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A little over a year ago, I tried a new surface that I read about in the February 2012 issue of “Watercolor Artist” magazine. The artist was about Kathleen Conover. She uses a mixture she calls gesso juice for some of her paintings. The juice is made from 1/2  white acrylic gesso with 1/4 water and 1/4 acrylic matte medium.  You pour this on your watercolor paper and spread it over the surface with a credit card.  While it is still wet, slash marks in it and squiggle through it with the credit card to create texture and all sorts of calligraphic marks. Allow this phase to dry completely. I have found that you can adjust the ratio of the mixture. There is also a thick acrylic gesso and a more fluid one. Check the label. The more fluid one requires less water and matte medium. The thicker the gesso, the more slippery the surface.  This slippery surface is much like painting on yupo but not quite as slippery as some of the pigment does stain and adhere to the portions of  the surface where the gesso is not as thick. I like it much better than yupo and appreciate the lifting that can be done.


The above is my first washes of this painting. This is really a phase where I lay in the shapes and initial colors of my piece.


Next, I added richer color and began to shape and lift and shade the forms of clouds and waves. You can lift with a damp cloth, brush or Q-tip. Kathleen Conover has also used stencils she has made to apply color or wash color out by scrubbing. The design possibilities are endless as you can just keep re-modifying your painting until you are satisfied.

mexicocoast  finished painting

In the last step I shaped the waves and used acrylic white on the white caps.

I spray these with a matte fixative when I am finished.


  1. WOW! I love the drama!! The texture and intense color is so very yummy!!!

    • I like working on this distressed surface, Beth. The darks under that cloud surely helped with the drama. Thank you!

  2. I echo Beth’s comment, Leslie. I was just about to sign off for the day, … when your finished painting caught my eye, and my imagination… Wow!! Gobsmacked.. (how’s that for someone who plays with words.? 😉 ) xx

  3. This is gorgeous. I’m enjoying your cloud experiments.

    • What is it that intrigues us about clouds? I can watch them for a long time, studying their movement and changing values. The only other thing that comes close is watching water that is moving, not from a tap but like the ocean, a river, a waterfall. I like to watch people but there is a certain tension with that. Thank you, Yousei.

      • Aren’t flames a bit similar? I suppose I watch all of these more with envy than an artists’ eye. I love the lightness of being, the change and shift in the moment, the magic . . . the poetry? 😉 Happy to visit.

      • I didn’t think of that, Yousei. What an interesting observation. I have watched flames. There is a little difference in the feeling… Flames do something to my eyes sort of like a strobe. I can look away and it takes awhile for the imagery to be gone. Clouds and water are soft on the eye? Yes… the poetry. …and I see the line, the value, the texture, the movement, the allure

  4. Stunning! I’m enjoying your cloud series. This one is particularly dramatic, made more so by the texture in the paper. I really like the intensity of the colors you used. Did you use frisket for the white waves?

    • Couds are hard!!!!! I think I could paint them and paint them and never reallyc apture them. Perhaps they are not meant to be caught. Ha! No need for frisket on these. I can lift most of the color out with my brush due to the gessoed surface. I painted each whitecap with white acrylic. I used the heavier bodied version and actually left some texture on the foam. It is not visible in the photo but can be detected on the original. Great question! Thankyou, Carol.

  5. Oh, my! What beauty you have rendered. Love the dramatic colors. I also so enjoy watching (and learning from) your process. What a continuous treat to have discovered you years ago … Really, it has been how many years, now? And I am sitting here looking at the cloud painting you so kindly gifted me. It now hangs over my front window.

    • Oh my. It was your beautiful photo that inspired my first attempt at a cloud study, Kate. That post is here: I did that in 2010 but had your photo sitting in my folders for a long time before attempting it. I’ve followed you and your BigSurKate for as long as I’ve been blogging and you have been kind enough to return the favor. Thankyou for this wonderful comment. What a great place to hang a cloud painting!

  6. So very dramatic and full of energy. I like it.

    • Thankyou, Ruth. All those slashes and swirls seem to energize anything on this surface, methinks.

  7. Very energetic and vibrant piece. I have followed this method of applying gesso on paper but didn’t know it was called gesso juice 🙂 .Sometimes while applying this mixture, happy accidents happen revealing us many shapes that can lead to a subject that can be fine tuned.Look forward to more from you Leslie!

    • I think Kathleen Conover called it gesso juice. I think it is a rather new trend for watercolorists to borrow from our acrylic artists’ techniques. Not everything works but some of them fit really well with watercolor, too. It is truly a wonderful surface to explore on. Your paintings rock and constantly move me to try and think outside the box. Thank you, Padmaja. 🙂

  8. Very interesting texture. Reminds me of broken glass.

  9. Love your colors, Leslie! I have to say that this probably wouldn’t be a surface I’d try. Reminds me clothes that need ironing! LOL I wonder why I don’t get that same feeling from the crinkled masa paper? Hmmm….

    • Ha! You are right! Looks like wrinkles! I think Masa paper wrinkles are more subtle and offer the texture in a surface that we see in nature and our hands can’t possibly replicate. This texture is more bold and energized like aged and distressed. What a cool observation. Thank you, Sherry!

  10. Hey Leslie!
    Love all these experiments. Looks great!!!

  11. Nice texture. Nice colors. Amazing!

  12. Leslie, I love this one! The colors are so rich and there is this subtle energy to the piece that I love. Great work!

  13. Intense. Great stuff. Might try this.

    • Your children may have fun with this one Kestralart. They can wash some of it off and have another go at it anytime they want. Thank you!

  14. It’s so interesting coming for a visit to see what you are up to. Yes, I remember a year ago…LOVE THE COLOURS on this one.

    I wanted to comment today to say Happy Mother’s Day to a woman I greatly respect and admire. XO

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