Archive for February, 2012

New Materials: Workable Fixatif

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

As I have written about in my last few entries, painting with watercolor on canvas has been a crash course at the School of Oops. I’ll continue here with notes about my work on the pad canvas.

Despite my decision to use the pad canvas only after affixing individual sheets to stretcher bars, I decided to try it stretched only with clips. Firmly clamped to a backing board, my second sheet of canvas held its shape well and appeared to lose little area due to shrinkage.


In placing the subject, I mentally included the margin space on all sides to allow for later stretching and shrinkage. (Refer to the Faces and Figures gallery to see the finished proportions of “Anticipation.”)

When I applied glazes on this type of canvas surface, I found that lifting was still almost as much of a problem as it had been on the stretched and gessoed canvas (Joe Miller’s brand) I had used previously (see blog for January 1, 2012). So, when I decided I needed a final glaze to warm the foreground, I set the painting aside for several days to dry thoroughly (front and back) before spraying it with fixatif. Only when that was dry did I lay in my last applications of paint.

I had not used this type of fixatif before (Krylon Workable Fixatif), but it was called “workable” and stated that it “allows easy rework.” However, apparently that holds true only for the stated “pencil, pastel, and chalk,” not for watercolor. The watercolor beaded up on the fixed surface, and though I was able to do a bit of retouching, it was not satisfactory.

Out of desperation, I recoated the painting with the varnish (Krylon Gallery Series UV Archival varnish) I had used on my first canvas, hoping that that would provide a more friendly working surface that would accept top coats of watercolor. The paint continued to bead up, failing to adhere smoothly to the surface.

One of the few advantages of the seal appears to be that I can wipe off failed attempts without fear of leaving stains and smears behind.

Another advantage (admittedly a major consideration) is the UV protection it offers for any paintings that will not be shielded by UV-protective glass.

I would be interested to hear from others who may have found alternative fixatifs or sealers over which additional layers of watercolor can satisfactorily be applied.

Canvassing the Possibilities, part 2

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

In my quest to familiarize myself with alternative watercolor surfaces for my work, I bought a pad of cotton watercolor canvas (Fredrix brand) to try. As I unwrapped the heavy pad, the weight of the sheets pulled the entire pad away from their backing board. The adhesive strip along the top was not strong enough to support the weight of the mass of canvas.

However, I decided to try using it as I would a pad of watercolor paper, as I supposed was intended. Using bulldog clips, I fastened the canvas pad back against the backing board, set it up on my easel, and got to work. After wetting, the canvas didn’t stretch but actually shrank. Where the canvas was clipped to the board, shrinkage was negligible, but areas that I had failed to clip shrank enough to form noticeable ripples in the fabric as it pulled diagonally against the clips. Having worked primarily with paper and stretched canvas in the past, I had not expected this to occur to such an extent.

In this case, to encourage more even shrinkage, before applying fixative, I reversed the canvas and, leaving it entirely unstretched, I sprayed the back with water, spreading the moisture with my hands to ensure even coverage. Then I allowed it to dry thoroughly. Most of the ripples disappeared as the canvas dried. Overall, the 20”x16” canvas lost approximately ½” in length (in width as seen in the horizontal orientation below) and ¼” in width (or in height as shown in the illustration).


Lessons learned: 1) Use the sheets singly, rather than on the provided pad, and 2) Stretch even page-like sheets of canvas before painting—it’s shrinkable cotton fabric, not paper. Whether on stretcher bars or by affixing the canvas to a sturdy backing, the canvas must be stretched before wetting. I will use 12”x16” stretcher bars for the remaining sheets, to allow enough edge to wrap around the bars.

More about my experience with the canvas next time.