There’s a reason for everything.
While this concise sentence has gotten me through the worst of times, it’s also applicable to the lighter side of life. For example, there’s a reason that my sister-in-law lets her cupcakes cool before icing them: so the icing doesn’t melt. In art, there’s a reason that many artists use paper as a substrate for painting with watercolor (to make use of the medium’s transparent, luminous qualities).
But sometimes the standard practice doesn’t give you the effects you’re going for. And that’s when it’s time to break away from the norm and play around with different methods. Maybe I want the icing to melt and be as smooth as a calm lake. Maybe you want to see what happens when you paint on a surface that isn’t known for playing nice with your media. Helen Birch, author of Just Add Watercolor: Inspiration & Painting Techniques from Contemporary Artists, addresses how to get away with using watercolor on canvas in this exclusive excerpt.
Priming a Canvas by Helen Birch (Click here to share this on Facebook)
Canvas is the common choice of artists working with acrylic and oil paints. It’s less commonly used with watercolors, thanks largely to the fact that its surface is nonabsorbent. Before watercolors and canvas can be combined, the canvas must be coated in gesso and watercolor ground to increase its absorbency–a process known as priming.
Elissa Nesheim, the artist behind Stormy Mojave Colors (at right) specializes in painting miniatures. Working at such a small scale tends to mean a quicker turnaround of paintings; it’s a good idea to prepare canvases in batches so that there are always spares nearby, ready to use whenever they’re needed.
Stormy Mojave Colors was produced through a combination of washes, lifting, and the use of Sumi-e ink to define details. Several coats of a spray varnish were then applied to fix the paintings and protect them against damage.
Tip: Ready-made gesso can be purchased from well-stocked art supply stores. It’s usually white, but can also be bought as clear, colored, and black. Remember that only opaque color will work with the darker versions of gesso. ~Helen Birch
With such a variety of art styles and techniques, you’re bound to learn quite a bit in Just Add Watercolor. Get your copy at North Light Shop, and while you’re there, discover a preview of three more tips on creating highlights, shifting color, and more.
Yours in art,
**Subscribe to the Artists Network newsletter for inspiration, instruction, and ideas, and score a free download on Watercolor Painting for Beginners: The Basics and More.