How to Prepare an Oil Painting on Canvas

Oil Painting on Canvas

Did you know that preparing your canvas by yourself is cheaper than buying a pre-prepared one? If you want to start an oil painting on canvas, this will help you in the long run. Here are the steps in getting one prepared for painting.

Choose Your Canvas

A close up of a bird

There are several types of canvas available to the oil painter. You would first have to choose between linen or cotton. The former is more expensive than the latter. After that, you would pick between a primed or an unprimed one.

A primer is a chemical coating used on canvases to protect the paint from eroding the canvas and the frame underneath it. It is recommended for this process to choose an unprimed canvas, as stretching a pre-primed canvas will cause it to crack a few years after the paint has dried onto it.

Stretching the Canvas

A close up of a mountain

For this step, you would need to gather the materials. This includes four wooden stretcher bars, staples, canvas pliers, a pair of scissors, and a right angle. For the staples, it is recommended to get copper or brass that are coated or iodized.

After gathering the materials before making your oil painting on canvas, the next few steps are about constructing the frame. First, you take your stretcher bars and insert them in the corners of the wooden frame. Check regularly with the right angle to make sure you are creating a neat square or rectangle.

Once the stretcher bars are fully in place, roll out the canvas on a clean, flat surface. Place the frame on top and cut enough material that will cover it. Leave enough hanging to help tuck it in the frame using the stapler. Then, fold it cleanly over the frame and use the stapler to keep it flat and attached on it.

Adding Sizing on the Canvas

The next step in preparing the canvas is applying a layer called sizing. It is used to seal the canvas and protect it before painting. For this purpose, spread a weak solution of animal glue all over it.

Grounding Your Canvas

The next layer to be applied to prepare your canvas is ground. This helps not only create another protective layer for the canvas but also provide a uniform colour, texture, and absorbency. For oil painting canvasses, this chemical is known as gesso.

Gesso is a compound made of individual ingredients. It uses a powder pigment, oil, and a liquid binder. Making one from scratch involves heating the binder until it is smooth. Then, you mix on the powdered pigment until it comes into a consistency of cream or paste, depending on preference. You can also get one that is pre-prepared from various art supply stores.

Once you have prepared the gesso, apply it in smooth, even strokes using a brush for each layer. Make sure to rinse the brush between layers and use opposing strokes on each layer. Make sure to let each layer dry for an hour and dust it with fine sandpaper before adding the next one. It is recommended to add two or three thin coats for a smoother finish.

Make Use of the Canvas

Once all the pre-paint layers on the canvas is completely dry, that is the only time where you can start painting on it. This includes getting the right paints, turpentine, oil, brushes, and easel. Bring out your reference sketches and colour swatches as well to finish your artwork.


We learned that it takes a lot of effort to make a canvas from scratch. For people who make oil painting on canvas, learning about this part of the canvas helps them appreciate their tools of the trade. That way, they can attempt it themselves or thank those who have helped them provide a place for them to express themselves and their imagination.

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