Watercolour on canvas

I love watercolour. I love the runs, dribbles and happy accidents, but what I don’t like is the traditional way you have to present it. I feel that glass and the mount, puts a barrier between the viewer and the image. Of course you can tweak this by using a modern frame and choosing both frame and mount to set off your image. It is certainly true that good framing can enhance a mediocre painting. You could use a float frame, which at least gets rid of the mount and suits some subjects.

But I have been wanting to experiment with watercolour on canvas for a while. In fact I got round to priming three canvases with different medium to do a scientific experiment back at Christmas. I know, Christmas. What can I say? I’ve been busy. On the plus side, at least they are dry.

KODAK Digital Still Camera
Canvas Cow

I have used a white acrylic gesso, a clear gesso and Daniel Smith’s watercolour ground. I want to see which suits my style best. The cow above is on Daniel Smith’s.

So far I have learnt:
1. Colours are brighter and clearer on canvas (yippee)
2. Textural effects – such as backruns, salt, cling film – are stronger (double yippee)
3. The paint lifts soooo easily. This might be good or bad. You cannot glaze easily. The bottom layer will lift. On the plus side, mistakes are easier to rectify. Life will be easier if you are direct in your painting.
4. Staining colours still stain. I think you could exploit this property if you want to do an underpainiting
5. Pencil marks can be rubbed off canvas, but not perfectly. Keep your sketch to a minimum, which leads me to:
6. You need to plan your composition even more than usual. I often adjust the composition at the end, by the way I crop the image or sometimes I rotate it a few degrees. This is fine if the edges are hidden under a mount, but on a canvas it’s all on show so you need to know where you are going.
7. Consider the edges. Do you want to continue the painting on the deep edge of the canvas, or will you use a frame to hide it or will you leave it white? I opted for continuing the painting.
8. Finishing. The watercolour will lift if you so much as breathe on it, so it needs sealing with a UV/achival varnish. I prefer a matte finish and use a Golden spray varnish – lots of thin layers to really protect it. Don’t use a brush varnish – you will lift the painting – eek!
9. Backing – I think backing the canvas with a board will give the painting more weight and a better finish. I need to work this out and might talk to one of my acrylic chums to get their top tips (which I will share!).
10. Restretching the canvas. Those little pegs that come with the canvas need tapping in to make sure it is as tight as a drum. No one likes a saggy bottom…
I tried to take step by step photos, so will do a post with them later. The trouble is I got quite carried away, so there are big gaps between the stages when I forgot to take photos.

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