• Minimise unexpected variability in cheaper canvases where some areas seem to rapidly absorb the liquid white and/or where it has been sparsely applied;
  • Extend the wet period for a longer time during painting;
  • Get more paintings for a given $ investment in canvases;
  • Satisfy my need for some cost-saving DIY;
  • Uniform look on the edges of my paintings; and
  • Improve handling, transport and storage of fresh paintings.


Cheap canvases are fine for this learner painter and not running a commercial painting business.  After applying Liquid White, even relatively thickly, I often found unexpected variability with dry areas or rapidly drying canvases part way through painting.  We notice others are also experiencing dry areas.

I used to grudgingly put up with this until I read the ‘extra gesso layers’ note on the back of a well known commonly used brand of ‘ready-to-go’ triple-primed 280 gsm cotton duck canvas; stating that “most artists like to add two or more layers of gesso” to these canvases.  I also then realised that when I painted on canvases that I had black gessoed (2 layers), I hadn’t experienced those issues.

Once I started double guessoing all my canvases, the issues no longer occurred; even with the 5-pack cheapest canvasses.  Resulting in a much better painting experience.

I was reminded of this the other day when I experienced those issues after I grabbed a new canvas to do a quick painting, with those dry areas looking rough even though I tried to add some extra LW to overcome the problem.  So I thought an article may be helpful to others.

Why light grey gesso?

Bob used light grey canvases so that he could more easily see the liquid white.  Adding the extra layers of gesso then enabled me to incorporate the light grey to see where I had applied my liquid white, and where I had missed application. 

Why use a border around the oil painting?

The canvas-holding parts of the easel, the curved corners of the canvas and the different parts of the painting to me result in unsightly variability around the edges that I’m not happy with.  So I started using painters tape to create a uniform border around the painting.  This overcomes the appearance issues I had and improves handling, transport and storage of fresh paintings.

For an A3 sized painting, I use a 10mm border and for a 50 x 40 cm (20 x 16 inch) painting, I use a 20 border.

Making light grey gesso

I aim for a very light grey colour that is a value 9 (out of 10) on the colour wheel or a value 2 (‘high light’) on the Denman Ross 9-step Value Scale. I don’t know why the 2 scales are in the opposite direction to each other; they just are.

I usually gesso a number of canvases at the one time, so the following quantities give me enough to put 2 even coatings on 12 to 13 A3 sized canvases (or canvas sheets). To get this light grey colour/value, I add 15 heaped teaspoons of white gesso to a mixing jar and then mix 1 level teaspoon of black gesso into the jar until I get a uniform mix.  Then I add a teaspoon of white and mix, repeating this step until I get the value / colour I am looking for — usually another 3-4 heaped teaspoons of white in total.

This rough measure is based on a heaped (of white) or level teaspoon (of black); + what hangs to the bottom of the teaspoon as you lift it out of the jar.  I just use the readily available proprietary brand of gesso from the local $2 Bargain shops.  There is a home mix recipe for white gesso, but it looked like extra bother, with little $ savings. 


I just use an average quality 2 inch paint brush from the local hardware store to achieve as even as possible coverage.  Normal recommended drying time between coats is 2 hours, but in our Queensland environment I can get away with half an hour.  In my present context, I don’t sand the extra gesso coats.

In summary, I find this very useful to improving my painting experience and outcomes.  I hope it may be of use to you also.

Much appreciation to Sunnylady for encouragement and commenting on this article.

Cheers my Friends, DaveJ