Alexandra writes: Should you always prime a canvas yourself, even if it is pre-primed? I’ve seen some artists who do this and I’m not sure if it’s really necessary.

If the canvas you purchased is already primed then there is no need to prime it yourself unless you’re trying to change the tooth of the canvas. The main point of priming a raw canvas is so that the paint doesn’t soak through the fabric. The primer seals it off in a way. If it’s primed then this is not going to be a problem.

The times that I do prime a canvas are when I’ve gotten one that has more tooth than I like. I can add a coat of gesso, dry it, then sand it to a smoother finish which gives me a nicer painting surface. Not everyone is going to want super smooth though. It’s not a matter of right or wrong, just personal preference depending on the techniques the artist is going to use in the actual painting. With me I want smooth blending and fine detail, so that means I need a smoother surface.

Now there are low quality canvases where the primer almost soaks up the paint instead of letting it glide over. This would be another case where adding a coat of gesso may help. Of course that adds into the overall cost of the canvas so it makes more sense to just spend a couple of extra bucks and get the better canvas.

I had a lady once hire me to paint 3 24×36″ paintings. She provided me with the canvases that she bought on craigslist. There was apparently a guy selling them who made the stretcher bars himself, primed the canvases himself and sold them for 3 times what it would have cost me to buy a quality Fredrix canvas of the same size. She was convinced she had gotten a deal.  I stupidly agreed to paint them. Even after adding several coats of gesso and sanding them they were a nightmare to paint on. They just had so much tooth I couldn’t get rid of because of the crappy qualities the guy who originally made them used. Seriously…think stucco.  The point is a lot of artists think that they’re going to save so much money by using poor quality canvases and just adding another coat of gesso. So often you will save both time and money by buying a ready made, ready primed canvas.

I personally hate the process of gessoing and sanding a canvas so whenever possible I just buy canvases that are already prepped with the tooth I like. <3 you Fredrix blue lable ultra smooth and belgian linen canvases!