Watercolour on canvas – the experiments continue

Oh my goodness – so much for thinking I would blog regularly. It is now October and I last did a post in July. I will try and make up for it…. It’s not that I haven’t been painting and experimenting – simply failing to upload any images and explanations.

My mega-cows sold from Henley Studios within a couple of weeks – got the news while we were on holiday – so I was super chuffed. I went on to paint a calf on canvas, slightly bigger (1×1.2m), and then decided ‘enough with the cows already’ and went all jungly.

I have loved parrots ever since reading Swallows and Amazons as a child. In it, Titty the tomboy protagonist, is given a parrot for catching some thieves. In my teen years I went as far as pricing out parrots and doing a bit of research. They live for ages, and I couldn’t imagine taking it to university so I gave up on the idea. Nowadays, I paint them when the mood takes me.

This is the final 1×1.2m canvas my friend gifted to me.

I started priming it with Daniel Smith’s watercolour ground. By the way, I am gutted to find out that they have withdrawn the pint pots of the titanium white and only sell it in teeny tiny pots now. No one can tell me why. It’s really annoying, having just fallen in love with it as a material. Once my stock is exhausted, I am going to try alternatives from Golden and the like, which come in far better quantities.

Next I did a thumbnail sketch, just to work out composition and lights/darks. This really does save a whole pile of angst later on. On canvas you cannot crop your image as you could on paper, so you need to make sure it works first time. I find the lines hard to erase from the canvas, so I try to keep the drawing to a minimum, but especially working so big I need guidelines.


I started with one parrot at the eye and beak. As the colour takes ages to dry on the canvas, I think dividing the painting into bite size chunks is the way to go.

I carried on working on the red parrot, leaving white edges to stop the paint running into places I don’t want it to go. It is slow drying, as I have already said, and prone to going where it shouldn’t. I don’t want the paintings to look too ‘sectional’, but I cannot think how else to do it, unless I develop a level of patience which has so far eluded me.

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I continued to work on the tail and then the other wing, introducing a bit of dribble. The secret is to get dribbles where you want them, while making them look like happy accidents. In reality this means a lot of tipping and tapping, which when the canvas is 1.2m long is quite a feat!

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So next it was the yellow parrot’s turn and it was developed in much the same way.


Now, I needed to tie them together and develop a background. I decided to echo the shapes of the tail into what could be foliage or tail movement. I used strips of torn kitchen towel and then used a spray bottle with diluted watercolour. I rather like the negative echoes you get this way, so I put a few coins on top and used them to mask the circular marks – perhaps these are jungle berries or nuts? Who knows?


Once, I had fiddled around and layered the background, it was time to tell myself to STOP. People ask how you know when to stop in watercolour – half an hour ago, is the standard reply. Better 1% unfinished than 10% over finished… you can add but not take away.

KODAK Digital Still Camera
Birds of a feather flock together watercolour on canvas 1×1.2m

Once thoroughly dry (overnight), it is time for a seal/varnish using a spray matte UV archival varnish. I put five or six thin coats on – spraying outside and keeping the chickens away. I have been backing the paintings, as they feel a bit transparent and flimsy without it. Then when finished (at about lunch time), I breathed a sigh of relief and delivered it to the gallery at 4.30pm. Oh yes, I like to be prepared and unstressed – not! Here it is in the window, later that evening:

Created with Nokia Smart Cam
Henley studios window at dusk

So, an interesting comment was made to me that large portrait format paintings do not sell, as ceilings are not high enough. What do you think? Is anything above one metre high too big, as people want to hang them behind sofas and ceilings are too low?

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