In Part 1 and Part 2, I assembled a custom stretcher frame and stretched a heavy unprimed canvas over the bars. Now, it’s time to start priming the stretched canvas so it is ready for painting!

First, gather your tools together.

You’ll need:

  • enough gesso for three layers
  • sponge, brush, or roller to apply gesso
  • paper plate
  • water
  • fine sand paper and hand sander


My canvas is 22″ by 50″ – my largest canvas to date – and I knew I would need extra gesso to cover this area. Pick up some more if you think you might run out while priming your canvas.


Cover the canvas evenly using a sponge brush, roller, or large brush. Be methodical, and add wider to your brush when it becomes too sticky.

As you are working on the first layer, be sure to gesso the sides and back of the canvas.


Allow each layer of gesso to dry, and then sand any rough areas of the surface. This step is a matter of taste, since you may want to leave some texture beneath your final painting. However, if you canvas fabric has little bumps, or you notice some grains of gesso on your surface, this is the time to sand those off. If you are painting a portrait, imaging where the face might appear, and make sure that area is smooth. It can be difficult enough to fix minor problems in the eyes and lips without fighting accidental texture on your canvas too!

I found the sanding was not too messy, since I was careful when applying the gesso, and I didn’t have many imperfections to correct. I did this on a linoleum floor, and wiped the powder with a damp cloth. It wasn’t the factory job I was expecting!

Repeat the gesso and sanding steps until you have three layers of nice smooth gesso.  I found it was useful to move in a single direction for one layer, then turn my canvas over to move in the opposite direction for the next layer, and so on, to counter any effect of the light or my working habit on the final result.

The finished product: a nice big canvas for this master study project! Did you know that Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Proserpine is part of a triptych? I  might have reason to build another canvas soon.


Front: Custom stretched canvas for master study painting.


Back: Custom stretched canvas for master study painting.