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This week, in watercolor  plus class we are going to watercolor on a gessoed surface.  In order to do this, we have to prepare our support. I use a synthetic paper that I order called Aquarius II by Strathmore. This is only because it does not buckle like other papers when the gesso is applied to the surface.

We also need a bottle of white gesso and a bristle brush to apply it with. I lay my Aquarius paper on newspaper, Squirt a dollop of gesso on the center of the paper and stroke outward with the bristle brush until the entire surface is covered. The bristle brush leaves behind grooves in the gesso that enhance the texture of the paper. Before the paper dries, I hold it up to the light to make sure that I have covered the surface.  This will also reveal the texture of the surface you have created.

I then allow the surface to dry. An hour usually does it unless you have applied it rather thick.  Most of the time, I prepare several papers and allow them to dry overnight before painting on them.

I, usually tape my paper to a board because I like a white border around my paintings, but this is not necessary as your  surface will not buckle much if at all. Many artists clip their paper or just tape the corners to a board to work on this surface.

Graphite will show through the watercolor on this surface, so I always use watercolor and draw the image with a brush.  Watercolor crayon can also be used.

Once the drawing is done, I begin to lay in my color. The one thing to note about painting on this surface is that it requires very “little water”. I like to say I apply creamy pigment.  This surface is easier to work on than Yupo, but it still is similar. I work the colors in next to each other. If it gets a little muddy, you can wet it with a damp cloth and wipe the pigment off the surface or lift small areas of pigment with a damp brush. You can create highlights by using a damp brush or whiten back to the surface using the edge of a Mr. Clean eraser. Thus, there are numerous ways you can correct mistakes. However, I have not found a way to layer. A new layer of pigment removes and mixes with the first layer. Sometimes this creates mud. I like to scumble two or three colors together, much like you see with the shaded areas of the pup and the background.

I keep adding color and scumbling until I get close to the image I wish to portray.

In the final step, I punch the darks in where I think they are needed most. Once the painting is completely dry, I spray the surface with acrylic matte fixative. Otherwise, any water that may contact the surface of the painting will affect it.

Other watercolor on gesso paintings that I have done can be found here, here, and here.


  1. I’m still reading but it looks wonderful.

    • Thank you, Keith! This is really rather fun, because you can wipe out mistakes and keep creating!

  2. Nice, I’ll have to put this on my list to try. The painting looks like my Grand-dog ‘Hurley” 🙂

    • Well, I like “Hurley”, then! This was a little dog I found on the wet canvas site in their photo library, Louise. I hope you do try this. It is fun. 🙂 Thank you!

  3. This is so cool (also dogs are the BEST subject). Every time I read one of your posts I want to try my hand at watercolor. But I must resist the urge because I am still trying to improve in my current chosen medium. I totally get you about muddying colors! I have improved in that area somewhat, but I still get muddied colors sometimes with Copics and it is so frustrating.

    Terrific puppy, I’m thinking poodle mix? Really great job with the expressive eyes and face. I really love the very beginning, the sketch you did using watercolor. I think that stands on its own as a finished piece and is just really great!

    • What an awesome comment. It is always nice to know that what I post has other artists thinking they may want to try the technique. Thank you, Cindy. I would not begin to know how to use the copic markers, but have priced them after visiting your blog. *expensive*, but what isn’t these days? I love the work you do and you inspire me, also.
      The puppy is from the wet canvas site’s library of photo references. It was listed as a Yorkiepoo. 🙂

  4. Les, I love the color! Is this Payton or Tucker?

    • Thanks, Sis! I played around with different colors on another sheet of paper before trying this image. No….not may maltese but a Yorkiepoo from a site that offers photo references for artists. I need to do one of my dogs again soon. 🙂 Looks a lot like Payton, though! The colors are manganese blue, halloween orange, burnt sienna and prussian blue with a little raw sienna and aureolin thrown in, here and there.

  5. Your new projects just keep growing, This one does seem like the yupo, which I would still like to try. Now I have one more to add to my, “I’d like to try this,” list
    I love the painting of the white pup. Makes me want to do something of Cici.
    Excellent and educations as always, Leslie. Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

    • This is a little easier than Yupo, I think, Debbie. Try this first. Oh yes!!!! More Cici!!! I never tire of her. 🙂 Thank you for this comment and the visit Debbie.

  6. Awww, how cute!!!!! Love the result.
    Really great work, Leslie! 🙂

    • Thank you, dontcha! Thank you for the visit and the comment as I had not visited you before. Your watercolors are awesome! 🙂

  7. Sounds more like an acrylic process, except for the correction part..It is amazing to see a transparent result even with the gesso behind. It is a pleasure to watch the control you have over this medium and I loved the end result so much Leslie!

    • It looks a lot like acrylic, Padmaja, but it is impossible to glaze or do any layering. I scumble and mix colors together on the surface so they don’t get too mudddy. You can do a little, and I mean little wet in wet. Mostly, it is like drawing with a paintbrush instead of pencil. However, you can draw on the surface with graphite and colored pencil. Thank you!

  8. You certainly have the touch with animals, Leslie! I opened the blog with a big, “Ah……” This little one is the image of the last dog my mother and father had in their lives. The expression you’ve captured would have been him saying, “How far can I get away this time when she forgets to close the door?”

    • Thank you for that comment about “the touch” with animals. They really are my favorite subject material. It warms my heart to know that this dog looks like someone’s friend. He/ she also looks like one of my maltese, Payton. And I imagine this dog is thinking just what you say about the forgetting to close the door. You have me chuckling! Thank you! 🙂

  9. What an adorable subject. This looks so much like my furry kid, Evie. As always, love your use of colors and light. You really captured the sparkle personality in the eyes. Thank you for sharing the technique, Leslie. I’ll have to give it a try one of these days. 🙂

    • I thought of Evie, Emily! I thought of my two little white maltese, also. Something in the expression, I think. Thank you, Emily!

  10. I came back for another look. Very interesting Leslie, but then you do make things look so easy 🙂

    • You would have a great time with this, I think, Keith. Thankyou for taking another trip by.

  11. A very lovely painting

    Thank you for the instructions and the step by step photos; I will definitely be trying this out

    • This is fun to do, Littleskew. The ability to wash out mistakes and to keep right on painting is what I really like about it.

  12. I had not heard of the synthetic paper you are using here before. Is it like Tyvek and does it have a plastic-like surface? Good demo and pictures!

  13. The way you teach and explain make me realise how much I am a beginner. Like I knew milkchocolate and you explain there is also pure, white and so much more. Thanks, I love it very much. And I love your painting and colours. So bright.

    • What a nice thing to say, Hannekekoop. I do not view you as a beginner at all. Your imagery takes me places and tells me stories as well as makes me say, “How did she do that?” I just try to share what I am exploring to the best of my ability and hope that I have explained it well enough for anyone who wishes to try it, too. Thank you! 🙂

  14. This is cool, I like the texture! There’s this stuff DS makes – it’s called watercolor ground, a bit like gesso I think and it lets you do wc on any surface…your painting reminds me of it! Good job on the dog, Leslie!

    • I’ll have to look into that watercolor ground. I know I can add other things to the gesso like craft sand to change the texture of the surface even more. I like painting on this surface much better than Yupo. Thank you, Frank.

  15. A darling, white pup–I love him!

    If I had you as my instructor, I may want to give painting a try, Leslie. 🙂

    • You just made my day, Gayle. Thank you for that! I bet we could trade mentoring. You could mentor me in poetry and I could mentor you in watercolor.

      • Now, you’ve made my day, Leslie. 🙂

  16. ah Leslie, I’ve fallen for your White Pup. It’s amazing to see the steps bringing him/her to life on paper.. and you’ve stirred my imagination, so ‘her’ name is Gigi, and she’s so inquisitive and full of boundless energy, ears flying she can reach the front door via the back of the house seconds before the postman has delivered his mail through the letterbox… Yapping away it’s her favourite task of the day… Warning us of imminent bills… 😉 … (Bess never used to stir herself.. I think it was every man for himself!! 😉 ) … To come back to reality,… the process you’ve used has added so much life and character to the watercolour.. It’s a fun viewing… many thanks for sharing the process….and Gigi of course.. xPenx

    • Thank you for this story, Pen! 🙂 I have three Gigi’s just like you describe and am laughing. Such a treat to find a story, here, about something I have painted. Thank you……. Bess was very smart. Mailmen aren’t all that much, right?

  17. What a cute little fellow! It’s not an easy task to reproduce an expression, you did a wonderful job!

    • Thank you for that, Anne. Expression is very difficult to capture. I don’t always capture it.

  18. You really have a way with painting animals ! This one is looking sooo mischevous! I love the colors !

    • Thank you, Isabelle! I know what you mean about color. White animals are so fun to work with for just that reason. 🙂

  19. A lovely, lively painting! I feel like I know this dog!!! Again, thank you for demonstrating this method. I’ve read about this, but you cleared up two mysteries; one, the consistency of paint to make it work; two, LIFTING and layering! I have tried watercolor on store bought watercolor board and struggled with layering. Now I understand what went wrong and why. Leslie, you are an amazing teacher! Thanks. I will try this. Right now, in the piece I’m working on, I’m experimenting with clear gesso, watercolor, and pastel. I’m going to see if a creamier paint without layering will help.

    • I know exactly what you mean, Nanina. I read descriptions in books and always have to try and figure out the “in-betweens” that the artist doesn’t talk about. So very frustrating. I hope the tips about not trying to layer and scumbling, instead, has helped in the clear gesso project you are working on. Thank you!

  20. I like your white pup offering Leslie,
    he / she is very cute indeed and once
    again it just goes to show how great
    you are at painting, and in any format 🙂

    Have a lovely rest
    of day and evening 🙂

    Androgoth XXx

  21. What a cute little guy. Like everyone else I think he looks like someone I know. A friend of ours has a bichon frise that looks a little like this.

    • Oh yes! Bichons often look like this little guy. Maltese, too. Thank you, Ruth!

  22. Leslie this a gorgeous painting…crisp, clean color and what a sweet subject! I have two comments – some of the most attractive watercolors I’ve seen recently were done on BLACK GESSO. Surprising and lots of Wow. Second, I have been wanting to try using the fixative spray to see if I can glaze on Yupo. Paint, spray, paint. I haven’t tried it yet, but if it works there it would also work with gesso…just an idea.

    • I’ve heard about black gesso and clear gesso and have not tried them, as yet.
      I think you an spray fixative and paint again but the surface might be even more slippery on top of the fixative. Give it a go! The sky’d the limit!
      Thank you, Linda! 🙂

  23. so, I always feel like I missed a class and I have been docked and now I am visiting your blog for extra credit. I always feel this way because after learning all day long, I read your posts and I get to review things I have learned, and sadly, forgotten. lol I love to add gesso to my sketchbooks, watercolor paper, and strange fabrics. Gesso the Great, the mighty medium between you and your medium. get it?!

    • I need to learn to do some of the techniques you explore, Roni. Do you ever feel like there will never be enough time to explore everything we are itching to try? Yes. I get it. I need to explore its use even more! Thank you, Roni! 🙂 I love your energy!

  24. Love your white doggie. I thought of your dog when I saw this:

    • I am still laughing! Thank you so much for posting this video. You know I have two maltese and this “IS” what can happen of a dry winter.
      Leave it to you to spice up my blog and I could have painted this pup just like the video!!! 🙂

  25. Very cool! There are a couple people at WetCanvas that paint watercolor on gesso. It looks so fun! Your pup sure loves you… I can tell! 🙂

    • It is fun, Beth. I just suppose it is one thing we watercolorists try when we don’t have oils or acrylics and want to see if our medium can do what the others do. Very slippery feel to it and can get me chuckling. Thank you!

  26. Wow, thanks for sharing the step by steps. I can really see how the work being done. It’s amazing. I love the tone on the dog and not to mention the eyes and the effect. Great painting Leslie. Happy belated Thnaks giving to you and your family too.

    • Hi Francis! Thank you for this comment. The surface of a gessoed piece of paper is a little slippery but it is fun because you can’t control every little thing that happens.

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  1. […] waited for the gesso juice to dry and painted in my initial washes. The surface is very much like painting on gesso. The paint does not sink down into the surface of the paper and mingles differently on this […]

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