Gesso Substitutes in a Pinch

Get Creative with Gesso Alternatives

If you’re all out, and want to prep a canvas, what is a good substitute for gesso?

Answer: white acrylic paint, PVA glue, or chalk paint.

Let’s go into each option in detail below.

What is a good substitute for gesso?

Gesso is a primer used in art and craft projects to prepare surfaces like canvas, wood, or paper for painting. It creates a smooth, absorbent surface that helps paint adhere better and prevents it from soaking into the canvas or substrate. If you’re looking for a substitute for gesso, there are a few alternatives you can consider:

White Acrylic Paint

First, in a pinch, you can use white acrylic paint diluted with water as a makeshift gesso substitute.

How: Mix it with water to a consistency that’s slightly thinner than regular paint, then apply it to your surface as a primer. Keep in mind that this method may not provide the same texture and absorbency as gesso, but it can work for basic priming.

PVA Glue

Next, you can use a mixture of white PVA (polyvinyl acetate) glue and water as a homemade gesso alternative.

How: Mix equal parts of PVA glue and water and apply it to your surface.Allow it to dry before painting on it. This can create a smooth, sealant-like surface. Unfortunately, it may not have the same absorbency as traditional gesso.

Chalk Paint

Finally, you can use chalk paint as a substitute for gesso. It is a type of paint that has a matte finish and good coverage. It can be used as a primer or base coat for some art projects. However, it may not have the same absorbent properties as gesso.

Gesso Substitutes for Specific Surfaces

Watercolor Paper

If you’re working with watercolors, you can often skip gesso altogether when using watercolor paper. The paper’s texture and absorbency are designed to work well with watercolors.

Oil Priming

For oil painting, you can use oil-based primers or gesso specifically designed for oil paints. These are different from acrylic gesso and are meant to seal the surface against oil penetration.


Keep in mind that while these substitutes can work in a pinch, they may not offer the same archival quality and longevity as proper gesso when used in fine art projects. If you have access to gesso and plan to create art that you want to last, it’s best to use the real thing.

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Ingrid Maria Pimsner
Ingrid Maria Pimsner

Ingrid Maria Pimsner is a painter, arts writer, and educator. Her representational oil paintings depict the people, places and things that are closest to her.

She is also the founder and current director of The International Institute of Contemporary Art and Theory, an artist residency in Romania. In addition, she co-curates the Archive Space Project , a curatorial project founded by Annie Daley in 2010 and originally located in the Crane Arts building in Philadelphia, PA.

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