Canvassing the Possibilities, Part 1

My first experience using watercolor on canvas was an eye opener. The canvas had been primed for use with acrylics, which meant that it was not absorbent, as watercolor paper is. The paint didn’t behave quite the same; it moved much as I expected it to … until I tried to layer it (glazing one pigment over another layer of dried paint). Because it had not adhered to the painting surface as it would have to a paper base, the initial coat lifted when I brushed a second coat over it.

111008 Ecstacy

This discovery told me two things: first, that the painting was “erasable;” and second, that all colors to be applied had to be mixed either on the palette or while still wet on the painting surface. The entire work had to be more carefully planned than usual. Value contrasts would have to be optimal from the beginning, not relying on second coats to adjust color or value except to entirely lift all color out of an area.

I took advantage of the erasability by reworking the background, which had appeared streaky after the initial application. In fact, I reworked the background several times to test the effect of a variety of brushes on the surface and to evaluate several different background treatments. I also signed the painting in three different ways, erasing the dark-against-light versions and eventually lifting the lettering out of dark-pigmented area on my final version.

The erasability posed an additional problem—that of permanence. If the surface should become wet, the image could be ruined. This is true of any watercolor painting, which is one reason works on paper are usually displayed behind glass. One advantage of canvas, however, is that it does not normally need glass for protection, since it’s considerably sturdier than paper. In fact, canvas often does better without glass, since an enclosed framework can trap dampness in as well as keeping dust and moisture out, thereby promoting the growth of mildew.

So, in lieu of glass, when the painting was finished to my liking, I coated it with three layers of UV-protective, archival spray varnish to protect the surface from water and UV damage.

In the near future I expect to be experimenting with canvas primed specifically for watercolor use, and possibly watercolor-specific primers on standard canvas, to evaluate whether there might be better canvas alternatives more compatible with my painting approach.

I would welcome comments and suggestions from any of my readers who have already explored and found answers to these issues.

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