso. This can be really handy if you like to paint on the dark background. You can also tint your gesso to make it almost any color you want: just mix in a little bit of acrylic paint!
What about pre-primed canvases?
“Pre-primed” means “pre-gesso”, so it already has a gesso layer applied in the factory. You can buy pre-stretched and pre-primed canvas (this will be indicated on the packaging), so you can start painting them with acrylics without any extra steps. By the way, most of the pre-stretched canvases are pre-primed.
Do you need to gesso it? This step is unnecessary, however, sometimes you may feel that the canvas lacks tooth and absorbency, especially if it a cheaper canvas. Therefore give the canvas another coat or two of gesso, and enjoy the difference!
There are too many different brand available out there. I've tried a lot - student and artist grade - and came up with the winner. Gold goes to Liquitex Professional Gesso! Great quality for reasonable price.
There are few different types of Liquitex Gesso available: White, Heavy White, Clear, and Colored. Check out more information here.
Gesso Primer In fine...
Gesso can be used on multiple surfaces, such as canvas, paper, wood, glass, and fabric. Well, pretty much on anything that is used for painting.
Overall, Acrylic Gesso is a great tool, and it is popular among artists for a reason. Still, using gesso and pre-primed surfaces, or paint on raw canvas is totally up to you. It all depends on how you want your artwork to look. I prefer primed support, but recommend you to try both just to see the difference in the painting process and the final look. Certain styles of contemporary art might actually benefit from painting directly onto a raw canvas.
If you have any question about gesso, please leave a comment below! I would love to help you 🙂