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I cannot get a hold of clear gesso. It is not available for delivery from Amazon to my country and, given the pandemic, all art supply stores are still closed. However, I found several sites that can deliver white gesso.
If I dilute white gesso with water, will that make it translucent enough to prep a paint-by-numbers style canvas without covering the numbers?

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A single layer of white gesso will likely show the underdrawing through. I thin my gesso for easier application and usually do three or more coats to get a good solid base. However, you would be using less gesso to keep it translucent, so the canvas may get less of the protection the gesso provides.

You could use acrylic medium to seal the canvas, essentially it would be like using gesso binder without the pigment. Go with matte medium since gloss will change the look of the canvas and top layers may not adhere as well.

You could also use rabbit skin glue as a base coat, it is clear and will seal the canvas. Traditionally this would be the first covering on the canvas before applying gesso or under painting. It comes as dry granules that you mix with water and cook a little before applying, so its a little more complicated but it will do the best job at providing an archival clear protective coat to the canvas for what ever you want to put over it, oils or acrylics.

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  • Thank you for such a comprehensive response! Jun 16, 2020 at 22:48
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    To add on to rebusB's response - I'm not sure what would happen if you were to dilute the gesso with acrylic medium, but in general, diluting acrylic paints/media with too much water (e.g. >25% water in the diluted mixture) will make it less stable. I suspect you could add acrylic medium to the gesso to make it more translucent without compromising it, but I can't say this for certain. This video does a nice job explaining why one should be careful about thinning acrylics with water when painting on non-porous media (like canvas):: youtube.com/watch?v=EKNpKUK4lMc
    – Flora Su
    Jun 25, 2020 at 0:04
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    @FloraSu - Absolutely right on the over dilution possibility. I typically add just enough water to make the gesso flow better and then find that a single coat does not cover 100%. So it should be translucent enough to still see an underdrawing without getting too thin.
    – rebusB
    Aug 20, 2020 at 14:16
  • It just ocured to me that you could redraw the guidelines you want after each coat dries. But if it is commercial paint by numbers "canvas" isn't it already gessoed?
    – rebusB
    Nov 8, 2022 at 16:03

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