Canvas cow – step by step (or jump by jump)

I am very excited by watercolour on canvas and thought I would share a step by step:

I primed a standard canvas with Daniel Smith’s watercolor ground and let it dry (for about six months, but that was just because I never got round to using it – 24 hours is good).

I chose a cow, as I can paint them in my sleep and a comfortable subject seemed a good idea with a new technique. So I did a light sketch on the canvas with a B pencil. I would do an even lighter sketch next time as removing the pencil marks is tricky on canvas.

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Light sketch

I decided to paint in sections, as I knew it would dry slowly. I wanted to see how easy it was to leave white space and found that it’s a bit trickier than on paper. I guess if you need fine white detail, perhaps a spot of gouache at the end would be the way to go. I am not a fan of masking fluid and am not sure (yet) how it would go on the canvas. Having said that, the blown hairs are quite fine. I immediately noticed how clean and juicy the colours were on the canvas, which cheered me immensely. I wanted to see how salt reacted so I got a little carried away and this ear would certainly have high blood pressure. I kept the canvas on a gentle slope. The paint sits on the surface more than with paper, so you need to keep an eye out for unwanted runs.

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Ear in progress
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What’s going on ‘ear?

Then I started to get excited and I am afraid there is a big jump until I remembered I was meant to be taking photos. Basically I started working on the eye and other ear, before moving to the nose. I found that runs and backruns were more ready to happen on the canvas than on paper. This suits me fine, but I imagine if you are a delicate watercolourist it would drive you nuts.

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A great leap forward

The eye was too weak, so I knew I would have to go back over and was a bit nervous, as the paint lifts so easily.

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A good time for a break to assess what’s what

Once you are getting towards the end, it is a good time to stop, have a cup of tea/glass of wine/stiff brandy and look with fresh eyes. I was not sure whether I would leave the background white, but decided it looked too stark and a bit lazy.

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washing in the background

I let everything dry and rubbed out the pencil marks as best I could before applying a wash and a few splats. Then it dried overnight and I varnished using a Golden spray UV/achival/matte varnish – lots of thin coats, not forgetting the edges. Do spray outside if you can as the stuff cannot be good for your lungs. I will  knock in the stretching wedges and find a backing board, just to give the picture more weight and stop light shining through the canvas.

cowcanvasIf you can zoom in on the final image, do have a look at the watermarks and the way the salt has worked on the top left corner. I really life the flow effects. It’s all about controlling the water and I think there is a lot of potential here.

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Varnishing day

So, I am raring to go with the other canvases. I am going to keep to safe subjects for the time being – maybe a stag or otter, but I feel this has lots of potential. What do you think?

6 thoughts on “Canvas cow – step by step (or jump by jump)”

  1. Love this!!! I have wondered how this would work for some time, so thank you very much for sharing your process. I, too, like vibrant colors, so it’s very exciting to know that a canvas may be a good option to get those. Having painted in oils and acrylics for years, I would love to return to an “old friend.”

    1. Go for it! I am just about to try a canvas primed with acrylic gesso and it will be interesting to see the difference. Will let you know which I think works better. I am addicted to watercolours so having alternatives is great.

      1. How fun! I hope you like the results and I will be glad to hear how it has worked. I have been more into watercolor pencils and markers and how they work…that has been a lovely experiment, and I look forward to trying new colors and techniques there.

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