Understanding Gesso: A Closer Look at Drying Times

How long does gesso take to dry?

Maybe you prepped your canvas and now you’re wondering, “How long does gesso take to dry?”

Answer: wait 24 hours.

Even though gesso only takes 15 minutes to a few hours to feel dry to the touch, painters should wait 24 hours to a few days. This ensures the gesso hardens completely for optimal results.

In this blog post, I will delve into the world of primers and explore the drying process.

But, first, what is Gesso?

What is gesso?

The word “gesso” is derived from the Italian term “gesso,” meaning “chalk” or “plaster,” reflecting its original composition. Artists use gesso to prepare surfaces like canvas, wood, or paper before painting. Gesso is a white, paint-like substance traditionally made from a combination of calcium carbonate (chalk or marble dust) and an acrylic polymer medium. It is applied to surfaces before painting to create a smooth, even, and stable foundation for the artwork.

Factors Affecting Time

Gesso drying times can vary depending on several factors:

  1. Application Thickness: The thickness of the your layers plays a significant role in drying time. Thicker applications take longer to dry, while thin coats dry relatively quickly.
  2. Humidity and Temperature: Then, environmental conditions influence the drying process, too. Higher humidity levels and lower temperatures slow down drying, while low humidity and warm temperatures speed it up.
  3. Ventilation and Air Circulation: Adequate ventilation and air circulation can facilitate faster drying, especially in enclosed spaces.
  4. Gesso Formulation: Different brands and types of gesso might have slightly different drying properties due to variations in their composition.

How long does gesso take to dry, really?

a paint brush brushing gesso on a wooden panel on grass

Drying Times

Just because the gesso will feel dry to the touch after fifteen minutes, doesn’t mean you should start painting on it.

I suggest waiting from 24 hours to a few days, for your gesso to dry completely.

That’s because the first fifteen minutes is just the initial drying phase. It feels dry but it isn’t fully dry. Waiting until it feels dry is enough for hobby painters, but it isn’t sufficient for professionals. If you want your work to be archival and you want optimal results, I recommend allowing the gesso to cure and harden for a much longer time.

Tips for Speeding up Gesso Drying

If you’re in a hurry and want to speed up the drying process, consider the following tips:

  1. Thinner Coats: Apply thinner coats to promote faster drying. Multiple thin layers can be more effective than one thick layer.
  2. Warm Environment: Place your artwork in a warm room or use a space heater to raise the temperature, facilitating quicker drying.
  3. Fans or Air Circulation: Position fans or ensure good air circulation in the drying area to help moisture evaporate faster.
  4. Low Humidity: Use a dehumidifier or choose a day with low humidity to help the gesso dry faster.

Don’t rush your primer!

Proper drying of gesso is crucial for the success of your artwork. Rushing the drying process is a bad idea because it can lead to lots of problems. For example, you might experience issues like cracking, flaking, or poor adhesion of subsequent paint layers. So, to avoid this, allow your primed surface enough time to dry and cure fully before starting your painting.

Gesso is an indispensable tool for artists, providing an excellent foundation for their creative endeavors. While the initial drying time may only take a few minutes to a few hours, allowing the gesso to cure completely is essential for achieving the best results. Remember, patience is key in the artistic process, and investing time in properly preparing your surface will undoubtedly contribute to the success of your artwork. So, take your time, let your gesso dry thoroughly, and then you can paint with confidence!

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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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