I want to create an oil painting on paper and I have already made the underdrawing. Now I want to gesso the paper to make it suitable for applying oil paint. On the description of my clear acrylic gesso it says to thin with water before appplying to an absorbent surface.

Is paper considered absorbent?

If yes, what should be the ratio of gesso to water?

Lastly, what is the highest amount of water I can add to acrylic gesso and still obtain a surface suitable for painting with oil colors?

  • 2
    I suggest tracing your underdrawing before applying the gesso so you don't lose it just in case something goes wrong. You can use graphite paper to transfer it onto thicker paper (or pre-gessoed canvas sheets/"paper"). Good luck! Jan 24, 2019 at 16:01
  • Your title and the sub-questions don't really correspond with each other. I you are asking about the application of acrylic gesso on paper, can you specify what exactly you are having trouble with, beside the possibility of it? Alternatively, could you change your title so it reflects your questions (e.g. 'Can I apply gesso to paper?')?
    – Joachim
    Jan 25, 2019 at 14:13

2 Answers 2


The absorbancy of paper is dependent on its weight.
For painting purposes, I suggest to use paper with a minimum weight of around 300 gsm (or g/m2) and up.

The ratio of water to gesso is more a personal preference, since you will want to tape the paper to a flat surface.
The proportion of water determines the coverage and texture. Since you want to use oil paints, this ground should not be too thin (usually, I don't thin the gesso down at all, but this is naturally dependent on the brand and type), but you can apply the gesso in multiple thinner layers, or one thicker one, if, for example, you would like to imitate a canvas-like structure (applying the gesso in a thick vertical and horizontal layer).

As a rule of thumb, apply as much gesso as is needed to keep the paper from shining through: it's a ground layer, the oil paint should not be able to come into contact with the paper directly, as this will eventually cause problems of both aesthetic and conservatory nature (as the oil will be absorbed by the paper)!


I often do that when testing colors or trying out ideas. I use the gesso as is and paint 3 to 5 thin layers. By the time you finish you first layer the paper stiffens and doesn't bend. For economy, i have also used, for unimportant tests, home painting acrylic primers. Once the gesso is applied sand it as smooth as marble is you want to preserve delicate brushes and paint seamlessly without showing brushstrokes, or as smooth as eggshells if you will use underpaint and thin washes and many glaze layers, or keep it rough if you want more bite and use strong brushes and marked strokes.

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