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A New Year brought me a new adventure, already!

I read an article about the artist, Kathleen Conover,  in my February copy of Watercolor artist, February 2012. I was so taken with her work that I decided to try this “gesso juice” mixture she spoke of to surface her paper with. The recipe for “gesso juice” is 1/2 part white acrylic gesso, 1/4 part clear acrylic matte medium and 1/4 part water.  After mixing this up, I poured some on my taped down watercolor paper and spread it with a credit card, making slashes and dashes and all kinds of shapes on the surface.

I 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 surface. It required more pigment to achieve the above effect.  I had to paint quickly so the side-by-side colors mixed without a hard edge. I waited for the above washes to dry and the surface go flat again.

I drew my composition on the surface and began painting the varied shapes in, being mindful of my values.  This was probably the most difficult phase for me. On this surface, I found, the darks had to be painted with strong dark colors as dark lights just appeared light still, unlike painting directly onrto watercolor paper. So, I learned a lot about my palette through this exercise. I, now, am getting a better feel for their properties.  Value is all important while painting on this surface.

I finished blocking in my composition of shapes and buildings.

In this step, I changed a few colors of the buildings and lifted paint in a lot of areas to show the different patterns, especially on or around the Empire State Building. I darkened a few of the darker value areas and put in a few details on the smokestacks and the antennae on the tops of a couple buildings. I lifted out a lot of the blue on the point of the Empire State so it would show up more.

   final painting

To finish, I splattered some darks I’d used and lifted lights out around the buildings by scumbling some water in those areas and dabbing with a paper towel.

I want to do more of these and explore and explore!


  1. WOW!! That looks like soooo much fun! I want to try it! Thanks for sharing this technique, Leslie. The result is gorgeous!!!!

    • I would have figured you might have already tried this, Beth. This can work with your acrylics, also. She paints with watercolor, acrylics and even collages into these. I want to get better at it. Thank you for this comment, Beth.

  2. This is really neat! I actually went to the library today looking for new art books and found some really great acrylic and watercolor “techniques”…just when I think I have read them all I find something new! This is a nice effect though, reminds me of that trick with Saranwrap or tissue paper. It’s also neat that you did a city composition, because all the lines contrast with the organic/freeform shapes of the gesso. I agree with Beth, it looks like fun. I am going to have to try it.

    • Isn’t that the truth? I think that is why I stick with watercolor and just keep exploring its possibilities, Roni. It is also what keeps my mouth shut when I teach. NOTHING is written in stone in the world of art! There is so much to explore and just when you think you have it down, someone comes along and says “there’s more you can do”! I agree that this looks somewhat like saran wrap prints but the pattern never disappears like it does if you paint over a saran wrap print. That is what I like about this. It is fun. I am challenged by it so will work with this technique some more so I can feel comfortable with it. Thank you, Roni!

  3. Hi again Leslie (‘m still on holiday!) This is great – you seem to be on a high & exploring all sorts of new directions! It’s very different to the trees which I like so much, but equally good in a diffrent way. I think part of what appeals to me is the pull between order & chaos.

    • Thank you for visiting, again, Sonya. I like exploring anything watermedia and what it can be paired with. I teach and it would be difficult for me to teach my students something new and not have explored it myself. I think that is what carries me on these new adventures. I am so glad you spoke of order and chaos. “Chaos to Order” was the title of the magazine article about Kathleen Conover.
      I also like how you point out the difference between the trees I painted and this. I am not very good at cityscapes. I gave it a go. Sometimes I think we paint those things, better, that we see more and experience more. Thank you for these comments!

  4. It’s come out amazingly well. Interesting to hear and see how it’s done. Excellent painting.

  5. Great texture and awesome color! The entire process sounded fun, layer upon layer.

    • You could texture your acrylic canvas like this and try it out. I think the texture will still come through especially if the acrylic isn’t applied too thick. Thank you, Nancy! 🙂

  6. Very interesting process. Thanks for posting it. I really like the effect and your painting.

  7. I can tell you had a lot of fun creating this one…And you talk about me exploring new ideas. Ha! This is a wonderful painting, Leslie. I can’t wait to see what else you produce with this method.

    • I want to try this again with subject material that I am more accustomed to painting, Debbie. Thank you!

  8. Amaaaziiiiiing. I would totally buy this painting! Love the effects, the colors… Bravo, Leslie!
    And Happy New Year 2012!!!! Best wishes. 🙂

    • Thank you, thank you, Cha! What a great compliment to my art, that someone would purchase what I create. Made my day! Happy New Year to you, too!

  9. Oh my! Such a beautiful painting! Love the rich and vibrant colors, very exquisite.

    • I did not know how to approach this as the pigment kept drying light. It was not until I went with the darkest colors on my palette for the darks that it began to pop and design itself through the darks. Thank you, Anne!

  10. Success! Obviously! My former art teacher sometimes paints using this method, with beautiful results too. I tried it once under her guidance. In that instance I made a gesso/color ground on a small aluminum sheet. You can actually use any support that gesso can adhere to. I didn’t like the feel of paint sliding and lifting up if I just look at it and so did not pursue this method. But I loved painting on a non paper support. It is wonderful to have rigid support that doesn’t buckle.

    • You used this on aluminum? How daring is that, Alex?!? I can’t imagine. You are right about the paint sliding and shifting. At some point I had to accept and use this textured ground as part of the finished painting and it was a little like I’d sculpted the background and then painted it. I want to try this again with a subject matter I am a little more used to painting and see what I come up with. Thank you, so much for your comment!

      • Yes, aluminum – the kind they sell in Home Depot for roofing. They sell packs of small sheets 4×6, 6×8 and larger, they cost close to nothing. Here’s the link to my little watercolor on gessoed aluminum:
        Gessoed aluminum is wonderful to paint on, but anything that hold gesso will do, wood… illustration board… pizza box… My dislike is with how watercolor handles on gesso.

      • Thank you for filling me in on this, Alex. There’s always more to try. I know what you mean about watercolor on gesso. This is not quite so slipperry as the other gessoed surfaces I’ve tried. …but it stil has a lot of lifting properties and I do protect the surface afterwards with a spray fixative.

  11. The final result is beautiful Leslie, I love the procedure, it is interesting to make the background with the gesso juice this way.. I am going to try this out soon.. thanks for sharing!

    • I think this would work with your acrylics also. Kathleen Conover, whose article I read to find this technique, uses some acrylics in her paintings. Have fun with it! Thank you, Padmaja! 🙂

  12. I love this painting. It sounds like the rectangular, edgy building shapes lend themselves to the rapid painting. At the same time it sounds like you have to do a lot of thinking with this technique. Your painting looks fresh and lively. I tried the gesso juice as a base for thin acrylic washes…hmm…gotta play with it in watercolor next. Wow Leslie! You can go crazy with this adding pastel, charcoal, pencil, or acrylic, gouache!!!

    • I probably have to do all this thinking because this is so new to me. I have to try to read between the lines when I try something new suggested from a book or magazine article. To me, it seemed like this type of painting requires knowledge of value and making choices as such with your reference material. It is definitely a technique I want to become comfortable with as it will fit nicely into my watercolor plus class that I teach and I’m always looking for new things for that. I agree it suggests all sorts of mixed media like you say, Nanina. Thank you for this comment! 🙂

  13. Amazing. And great to see it ‘built’. Amazing how your last finishing touches turn it into an inhabited city.

    • This was so hard for me, Hannekekoop. I’ve never lived in a city so this was a challenge. Someday, I would like to paint them with a little more feeling as I love all the shapes they offer. Thankyou for the visit and the comment! 🙂

  14. Gorgeous, Leslie – it would be very rewarding if I could scumble up some posts the way you scumble up paintings! 🙂

    • “Scumble”…. don’t you just love that word? It is one of my favorites. To me it offers the idea of being comfortable and tumbling through whatever it is we are engaged in. I think you do a great job with your writing. I tried that, for awhile, because I’m an avid reader. My words came out sounding flat and with no feeling. I could not sculpt with them. You do great!
      I love to scumble up paintings! Thank you, Amy! 🙂

  15. Very nice

    • Thank you, Zeinab! Hope your new employment doesn’t keep you from your art for too long!

  16. Hey Leslie – the values foundation for this painting carries it through, supported by vibrant yet co-ordinated colours. I think this is the mastery that allows the gesso-juice work to add sparkle. You have started 2012 with gusto then. All the best for the rest of the year.

    • You are so correct. The values are important on working on this surface. I need to explore getting my darks darker and hopefully that will happen. I intend to do more of these and become a little more accomplished on this surface. It opens another door, I think. Thank you, Stephen.
      Oh. I’m jealous. Your weather is getting warmer and I can see it in your paintings. Happy Surfing and painting!

      • Yeah we are cooking today – I love Summer – and the year is rolling forward – time to paint again soon. Your colours are strong already – I look forward to seeing ‘stronger’ bold is also scary hey? For me it is anyway – all the best

      • 🙂 Bold is petrifying! 🙂

  17. Hi Leslie! I found your blog through another blog and am quite taken with your work. I so enjoyed scrolling through the first page here and am really awed by your talent and techniques. At first I thought you’d painted this on wood. The texture you achieved with this “gesso juice” is amazing. Love the cityscape.

    • Hi “Crimson”. Just jumped over your way and saw that fantastic watercolor of your dogs and must go back and catch up with you as it sounds like you like art like the rest of us who bounce back and forth and pick up ideas from one another. Could not find your name, yet, so I thought “Crimson” until then.
      Thank you for this comment and for taking time to read some of my blog.

  18. Very nice. Another new adventure for me to try. I can’t wait to try this recipe, thanks for sharing it.

    • Hi Louise. I am going to have to experiment more with this, myself. The somewhat slippery surface and the need to be sure of my value choices with it are quite challenging. Kathleen Conover does some fantastic nature paintings with this technique, so I am anxious to give that a go, also. Thank you! Loved those photos of the beach you posted!

  19. Lovely painting, Leslie. It has a wonderful abstract quality to it. I love the red buildings!

    • Had to dip into that alizarin, so many of my other darks just looked so blah. That is the interesting thing about this surface. It is pretty forgiving as you can lift color out and try another. We watercolorists have become so used to “what goes down, stays down” that, when offered the opportunity to erase and correct, we really don’t know what to do with it! Ha! 🙂 Thank you, Ruth.

  20. Another good experiment Leslie – love the rich colours in this piece! I am reminded of the artist Lyonel Feininger’s buildings a little He joined The Blaue Reiter,and exhibited with them in 1913. He was also one of the four original artists who taught at the Bauhaus. I checked out Kathleen Conover – a great find by you!

    • Oh wow. Thank you for sharing Feininger with me, Lynda. So interesting. I’m so poor with cityscapes and buildings and need to fill myself up with what others see, so thank you. Kathleen Conover has brilliant work. She even tones her support outdoors to get different effects from the water freezing on the surface. Must try that, at some point, also. Thank you!

  21. As a former New Yorker I’ll say that I wish the Empire State Building actually looked this good.

    Steve Schwartzman

    • Oh my, can you hear me laughing, Steve? I read your comment and it made me feel so good because the whole time I painted that building, I kept telling myself, “Is that how it really looks? Yuck!” I lifted and mixed and lifted again until I said the heck with it and let it stand as is. Thank you for this comment. I will remember it forever!

    • Sandrine Pelissier
    • Posted January 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    Interesting! I would like to try this technique with a watercolor portrait . I will let you know if I do 🙂

  22. What a great technique Leslie. I’m excited to try it.

    • Thank you, Nancy, for the comment and the visit. Just visited you and was intrigued with your painting on the textured Mulberry paper, also. Give this a go and look up the work that Kathleen Conover does using this technique. She is leaps and bounds more accomplished in using this surface.

  23. and the rockets red glare the bombs bursting in air…

    That was the first thing I thought of when I saw your painting. This looks great. And thank you for the tutorial on your process,

    • I got a little carried away, didn’t I, Carol, for never having visited your great city? Thank you for this comment. I see how you perceived what you did. 🙂 I would think you and your sister could have some fun with this surface. This artist collages into these prepared surfaces, also.

  24. Holy cow, this is so cool! I had to read before I figured out you weren’t doing a guest artist post. Such a beautiful technique but also so different from many of the things you have done. Wow. The effect is just so neat and I love the vivid colors. I didn’t read ALL the comments (only about two-thirds, wow), but you claim you don’t do cityscapes very well. Well, I beg to differ. My goodness, I never know what I’m going to find when I show up here.

    In the meantime, I picked up some liquid frisket to try with my Copics, though haven’t done anything yet. I finally got back to my blog after almost a month away, yikes! So here you are with yet another super cool technique and I haven’t even started with the last one. I guess I should be glad I’m not doing any painting right now because I would feel the need to try all these neat things. Can’t wait to see the next piece. (And also thanks to you I had a couple new visitors to my place!)

    • Now, I wonder what copic markers would do on this surface? Put this technique away to try on a rainy day, Cindy. I got to thinking about the frisket and your work. I wonder if there is a way you could frisket some of those little swirls you do in your designing of the animals so they come through white. It would be tedious but would appear almost stenciled, I think. I think cityscapes intimidate me. I really have not lived in one and feel as though mine come off a little sterile. Perhaps that is what we tourist artists make a city appear like? 🙂 Thank you for your encouragement. I want to try this again.

      Visitors are always GOOD!!!!!! I hope you get more! You are excellent with those markers and I have noticed more and more people talking about them at the art shows around here.

  25. this turned out beautiful, the texture of it adds to the hues and design of the architecture of buildings. Well done!

  26. This is really wonderful, Leslie!

    And your holiday images were perfect! They looked just like it feels in the christmas/new years holiday. As if time stands still for a few days. It’s quiet and peaceful. I just love it!

    • Btw, it’s Camilla. I’m not sure what just happened with my nick… 🙂

  27. Very interesting technique. As I was reading and thinking about doing this, an image of one of my photos came to my mind that would be perfect for this technique. I hope things will settle down a little bit for me this year so that I can finally pick up my paint brushes again… in the mean time, I always have you to inspire and motivate me. 🙂

    • Oh, Emily, this would be a great technique to use with some of your photos. I hope you get some time to spend with that. I know you have mentioned that you enjoy painting. Thank you! 🙂

  28. Another wondrously excellent painting Leslie 🙂
    I hope that you are enjoying a fine start to 2012 🙂

    Androgoth XXx

    • Thank you, Andro! The start has been a bit “rocky” BUT the rocks WILL be left behind somewhere in 2012. Yay!

  29. Hey, Leslie! I have an award for you!
    Here’s the link:

    Again, I’m so in love with this painting… 🙂

  30. Stunning Leslie and so removed from anything I think you’ve produce before. I’m trying to change direction, but not as explorational as your good self. I’m wondering how big this work is. I have find it particularly difficult to make my work any bigger. I’ve had a print made from one of my recent sketches and enlarged onto an A2 canvas, still waiting for it to arrive. I think your painting is very interesting with the strokes and angles. I bet it would look great on a huge canvas and hanging on my wall.

    • Thank you, Keith. 🙂 This painting is 18.5 inches by 13.5 inches. When I first started painting I worked on compositions half this size. I was encouraged by a fellow artist to begin working larger and it has made quite a difference in what I can do with some of these techniques. Of course it takes me longer. I have painted as large as a half sheet of watercolor paper but have yet to do a full sheet painting. When I eventually do try a full sheet, I am going to have to rethink where to paint it as it is going to be cumbersome in between working on it because I have no studio and work inmy kitchen. I think I explore so much because I want to have experience with any technique I teach so I can help my students and new ideas are always good.

  31. Sounds like fun – I may try this!

    • This would just be so cool as another technique for your explorations, Kathleen! Do try it.

  32. Dots! :0) But I do love the whole thing… great technique…

  33. Oh and would you mind if I share some of your works on my blog(s)?

  34. Absolutely stunning ! What an amazing artist you are !

  35. dear leslie,

    i am beginning to tremble… a fine art master you are by having produced a very symbolic masterpiece. your painting style has somehow evolved into something greater and you should get your works examined by great art institutions of america and have them displayed in museums and first class art galleries. i believed you had invented a unique way to represent a subject visually by gesso paper and transmutate them in a modernistic approach in which is both exciting and fresh. congratulations my friend 🙂

    • You are so very kind, Marvin! I wish I had invented this type of support, but I got the idea from the artist, Kathleen Conover. I think each artist might bring a new hand to different techniques and it is always fun to express what I want to say in a new way or using different tools. Thank you for what you say, here. You have just made me feel very good about what I love to do. 🙂

  36. Being an artist always seems so freeing and sensual. The world comes alive around you and is reflected on paper. Always exciting and beautiful.

    • What a nice thing to say, Dan. The more I paint and post and then go and visit writers, like you, I learn that we are both sharing the same thing only you paint with words. Thank you!

  37. I love reading about the steps you take to create something, Leslie. And gesso juice…funny! Love this Empire State Building scene.

    • “Gesso juice” is what the other artist titled it. I can’t take credit, but I like that name for it, also. Thank you, Gayle! 🙂

  38. I really like your step by step offerings
    as each one offers such clarity 🙂 Thank
    you my great friend and do enjoy the
    rest of your weekend…

    Here in the UK it is
    snowing away like crazy 😦

    Androgoth XXx

    • Hi Andro,
      Thank you for this comment. I heard, on the news tonight, that Europe is having a hard winter, as you just verified, while most of us, here in the States, are experiencing an unseasonably mild one.

  39. Leslie, I really like what you have done with this painting. I LOVE the colors, the city-scape and the vibrancy you have added! I really love watching you grow with different techniques! This is a technique I think seascapes would look smashing in 🙂 Awesome job!

    • Thank you, Debby! I have to keep trying what I read about. There might be something that one of my students asks me about and I need to come forth with “I’ve tried that!” I have decided that these techniques are like my bag of tricks to dip into and that, without them, my paintings would perhaps be so boring. I have yet to try another of these, but I will! Thanks again! 🙂

  40. Love this Leslie. The deep crimsons, burnt oranges and the contrasts are fabulous. So glad your most recent post brought me here!

  41. Thank you, Nuno! 🙂

10 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] easy to select a Leslie’s painting, all of them are fantastic and very inspiring. I chose a watercolor of the Empire State Building on a mixture of gesso. The painting looks awesome and the whole post […]

  2. […] I introduce several ways that watercolor can be used with other media. This time they painted on a gesso juice surface, learned to prepare and paint on masa paper, created a gouache resist, used ink with […]

  3. By Canyon Rim: Watercolor on Gesso | Leslie White on 23 Jun 2013 at 6:04 pm

    […] If you wish to try this technique, I’ve explained how to prepare the surface in this post here. […]

  4. […] with “gesso juice”. I wrote a post about how to prepare the surface of your paper here. I actually added sand to the gesso when preparing this surface. If you enlarge the above painting, […]

  5. By Gesso Juice: Golden Horse | Leslie White on 01 Jun 2015 at 2:43 am

    […] the sand, give an interesting textured surface to paint on, once dried. I have posted a tutorial here if you would like to follow it and try this interesting technique. You can also click on the image […]

  6. […] the third week we learned how to make gesso juice, apply it to our paper and create texture in […]

  7. By House Finches: Gesso Juice | Leslie White on 06 Jun 2016 at 12:02 pm

    […] If you would like to try painting on a surface like this, I have a step by step tutorial here. […]

  8. […] We made a mixture of acrylic matte medium, gesso and water and brushed it onto the surface of our watercolor paper. Before that dried, we scratched into the surface with a credit card. Some of us added rice papers and/or craft sand to the wet surface. Once that dried, we used that as our support to paint on. If you would like to try this technique, I have explained the process here. […]

  9. […] that I made with gesso juice. You can learn all about how to prepare and paint on this surface here. I have improved on creating different effects with this surface by sometimes adding white craft […]

  10. By Student Art: Spring 2017 | Leslie White on 12 May 2017 at 2:39 am

    […] They used white gouache to glaze a painting. They did a gouache resist.  Everyone painted on a textured gesso surface they […]

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