Watercolor on Canvas: Cays Sunset

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.

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