Posts Tagged ‘watercolor on canvas’

Watercolor on Canvas: Cays Sunset

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Taking a serious crack at actually using a watercolor canvas (rather than just experimenting with it — see my blog of April 15, 2012), I began by applying three coats of absorbent ground over the pre-gessoed surface of my stretched canvas, allowing it to dry thoroughly after each application. In order to really test the surface, I chose a subject that would be demanding, one that would require several layered applications of various colors.


After running the prepared and dried surface under water to wet it evenly, I applied the initial applications of paint to the sky area, extending it down far enough to cover virtually the entire surface. Due to my method of application, the initial coats turned out streakier than I wanted. While it was still damp, I turned the canvas upside down and reapplied the washes, allowing the paint to run more freely than I had before. The result was more satisfactory. I allowed it to dry.

Subsequent glazes worked well. They didn’t lift underlying colors any more than I would have expected them to do on standard watercolor paper. And, when I chose to intentionally lift color out for the wispy clouds, I was able to do so with no more difficulty than I would have experienced in working on a paper ground.

After the painting was virtually complete, I felt that the upper portion of the sky needed to be desaturated somewhat. I was able to add a cobalt blue wash to mute the saturated orange (a blend of scarlet lake and new gamboge). By applying the final glaze wet into wet on the previously dried surface, I was able to graduate both the value and saturation change with no difficulty. And by turning the canvas, I was able to control the direction of flow to achieve the final appearance I was looking for.

I also changed the size of the sailing vessel, removing some of the color from the first version and painting over it to improve the composition. I was surprised and please with the results.

All in all, the canvas worked fine as a watercolor ground and proved considerably more forgiving than paper when I needed to remove color or adjust the composition. The only negative issues I have with using it in lieu of watercolor paper are that it 1) is more costly than watercolor paper; 2) is more time consuming to prepare; 3) requires more space for studio storage; 4) should be varnished after completion.

New Materials: Absorbent Ground

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

If you have been following my blogs this year, you know that I have been looking for a satisfactory way to apply watercolor to canvas. Among other things, I found that gessoed canvas does not satisfactorily hold watercolor well enough to permit layering—called glazing—an important technique when using transparent watercolors. But then I came across an alternative surfacing material, similar to gesso, that claims to hold the color better—Golden’s Absorbent Ground, in matte white.

Directions indicate that multiple coats increase absorbency, so I decided to prepare a canvas panel sectioned roughly into thirds, which I would give one, two, and three coats, respectively, of the absorbent ground to test for my own edification.

I began by coating a 16”x20” pre-gessoed canvas panel with a single coat of the ground. I dipped my brush into water before applying the ground to make it easier to spread, but otherwise did not thin it. After it had dried for several hours, I taped off the left third and coated the remainder with a second coat, which I permitted to dry overnight before applying a third coat to farthest right third. The three sections were separated with pencil lines for easier identification.


After the third coat was dry, I applied separate washes of two watercolor paints, Winsor blue, red shade (phthalocyanine blue RS, aka PB15) and burnt sienna (a synthetic iron oxide red, PR101) across all three portions of the panel. Both paints have a staining quality, which is preferable for glazing purposes. Near the top of each, I lifted out swaths through both color blocks while they were still wet, both with a dry paper towel and with a damp brush. Once the base color had dried, I applied separate glazes of both colors over each of the color blocks. Finally, I again lifted a swath from the bottom of each dried color block with a damp brush. (The illustration above shows the finished test panel.)

The following day, the effect of the absorbent ground became considerably more apparent when I ran water over the entire panel and scrubbed it with a gentle brush. Most of the color washed off, but the absorbent ground had been stained to some extent by both base coats. The more layers of ground I had used, the more stain remained, as shown below.


Conclusions: Does the absorbent ground improve paint retention? Yes!
Does the number of coats make a difference? With each successive layer of ground, the paint lifted less readily, although within a couple hours after painting, with a bit more effort and a damp brush, paint could be lifted out from even the triple application. After the paint had dried overnight, however, both paints had stained the ground and become more difficult to lift. It appears that the ground continues to absorb the stain until both the paint and the underlying ground have thoroughly dried (the ground having been remoistened by the application of wet paint). The more coats of ground there are, the longer they take to thoroughly dry, hence the more stain they absorb.

Recommendations: If glazing is to be used on (pre-gessoed) canvas, I would recommend, first, applying a minimum of three coats of the absorbent ground before beginning a painting and, second, leaving the base coat of paint to dry overnight or longer before applying subsequent glazes.

Additional notes: According to directions, “Due to the fragile, absorbent quality of the ground, finished paintings need to be protected.” Whether this protection must be in the form of glass or the equivalent or whether a spray varnish will suffice is not specified. Since my primary reason for using canvas instead of paper is to leave an exposed surface, my own inclination would be to opt for some kind of protective varnish or sealer rather than a glass or acrylic cover sheet. Such a solution might or might not be adequate—only experience will tell.

Canvassing the Possibilities, Part 1

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

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.