How To Gesso Over A Painting

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Do you have a painting you messed up on and certain you want to paint over?

We all have our fair share of “mess up paintings”. There’s no shame in it. Messing up means you’re practicing, taking risks and growing in your painting skills! 

But what do you do with the canvas? You can always paint over your mess up paintings with…your next acrylic painting! Sometimes I just cover the painting with a solid color (or colors) of paint! The best way to cover it is with a dark color like black or paynes grey. 

I personally think that is the easiest way to cover a canvas than going through the gessoing process.    

But if you want to return the canvas to a blank white canvas, I recommend using gesso and sanding it! 


This post contains affiliate links. 


Handy Art Little Masters Economy Acrylic Gallon, White Gesso


What is gesso? 

Gesso is a mixture of paint and other ingredients such as binders & chalk. It’s used to prime a surface so the paint won’t soak into it. The canvases that you purchase at the store have already been prepped with gesso. You can purchase gesso to prime your own surfaces and to turn a painting into a blank canvas again. 

Acrylic Gesso is generally very thick, gloppy and opaque. It kind of reminds me of Elmer’s glue mixed with chalk. 



How do you gesso over a painting? 

This is the process that I use to gesso over a painting. You may find that you develop your own techniques too or it may be different depending on what you’re painting over. I do recommend reading the manufacturer’s directions as to how to apply the gesso. Some will say that you need to add a bit of water to the mixture but I don’t typically do this. 

Supplies Needed:




1. Make sure your acrylic painting is completely dry! 

2. Sand down any texture from the dried acrylic painting. I use basic sand paper like this one and I simply fold it over a small wooden block and sand down any peaks that are sticking up from my paint strokes. 
*You can also technically skip the sanding part if you don’t want the added dust and mess. Your painting may still have peaks from the previous acrylic painting. 
3. Pour the gesso into a small container. Apply the first coat of gesso using a basecoat brush (which is a wide soft brush). I don’t use anything expensive or fancy but it is nice if the bristles don’t fall off while you are applying the gesso.
Also, make sure this brush is used exclusively for gesso so no other residue ends up in the bristles. 
When you paint your first coat of gesso, make sure you are going in the same direction (either horizontally or vertically). You won’t cover all the painting in the first coat, especially if there were a lot of dark colors and that is okay. 
Tip: sometimes I’ll add a bit of titanium white paint into the gesso to help increase the opacity of the gesso.




4. Wait for the first coat to dry (about an hour or two depending on your humidity levels). 


5. Sand down any uneven layers or remaining texture. 


Use sand paper to smooth out any texture. I like to fold a piece of sandpaper over a small wooden block.


6. Paint the second coat. I usually paint the opposite direction of the first coat. For example, if you painted vertically the first time, switch to horizontally. This allows the surface to have some “tooth” to it. The sand paper also helps with creating “tooth”. 
7. Wait for the second coat to dry. I like to sand again to get rid of any brush strokes or stubborn texture showing through. I typically do not apply a third coat but you can keep applying as many coats and sanding as you’d like!  
8. Wait for the gesso to dry and you are ready to paint your next masterpiece (or practice painting) on it! 

Where do I get gesso?

Any arts and crafts stores such as Michaels sells gesso. You can get it on Amazon as well. I like to buy a big tub of it like this Artist’s Loft One. Tubs of gesso are fairly inexpensive and worth buying for practice paintings and our inevitable mess ups! 


Do I have to gesso over a painting if I want to reuse it?

Nope! Sometimes I’ll skip the gesso process and just paint over the previous mess up painting with my first layer of paint. Gessoing takes quite a bit of time and is a bit cumbersome. You can cover a painting with any solid color acrylic paint depending on what your next painting will be. 

See Also…

Like beginner painting posts like this? See also: how to seal your acrylic painting & acrylic brush techniques.

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8 thoughts on “How To Gesso Over A Painting”

  1. Thank you for this site! I enjoy painting and getting ideas helps a lot. I also learn by watching the shows. I use acrylic in my paintings, so I would like to say thanks for posting your guide and style using acrylics. Nylsa Villar

  2. Hi – thanks that’s really useful but should I use white gesso or white gesso primer? What’s the difference?

  3. Apparently I have clear gesso, as it doesn’t seem to cover the old painting. Can I add acrylic white paint to the gesso to make it opaque?

    • You might be able to try it! Test out an area first to see what it does. Or just use the white paint to cover the painting without the clear gesso. Your paint might have a satin finish to it which would make the canvas kind of “shine” but if the clear gesso is a matte finish, it might make it less of a satin.

  4. Hey, i really liked your art blog and as a beginner, who bought her first acrylic paints today, your blog has been very helpful. I wanted to ask a question, which can be heard a bit silly. Here it comes: What happens if i use gesso instead of white acrylic paint, like for example while mixing with other colors. I have a huge bottle of gesso, which was a gift and i don’t know what to do with it as a beginner, because i do not paint on canvas.

    • Hi Damla! Not a silly question! I’ve actually done this before, used gesso for white ?. I’m a huge believer in experimenting ? Gesso tends to be a matte finish so you will get the chalky finish when you use it. It’s also thicker and may not be as opaque as your acrylic white. But if you’re okay with that, I say why not! You can mix the gesso with other colors too. Try it out!

  5. Oh thank you so much! I have my first painting that I really wanted to paint over. So glad I found you, helping me so much!


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