Saturday, February 28, 2015

Watercolours on different surfaces

Have you ever been curious about what it would be like to try your watercolours on a surface other than paper?

Recently, I tried painting watercolours on a few different surfaces and here are some of my observations after my limited experience:

Watercolour canvas:

These canvasses are fairly new on the market. Painting on watercolour canvas is a different experience than painting on watercolour paper. Although, I have only tried this surface once, there appears to be a steep learning curve as you first start out. 

I experienced a number of challenges, for example, the canvas stayed wet for a longer period of time. This meant that colours spread out more than I was used to. When applying the colours on the canvas, the colours all blended too much and losing the variations in colours which is one of features that I like about watercolour on paper. The watercolour canvas is coated with a gesso that is specially formulated for use with watercolours, however, the surface is still not as absorbent as watercolour paper. Consequently, the canvas seems to repel the first coat of paint - if the canvas wasn't pre-wetted, the paint seems to float on the canvas. I also had great difficulty in applying paint evenly. When dried, the colours appeared less vibrant than paper. Also, layering will lift much of the underlying coat of paint. Bottom line - quite a few adjustments were required to produce this painting. To finish off a painting like this, you need to apply a UV protection spray.

The advantages of these canvasses include:
  • No buckling - since the canvas is mounted on stretcher strips;
  • The surface is very durable and can withstand any scrubbing;
  • These canvasses come in large sizes – up to 24” X 36” for pre-stretched canvas; 
  • If you are not happy with the painting, take it in the shower and wash the painting out and start over;
  • The painting can be hung without glass.
Given the cost of the canvas and the challenges with my first experience, this is not likely something that I'd pursue.
Nevertheless if this is something your might want to explore further, you might want to make your first painting on watercolour canvas an experiment, so you can test out different techniques and take note of how the watercolours and your technique react to the canvas. This can save you from making lots of mistakes when you paint a "real" painting on watercolour canvas. This surface will certainly work well with some styles. 
Regular Canvas:
Regular canvas for acrylics or oil is not absorbent enough for watercolours. The first steps in preparing the canvas in applying a few thin coats of gesso and sanding the gesso to get a smooth surface. You can then apply absorbent ground (Daniel Smith in my case) to prepare the canvas for watercolour paint. The more coats you apply, the more absorbent the canvas will become. You should wait a full day before starting to apply watercolours. When you apply paint, if it is the same consistency as you would use on paper, the paint will spread too much. The paint has to be applied more thickly. It's also more difficult to achieve different variations in colours. I found layering very difficult because the first layers wanted to lift. You have to be very delicate with your brush. However, I did like the rougher texture for dry brushing.  
If you happen to drop water on your painting, you must not touch it; otherwise all of the paint will lift.
Tips for this surface include
  • Sand each layer of gesso with fine grain sandpaper;
  • Choose a topic which will not require many layers of paint;
  • Use a thicker consistency of paint;
  • Choose your subject carefully so it lends itself to the properties of the absorbent ground.  

What led me to try this was the ability to frame these painting in floating frames which seem to be the new way of hanging paintings. Almost all paintings in local galleries are framed in floating frames .
Natural Stone:
You’re probably wondering why would someone want to paint watercolours on stone. Last fall I saw a few beautiful paintings on slate at an Art Show. Aren’t these gorgeous?
The artist (Debra Tate-Sears) shared her secrets with me. To get the paint to adhere to the stone, she applies a clear coat of gesso. She uses india ink for many of the lines. Then she applies a UV protection spray.
I tried using watercolours on a few stones that I purchased at a tile store. Similar to other gessoed surface, the paint needs to be applied thickly. The paint does not mix as it would on paper, therefore a different style is required. However, probably the most important thing is selecting a topic that lends itself well to the colour of the stone. As you can see from this example, the colours do not appear very vibrant.
Wood panels
Similar to the examples above, you can apply gesso to a piece of wood for your watercolours. Here is a small one from a local artist - Alan Bain. As you can see, the paint doesn’t appear to mix much on the surface and what was applied remained as is. This artist uses this approach for much of his plein air painting as there is no buckling.

Other options 
I’m sure that there are countless other options. For my next experiment, I purchased some stretcher bars and will be stapling wet watercolour paper to it to create my own “canvas”. I figure that this will give me the best of both worlds: a surface that I am familiar with and the ability to frame in a floating frame for the finished look I’m trying to achieve.
What other options have you tried?
This week's artist find is Michael ve Inessa Garmash.
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Have a great week.

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