What to Know About Gesso

Gesso is one of those must have art supplies that every artist needs to have on hand and this is what you should know about it.

  • Gesso is pronounced: ges·so  /ˈjesō/. Singular: gesso; plural: gessoes. The word “gesso” is a noun, however, many artists also use it as a verb. For example: “I need to gesso my canvas before I start painting.”
  • Gesso is a white paint mixture consisting of a binder mixed with chalk, gypsum, pigment, or any combination of these.
  • It is used as a primer by painters to coat their canvas preparing it to receive either acrylic or oil based paints. Gesso makes the surface of canvas slightly textured so the paint will better adhere to it. Without this layer of primer, the paint would soak into the weave of the canvas.gesso canvas
  • It works like this, gesso is first painted onto the canvas to seal and prime it before paint is applied. Once dry, it serves as a protective layer to protect the canvas from certain elements in paint that could otherwise damage it. Gesso dries to a matt, gritty surface that provides adhesion for paint. It can be sanded to obtain a smoother finish. Gesso can be applied to just about any surface, and then it can painted on with acrylic or oil paint.
  • Gesso comes in a variety of colors or you can tint it in a color of your choosing by simply mixing a little bit of acrylic paint to it. Traditionally gesso primer has always been white and still remains the most popular, however, these days you can find it readymade in black, clear and colored varieties.
  • Gesso comes in two grades; student and artist grade. The difference between student and artist grade acrylic gesso is in the amount of white pigment in it. More pigment means it will be more opaque and cover better in one or fewer coats. The amount of filler in the primer is another difference. Filler is essential for tooth and absorbency.
  • Gesso primer comes in squeeze bottles or in large tubs or jars. Squeeze bottles can squeeze out primer directly onto the canvas. It can then be smoothed out using a brush. Primer that comes in a jar, allows you to stick a priming brush paintbrush right into the jar and be applied to canvas. Gesso is also available as a spray that can be sprayed directly onto the canvas. There is no need for a brush. Lastly gesso primer also comes in powder form that will mix into gessoes to make them heavier, thicker, and more opaque and textured.
  • When priming a canvas with Gesso, it should be applied in layers, allowed to dry, and then lightly sanded between coats. Each layer will take about an hour to dry. When applying the various layers, be sure to brush strokes horizontally for the first coat and then vertically for the next, or vise versa. The primer may be thinned with water to reduce the amount of brush strokes.

Garden Tomb, Jerusalem painting“The Garden Tomb at Sunset”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
12″ x 9″
Oils on stretched canvas

>> More info


Complete List of Art Supplies for The Beginning Oil Painter

Below is a list of necessary art supplies for the beginning oil painter. All items can easily be found at local arts and crafts supply stores such as Hobby Lobby or Michaels, or online via DickBlick.com or JerrysArtarama.com, for example.

art bin paint box
Art Bin and Paint box
  • Art supply bin or wooden paint box
    A plastic art supply bin (resembles a fishing tackle box) or wooden paint box are ideal for carrying supplies in.
  • Art brushes (the type made for oil painting)
    10 to 12 brushes is a good start. Both Flat (square with long bristles), and Filbert (rounded on top with long bristles) are recommended.

    • 2 Large brushes (one flat, one filbert) about one inch wide
    • 5 Medium brushes (three flat, two filbert) about ½ inch wide
    • 3 Small brushes (one filbert, two flat) about ¼ inch wide
    • 1 Very small brush for autographing the painting when completed

Bunratty Ireland canvas panel“Bunratty Ireland”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
12″ x 9″
Oils on canvas panel board

>> More info


Click for more info on flat and filbert types of brushes.

Click for more information about oil painting brushes.

  • Canvas
    A variety of pre-primed canvas board or stretched canvas, in sizes from 9 X 12 to 16 X 20 will do to get started with.

Click for more info on the types of canvas used for oil paintings.

  • Charcoal
    A package of each small and large sticks of charcoal. Used for sketching the composition onto the canvas. Can also be used to do preliminary sketches of the subject matter.
  • Cleaning rags and/or paper towels
    These are used for cleaning excess paint, medium, etc. off a brush. They are also used for getting most of the paint and turpentine out of brushes before final cleaning.
  • Cups for turpentine and medium
    A small or medium sized cup for each.
  • Dishwashing liquid
    A small bottle of liquid dishwashing soap to clean your brushes. It will need to be the kind that works on grease such as Dawn. The small size fits nicely in an art bin or paint box.
  • Easel
    For portability, a table easel that can fold up. For studio work, a standing easel that can be adjusted to a comfortable height for standing up. For “plein air” work, an adjustable standing easel that can be folded up and easily transported.
  • Eraser
    A  kneaded eraser for charcoal work. A pink pearl to erase pencil lines.
  • Gesso
    1 small container. Used to prepare just about any surface to receive oil paint, from thick paper to wood, even pre-primed canvas.

Click for information about gesso.

  • Linseed oil
    1 bottle or can. Used to mix painting medium. Medium is made by combining 1 part linseed oil to 1 part turpentine. Medium is used to thin oil paint and makes it flow more easily on canvas and aids in blending paints.
  • Oil paint
    Windsor & Newton or Grumbacher are two good brands of oil paint for the beginner. They are less expensive than other brands, but the quality is fine. Be sure to purchase oil paint rather than water-soluble oil paint. Buy one each (200 ml tubes) of these colors are:tube of oil paint

    • Thalo Blue
    • Cobalt Blue
    • Cerulean Blue
    • Ultramarine Blue
    • Cadmium Red light
    • Alizarin Crimson
    • Yellow Ochre
    • Cadmium Yellow Light or Lemon Yellow
    • Cadmium Yellow Medium
    • Viridian Green
    • Sap Green
    • Ivory black
    • Burnt Umber
    • Raw Umber
    • Burnt Sienna
    • Raw Sienna
    • Burnt Umber acrylic paint – This will be used to trace over and cover up sketch marks on the canvas.

For more information about oil paints, see article titled Artist Grade or Student Grade Oil Paint, Making A Choice.

  • Odorless turpentine or odorless mineral spirits (a.k.a. paint thinner) 
    Used to clean paint from art brushes.
  • Palette
    Used to hold dabs of paint squeezed from the tube and also for mixing colors together. Can be made from wood, glass or some other material. Disposable palettes have sheets of wax paper which can be torn off and thrown away for easy cleanup.

Learn much more about the artist palette. See article titled What to Know About an Artists Palette, Part 1 and Part 2.

  • Palette knife
    palette knife image
    Palette Knife

    A handy tool used to mix paint on the palette. Some artists also like to using one to apply paint to canvas instead using an art brush.

See article titled There Are Palette Knives and Then There are Painting Knives.

  • Pencils
    A variety of sizes for drawing and for sketching a composition onto the canvas.
  • Pliers
    This tool will come in handy to loosen tight paint tube caps.
  • Rulers
    Used for measuring and drawing straight lines.
  • Sketch pad
    Any size to sketch on.
  • Varnish
    Applied to a painting after it is thoroughly dry to bring out the color and protect the painting from dust, direct sunlight and other elements that could harm it.
  • Varnish brush
    A soft brush with long hairs, dedicated to varnishing, helps to apply varnish thinly and evenly.

Creating Depth On A Flat Surface

national park wall painting
Monument Valley National Park

Depth is a basic building block* of all visual art. It is an important element in any composition as it creates a strong sense of reality in a painting. It can be defined as the illusion of distance or three-dimension on a two-dimensional or flat surface. A lack of depth in a composition means it will be less than lifelike.

Primary techniques an artist can use to create depth in a painting are layering and overlapping, changing size and placement, linear perspective, and relative color, hue and value.


Marine still life with boat fenders“Boat Fenders”
Marine Still life by Teresa Bernard
9″ x 12″
Oils on canvas panel board

>> More info


Layering and overlapping is placing one or more elements in front of another element in order to create the illusion of depth in composition. Objects that appear in front of others seem nearer while those that are behind seem further away. This method is the strongest way of creating depth and it will over ride all other signs when there is seeming conflict.

Changing size and placement is another method artists use to create the sense of depth in a painting. This technique simply states that larger objects appear closer and smaller objects appear further away. Also objects that are positioned at the bottom of the painting appear to be in front and those at the top appear to be in the back.

Linear perspective allows artists to give the impression of depth by the property of parallel lines converging in the distance at infinity. An example of this would be standing on a straight road, looking down the road, and noticing the road narrows as it goes off in the distance. The point of infinity is what is called a vanishing point. These lines don’t actually need to be visible, though they can be. They can also be implied by the objects in the composition.

For more information about using perspective to add dimension to your paintings, read the article titled The Rules of Perspective.

Relative color, hue and value can also add the illusion of depth.

  • Darker colors look closer to the viewer and lighter colors look further away.
  • Colors that are close in value seem close to each other and strongly contrasting  colors appear to separate.
  • Warm, bright colors (red orange, yellow) seem to advance towards to the foreground and cool, dark colors (blue and bluish green and purple) seem to recede into the background.
  • Saturated colors seem to advance and low saturated colors seem to recede.

Lighting and Shading

Light adds depth by casting external shadows, it also shows depth in how it acts over the surface of one object. The closer to the light source, the brighter the surface is with more reflected light.

Cast and drop shadows are another common way to add depth. Reflections work similarly in that a reflection appears on a different surface. The illusion of depth can be increased by making the shadow larger and lighter and placing it further away from the object. Blurring the edges of shadows also increases the illusion of depth.

Focus, Texture, and Detail

Objects that more detailed, sharper in focus and more textured appear closer than those with less detail, blurred or little or no texture are perceived as far away.

*Click for more information about the basic elements of art.

Additional Reading

Creating Depth in Your Paintings via Atmospheric Perspective

Basic Art Element — Line

A line is a long, narrow mark or band connecting two points. It has one-dimension — length. When two ends of a line meet, a shape is created. Lines can suggest forms by creating volume. Lines can also create textures and pattern when combined with other lines.

A line is a basic building block* of all visual art. They are very important to a composition as lines perform a number of functions. They can be used to divide the composition, direct the viewers gaze, define shapes, and/or make a statement.

Lines allow the artist to direct the viewer’s eye into and around the composition along a path from form, color, or shape within a work of art. They can vary in width, direction, and length, and they often define the edges of a form. Lines can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, straight, curved, thick, or thin.


Texas Flag Barn canvas art“Texas Flag Barn”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
20″ x 16″
Oils on gallery wrap stretch canvas

>> More info


Types Of Lines

  • Horizontal lines
    • suggest landscape and the horizon
    • impart a sense of peacefulness, vastness, stability and constancy
    • associated with earth bound things and suggest a feeling of rest or repose
  • Vertical lines 
    • are perpendicular to the horizon and stretch from the earth to the heavens
    • communicate a feeling of solidity, loftiness and spirituality
    • impart a sense of height, grandeur, and formality
    • gives the impression of dignity that extends upwards toward the sky beyond human reach
    • suggest power with a strong foundation
  • Horizontal and vertical lines used in combination 
    • are structurally stable and are not likely to tip over
    • communicate stability and solidity
    • suggests permanence, reliability and safety
  • Diagonal lines 
    • suggest depth and the illusion of perspective that pulls the viewer into the painting
    • appear to being unbalanced, either rising or falling, neither vertical nor horizontal
    • convey action, movement or direction, restless and uncontrolled energy
    • can appear solid and unmoving if they are holding something up or at rest against a vertical line or plane
  • Curved lines
    • sweep and turn gracefully between end points and is another type of line that the eye like to follow
    • provide a greater dynamic influence in a picture
    • are more aesthetically pleasing, as they are associated with comfort, familiarity, relaxation, softness and sensuality
    • can also communicate confusion, turbulence, even frenzy, as in the violence of waves in a storm, etc.
  • Organic lines
    • occur in nature and are associated with things from the natural world, like plants and animals
    • are irregular, curved, and often fluid
    • convey a sense of gracefulness, dynamism, and spontaneity
  • Implied lines
    • don’t actually exist at all and can not be shown visually
    • are lines created by values, colors, textures or shapes that guide the eye though the piece of artwork
    • are what is implied in the mind’s eye when we see and mentally fill in the spaces between objects
    • are created with directional elements such as shape, hand gesture, eye contact or gazing in a direction (even off canvas)
  • Contour lines 
    • define the edges of objects and also the edges of negative space between objects
    • create boundaries around or inside an object
  • Geometric lines
    • are mathematically determined
    • are rarely found in nature, but often found in man-made constructions
    • have regularity and hard or sharp edges
    • convey a sense of order, conformity, and reliability

*Click for more information about the basic elements of art.

Homework

Draw an example of each type of line as described above.

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

The Basic Elements of Art (Introduction)

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 1

Basic Art Element — Color, Part 2

Basic Art Element — Form

Basic Art Element — Line

Basic Art Element — Shape

Basic Art Element — Space

Basic Art Element — Texture

Basic Art Element — Value

Creating Better Compositions In All Your Paintings

A composition is the careful placement of the various elements within a painting. It can either be a good composition or a not so good one. When the composition is done successfully, however, it will draw the viewer’s gaze into and around the painting surface leading it from one element to another taking everything in and finally resting on the main subject of the painting.


space art painting Neil Armstrong astronaut“First Man on The Moon”
Space Art by Teresa Bernard
24″ x 18″
Oils on gallery wrap stretched canvas

>> More info


The purpose of this article is to equip the painter with the tools needed to help him/her build better compositions within all their paintings. Some composition techniques that any painter can and probably should use include:

Rule of Thirds

rule of thirds example
Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a useful guideline used by many professional photographers to aide them when composing the subject matter of their photographs. It is also a very helpful technique that can be used by painters as well.

The idea behind this rule is to divide your painting surface into 9 equal parts. Then position the most important elements in the scene along these lines, or at the points where they intersect.

To create a landscape composition, follow these steps:

  1. Divide your canvas into 9 equal segments by drawing 2 vertical and 2 horizontal lines at the 1/3 and 2/3 measurements creating a grid.
  2. Determine where the horizon is going to be, ether on the top horizontal line or the bottom line.
  3. Arrange the most important elements of your subject matter at one or more of the points where the lines intersect (also referred to as ‘hotspots’).

The rule of thirds states that a painting has a stronger composition and is much more interesting to view if the center of interest is not directly in the center of the canvas, but rather at one of the four focal points where the vertical and horizontal lines intersect. By placing a secondary object at the opposite intersection, balance in the composition can be achieved.

In the instance of the example above, note how the horizon falls close to the bottom grid line, and how the subject matter (the tree) is placed at an intersecting area on the left. By doing this, it has served to add balance and create interest in the composition.

When you apply the rule of thirds to your work, it guarantees you’ll never have a painting that’s split in half, either vertically or horizontally, nor one with the main focus right in the center like a bull’s-eye. When a subject matter is placed directly in the center of the canvas it tends draw the eye into the center and the rest of the painting is ignored. When the subject matter is located on or near a hotspot, the eye is drawn to the focal point and then around the painting creating a flow or movement from one element to the next.

Rule of Odds

rule of odds example
Rule of Odds

The rule of odds states that a composition is much more interesting to look at when it contains an odd number of elements rather than an even amount. An even number will have the tendency to create symmetries that can quickly become boring and uninteresting to look at.

When we see multiple objects that are even in number our mind tries to group them into pairs, which often leaves the center of a scene empty. The human eye is naturally attracted to the center and an even number of elements creates an empty space in that center. Having an odd number of things in a composition means our eye and brain can’t pair them up or group them easily. There’s somehow always one thing left over, which keeps our eyes moving across the composition.

The rule of odds also applies when there is a single subject surrounded by an even number of supporting subjects. In this way there will always be an element in the center “framed” by an even number of surrounding objects. This framing is more comforting to the eye and thus creates a feeling of ease and pleasure.

Rule of Space

rule of space example
Rule of Space

The rule of space as it applies to art is a simple technique that creates a sense of motion, activity or conclusion in a composition. It involves creating negative space that relates to the focal point. Some things to keep in mind are:

  • When painting a portrait (whether a person or animal), if your subject is not looking directly at you, leave some negative space in the direction the eyes are looking even if they are looking at something off-canvas.
  • When picturing a moving object, such as runner or vehicle, placing negative space in front of the runner or object rather than behind creates a sense of direction or implication of eventual destination.
  • If your subject is pointing at something or aiming an object place some negative space where the subject is pointing or aiming.

These techniques can be very useful to the artist in creating a good composition. They work best when used together and not individually.

Additional Reading

Principles of Good Design: An Introduction

Two Composition Techniques to Use in Your Paintings

What Are The Classifications Of Art?

The various classifications of art include: fine art, visual art, plastic art, performance art, applied art and decorative art.

Fine Art

example of fine art
The Ballerina

This category includes works of art that are created primarily for aesthetic reasons. Fine arts include:

  • Drawing – charcoal, chalk, crayon, pastel, pencil, or pen and ink
  • Painting – oils, watercolor, gouache, acrylics, ink and wash, tempera, or encaustic paints
  • Printmaking – woodcuts, stencils, engraving, etching and lithography, or screen-printing, foil imaging, or giclee prints
  • Sculpture – bronze, stone, marble, wood, or clay
  • Calligraphy – beautiful and stylized handwriting

Click for more information regarding fine art.

Visual Art

example of visual art
Digital Art

The visual arts include all the fine arts, in addition to the following:

  • New media – digital art, computer graphics, computer animation, virtual art, Internet art, interactive art, video games, computer robotics, 3D printing, and art as biotechnology
  • Photography art
  • Environmental art
  • Contemporary forms of expression – assemblage, collage, conceptual, installation

Plastic Art

The term plastic art includes art works that are molded and not necessarily plastic objects. This category consists of three-dimensional works like clay, plaster, stone, metals, wood and, paper (origami).


Auvers, France church painting“Van Gogh’s Church at Auvers, France”
Landscape by Teresa Bernard
20″ x 24″
Oils on gallery wrap stretched canvas

>> More info


Performance Art

This classification consist of an art form that refers to public performance events which occur mostly in the theater. Performance arts includes:

  • Traditional performance art – theatre, opera, music, and ballet
  • Contemporary performance art – mime
  • Hyper-modern performance art  – happenings

Applied Art

This category encompasses the application of aesthetic designs to everyday functional objects. Applied arts are intended for the use of a career. It includes architecture, computer art, photography, industrial design, graphic design, fashion design, and interior design.

example of decorative art
Decorative Art

Decorative Art

This classification refers to functional but ornamental art forms, such as jewelry, ceramics, mosaic art and other items that are embellished by ornaments and other designs. It also includes works in glass, clay, wood, metal, textile fabric, furniture, furnishings, stained glass and tapestry art.