Nancy’s Painting Blog

Mounting Paper onto Canvas

Often artists will create a drawing or sketch on paper, and then want to adhere it to a stretched canvas to create a stronger support, or continue adding subsequent layers of paint. Here below is a method I learned from painter/instructor David True, who taught a workshop I attended years ago at Anderson Ranch.

Start with a canvas that is stretched and primed with gesso so it isn’t too absorbent. It should be the same size as the paper drawing, and the paper drawing should have extra border room so about 1/2″ of its edges all around can be chopped off later. Apply a new layer of gesso (not diluted with water) onto the canvas. While the gesso is still wet place the paper over it. Put a piece of tissue or clean sheet of paper over the drawing so you can smooth it out without smearing the drawing. Using your hands smooth the paper into the wet gesso starting from the center and moving outwards towards the edges. The paper will stretch as it gets wet from the gesso, and will move over the edges, so you end up losing about 1/2″ of the drawing along the borders. When it is all smooth, let it dry. After it’s dry you can easily trim the excess paper by running a single edge blade along the outside edges. This technique gives a very clean edge so you can’t tell the paper has been glued.

Extra Tips: place masonite or something under the canvas to prop it up and give it some stability so that when you rub the paper to smooth it out it won’t sink down in the center with the canvas. Another tip: the most important thing is that the gesso is still wet everywhere when you put the paper drawing over it. If the gesso dries in spots you will get wrinkles there. When you are working with a large size, or in a dry or hot climate, and you have difficulty doing this technique keeping the gesso wet, you can first apply a gloss medium or gel to the primed canvas. When the gloss layer dries, the surface is less absorbent, and then when the gesso is applied it will stay wet longer.

29 thoughts on “Mounting Paper onto Canvas

  1. I assume that this will work for applying photos as well? Although my photos will not cover the complete canvas. I have had trouble with wrinkles……so I will try the gel medium application, and then the gesso.
    I place a couple of layers (depending on stretcher depth) of rigid insulation behind the canvas when adding photos or whatever to the painting for a support.

  2. Dear Janet,
    For gluing heavier papers such as photographs, use Soft Gel Gloss, not gesso. The gesso is too thin for that, and if it seeps out it may get on the photograph and look like white-out. Also, for heavier gluing jobs like this, after placing the photo over the wet gel, immediately place some plastic wrap on top, then put the sheet of scrap paper on top. Then rub it smoothly and put some heavy books or other weights on top for 15 minutes or more. The plastic wrap keeps any gel that might seep out from gluing the books or weights onto the piece.

  3. How about for a fragile piece of yellowed, brittle paper from an old book? The gesso won't bleed through? Would the gel gloss soak through and change the color of the newsprint-thin paper?

  4. For the yellowed brittle paper you described I would use Soft or Regular Gel (gloss). The gel is thicker so it will help glue the textured (or uneven surface) of the paper. There won't be any bleeding through, but I would still test a small piece of the paper and glue it on a test surface. Let it dry a few days to see if the color changes. It's hard to tell on non-archival fragile materials so best to test it first.

  5. Hello Nancy,
    And thanks for your blog, it’s very helpful, I have a few drawings on journal paper, is it possible to Mount them with gesso? and what about duration ?is this the same as for a piece directly made on canvas?
    Thanks for your replys.

    Guylin MARCELLUS

    1. Hi Guylin, For journal paper I would use a spray adhesive, such as Aleene’sTacky Spray. Journal paper is thin and absorbent (I am assuming) and would be better with a spray, although you could still use gesso. Good quality paint on canvas will most likely last longer than paper glued on canvas. Duration depends on many factors, most importantly the environment the work of art is stored. If you are interested in the work lasting long, I recommend spraying your drawings on paper with an archival varnish, such as Golden’s Archival Varnish, after you adhere the paper to a sturdier surface, and let it dry sufficiently, according to the adhesive directions.

    1. I have not used lokta paper before, but since it is absorbent (handmade paper) you can still use the method here. I would use a matte gel (i.e. Golden’s Heavy Gel Matte). Gels are thicker than mediums, so they stay wet longer, and are therefore better to use on absorbent papers, where a thin medium will soak up into the paper quickly and not adhere to the surface you are gluing it to.

  6. Hi Nancy. Your blog is very helpful. I want to attach acrylic paintings that are on paper, to canvas. The layer of acrylic paint is quite thick on some of the paintings. Any modifications in technique for this situation?

    1. You might want to experiment to see if using a heavy acrylic gel would hold the weight better than using gesso as the glue. Also you can try flipping the piece over, once you adhere, onto a soft foam, so the textural front face of the painting can sink into the foam, while you have access to the back, to apply weight, like some heavy pieces of wood with books on top for an hour or two to get the glue to set.

  7. Hello,

    Could you please tell me if this technique will work also for a charcoal and graphite drawing on a 200 gr paper?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Karen,
      I do not know what gr refers to, however, this technique and how you customize it for your needs, depends on the weight of paper and size of canvas you are mounting it to. This technique should work for all weights and sizes, however, I recommend testing a piece of your paper on a test canvas first, before using your drawing, to make sure there are no problems. If the paper is very heavy you may want to substitute an acrylic heavy gel (ie. Golden’s Regular Gel Gloss or Heavy Gel Gloss) instead of the gesso for the glue.

    1. Hi Dave,
      Newsprint is very thin, so I recommend trying a test using a plain piece of your newsprint, before using your pastel newsprint drawing, to make sure the gesso does not bleed through to the other side. The thinner the glue, the more likely you will have a bleed through. Make sure you do not add any water to the gesso (or add water by accident using a brush that’s been in water) and if it still bleeds, then substitute an acrylic gel instead (also making sure no water is added).

  8. Hi Nancy
    I have painted a painting that I want to print out so I can embellish it and sell on at the Christmas market (it’s a kid’s painting). I was thinking of printing it out on canvas and have the canvas stretched but I don’t like the canvas – the Printer guy only does gloss or satin and I prefer matt. Anyways – I thought if I get the Printer to print on paper which is a matt finish, then I can glue the print onto a stretched canvas and embellish that way. I was thinking of glue but do you reckon gesso is the best way to go then – and it wouldn’t seep through the paper? Many thanks for your help

    1. Hi Sally,
      If you do decide to have it printed on canvas, you can always spray it with a matte spray afterwards since you wanted it matte. However, printing on paper has a different appeal, because the canvas texture is not there. I like paper prints better because of this. So if you print on paper, and yes it will be matte, you can glue the print onto a stretched canvas as you said. You can use any type of glue that is archival and works with paper. I wouldn’t use Elmers because it is not archival so that will yellow the paper and crack off. Any fine art quality acrylic gloss gel will be fine. I like Golden’s Soft Gel Gloss for glueing paper onto canvas or board. You can also use spray adhesives (toxic!) or the gesso as I mentioned in the blog article.

  9. Nancy,

    I want to adhere money to a canvas and paint over top of it. the canvas will have to be rolled afterwords for easy shipping. what would be the best way to adhere the money but still be able to roll the canvas with the dollar bills separating from the canvas?


    1. Think of money as paper, so you are just collaging the paper money to your canvas. Use any acrylic gloss gel and apply thinly (don’t dilute with water, just spread thinly) on either the canvas or dollar bill, then adhere the dollar bill to canvas while the gel is still wet. Let this dry. Before overpainting the dollar bill you will need to seal the ink on the dollar bill. Spray a gloss acrylic product (I like Golden’s Archival Varnish Gloss) over the dollar bill. Let dry. Then you can overpaint. Acrylic is flexible. So at this point your dollar bill is sandwiched between two acrylic products. Therefore while shipping it should adhere very well.

    1. Hi Hannah,
      I have not tried using the process I describe in this article with yupo paper, however, paper is paper, so this method should still work.

  10. Hi Nancy,

    I just did a project with my 4th grader’s class. they made a replica of their house with brown craft envelopes of different paper qualities. some of the envelopes seem coated like scrap book paper, others seem more absorbent like regular craft paper. i will overlap these little flat houses on a canvas (one layer of envelope…i cut the backs off). can you recommend a glue to use? there also may or may not be a layer of acrylic paint between the canvas and envelopes. i think modge over it all? i have never “decoupaged” thanks!

    1. Hi Kim, Sounds like a terrific class project! Just think of acrylic as glue. All acrylic paint and products (such as mediums, gels and pastes) will adhere the envelopes to your surface whether it is canvas, wall or board. My preference is to use a gloss gel, or any acrylic gel that is thick like a hair gel or thicker. Apply with brush or knife somewhat thinly onto the canvas (don’t dilute to thin, just apply it thinly so it isn’t globby looking and will ooze out). Apply the gel in small areas at a time so the gel stays wet by the time you attach the envelopes to the gel. You can gently press the envelopes into the gel by placing a plastic trash bag, or scrap paper over it, so you don’t get the gel all over your hands. Let it dry flat for a few hours. Once dry, you can leave it uncovered (it may look interesting to have the variety of papers giving a variety of sheens overall) or if you want you can apply the modge or some other acrylic medium over all. Decoupage is merely applying acrylic under and over something like paper, fabric or other objects and materials.

  11. I have done a piece of artwork on matboard, and now am wondering how to adhere / mount it onto canvas. Any thoughts? I do have glue, but was wondering whether there are alternatives. Thank you

    1. Hi Frances,
      If you want to adhere the matboard to canvas you will need to use a glue. There are many glues out there, most of which are acrylic. You can choose a more archival glue, meant for fine art work, which may cost more than a cheaper glue like Elmers, but the archival glue should adhere longer with a stronger bond, without yellowing or getting brittle. I would use an acrylic gel, such as Golden’s Regular Gel Gloss. The gels are a thickened acrylic medium, usually thick like peanut butter or honey (depending on the gel strength you choose). The heavier the weight of something you want to glue, the stronger or heavier the gel. So I use Soft Gel Gloss for thin papers, and Heavy Gel Gloss for glueing objects like shells, etc. My question to you is WHY would you want to adhere the matboard to canvas? I would think it would be easier and sturdier to adhere it to a wood panel. Or even taking it to a framer to have them put a nice frame around it. Just some thoughts…..

  12. I need the glue will bond 1/4 inch or 1/2 thick thick foam board onto canvas board. Do I need to cover the canvas before bonding. Foam board is not heavy.

    Thank you for giving lots info for bonding.


    1. If you are glueing thick board (instead of paper as I mention in the blog) I would use a thicker acrylic gel medium, such as Golden’s Regular Gel Gloss, instead of Gesso as I suggested in the blog article. Before glueing it is always a good idea to seal both sides using some type of gloss medium (brush apply one coat on each of the surfaces that will bond), letting these dry, and then adding the gel medium on one of the surfaces to glue these two surfaces together.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *