How can I apply gesso to a masonite board? and needing help with a canvas prep.

by The author
(Blue Ridge Mountains)

I bought your yellow rose video and decided to start right away. Instead of doing a rose, I am doing a portrait of one of our dogs. It's coming out great. I decided to use a gessoed board, because of it's smooth nature. I tried to prep the canvas with the gesso and the modeling paste and it was a DISASTER. It won't lay down and looks like stucko with tons of pockets. Why won't it spread smooth? Thanks. Drew


If you are using a gessoed board, (already white) there was nothing you needed to do! It is already smooth.

If you used an untempered or the rough side of a masonite board, then the procedure is about the same with some minor changes. The procedure shown in the film is primarily for canvas only. I'll make a note to myself to include that in the e-book I'm writing for it. The cake knife works best on canvas. When working on a board, that is not already primed with gesso, you would use a wide, exploded tip, house painters brush. Working in opposite directions per coat and sanding in between layers.

The only rectification procedure I can recommend is to use a power, orbital sander to smooth out your board. You can also attach sandpaper to a block to get good results too. Don't use a circular sander as controlling it is impossible and will gouge out the board. 600 grit sandpaper will cut it down to get back to it's original smoothness. I'm sorry that has happened. Yes, I imagine it will look like stucko as that is how it's applied on a house! I've tried it with a knife myself, and you just can't control the layer well enough. For small boards, I've also used a power spray painter and gotten really good results, but the mixture had to be real thin. Large boards weigh to much, so I never use them.

I hope this helps. Again, if you are using an already primed/gessoed store bought panel(board) there is nothing that needs to be done.

Oh, if you are using a gessoed canvas board, in which the canvas has been glued to a thick cardboard cardstock, you would also use the brush method, because the board doesn't give enough (flex) under the knife. I wouldn't recommend these however as the cardboard that the canvas is glued to will warp within 9 months!

Hope this has helped.

Best wishes,
Let me know how things turn out!

Follow up:
I guess my wording was a bit off. Sorry about the confusion.
I am currently half way through my first painting of my dog and am doing it on gessoed board. Looking forward, I thought that smoothing canvas for larger pieces would be cost effective. So, I was trying to prepare a 16 x 20 canvas using the modeling paste and gesso. It failed miserably, with all kinds of pits and valleys too deep to smooth. Am I using too much gesso?
P.S. I did, however find another solution at Home Depot. I had them cut 1/8" Lauan Plywood into 18 x 24 pieces and am going to sand it and treat it with a Rustoleum wood primer. I will, therefore, have to do my toning of the canvas using an oil based mixture of burnt umber and titanium white (with lots of turps). When I'm done with "Jazmine & Chuck" (Dog with Toy), I'll send it to you. I love the fine detail. Wish me luck on the addition of color, becuase I just finished the dead layer. (I use M. Graham Walnut Alkyd Medium, never linseed oil. It's fragrant, vibrant, maleable, and dries in a day.)

It takes a curved knife, that in my video, you see the type of stroke needed to keep the gesso smooth. I use a 50-50 mixture, sometimes adding water to thin the mixture depending on how thick the gesso is. Cheaper brands are thinner. More expensive brands are already too thick. Start on a small canvas to see the effect, then move up.

Masonite is a better material than the Lauan. The Lauan will warp on you unless you use some sort of backing support. This can be furring strips glued (on edge) around the back side outside edge. Then coating both sides of the luan with gesso to keep film pressure equal on both sides. Research the web for a better explaination on using plywood for a painting support. The main thing is to coat both sides. 18 x 24 may not need the support, but do research before starting. It would be a terrible shame to have alot of work into it, and you can't frame the piece due to warpage.

Best wishes,

I might try to get me some of the Walnut alkyd, it sounds like a great product.

I've added some pics of a process I recently used for a painting that is now included in the demonstrations area of the site. You can see it here at an Oil painting demonstration how to gesso a panel.

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