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Tag Archives: gesso




I don’t know why I like working on a background that has marks on it already. The above two paintings were drawn and created on watercolor paper that I had “grunged” with coffee, ink, and applied gesso to in advance. Here is a post that describes the process.

It is not just the challenge of working on a surface that has been disturbed that I find interesting. It is examining the marks and finding a subject that they work with or discovering new ways of working with or around abstract marks. It is seeing that all these marks can increase the feeling of depth in some paintings.

The top painting is Teddy, my dog. The bottom one is a self portrait.



These are the most recent two paintings I have finished. The tree frog has a saran wrap print background that I returned and painted in each abstract shape by following the pattern that the saran wrap left. To get that print, I wet the entire background with juicy watercolors. I was careful to not wet any portion of the frog. I then took large sheets of saran wrap and crinkled them atop the washes, covered it with another drawing board and added the weight of several books atop the board. I left this overnight for the pigment to dry before removing the saran wrap. If you remove the saran wrap too soon, the water will soften and sometimes disturb any design. The background came out too light, so I repainted each individual section wet on dry and wet-in-wet.


The rice paper abstract began with a grunge background like I explained here.


I layered in some watercolor I wanted to  use for this abstract and allowed it to dry.


I select various rice papers with textures and colors I think might go with what I already have and begin glueing them to the surface of the paper. I use a mixture of acrylic matte medium of one part water to four parts matte medium. I blot each paper as I glue it on so there is little glue residue left on the surface of the paper. I allow that initial layering to dry and paint or add gesso splatter and marks, more watercolor and ink  marks and allow that layer to dry.


finished painting

I alternate layers of media, in this manner, until I feel I have developed a center of interest and decide I am done.

Here is a another post that describes this process.


The above painting was done on a surface that I kind of made up myself. I have long admired paintings done on backgrounds that have been disturbed in some way, maybe by other mediums or by textures added with paper, etc. I studied several different journal artists’ videos and a couple of water media artists’ videos in order to come up with this. I like backgrounds with glued-in and sanded papers but was not able to come up with a background that the watercolor worked easily on. Those backgrounds seem to require some use of acrylics, also. I wanted to avoid that since I teach watercolor and I wanted my students to be able to experiment with this.

If you are interested, I have outlined the steps we took for creating a grunge background for our portraits.


We began by splattering or brushing on coffee. We dried this stage with a hairdryer before moving to the next application.


Next, we splattered and brushed on gesso. We did this in two different ways.  We watered down some of the gesso 50/50. That was so the marks would only partially show through the watercolor pigment. We, then, applied some of the gesso straight, knowing that our paint would slide off of it and reveal the white of the gesso. We then dried this, completely, before moving to the next stage.


In the next step, we watered down waterproof black ink and splattered that onto the paper. We could soften some of these marks by spritzing them with a spray bottle. This stage is better when you follow the less is more policy. Allow this stage to dry completely before proceeding.


After preparing the surface, we all looked for a portrait that might work well with the background we had come up with. We chose portraits just because it is a portrait class we are in right now. This kind of background would work for any subject. Once we found our portrait reference we wanted to use, we turned our splattered paper around until we found the best imagery in the splatter for what we wanted to paint on it. Note that I turned my paper around 180 degrees for my subject. We drew the portrait on in graphite.


The above is an example of my first washes. We just begin painting the portrait as we normally would.


When I arrived at this point, I began to make decisions about placing more darks and bringing the image of the toy and girl out of the background more. I really liked how the gesso and the ink added abstract effects that I had very little control over. We were able to go back in with gesso, coffee and ink if we wanted to. I was getting good results with just what I had. We also knew we could collage and use colored pencil or wax resist in areas we may need to.


The above is my finished portrait.

I hope this gives you something new to try or consider when you sit down to paint. I decided I would not be so hasty, in the future, to throw away a stained or soiled piece of watercolor paper. It may just be that it would add to a painting rather than detract!



I am currently working on several paintings that I started as demos of techniques for my students. The above painting was one of these.  I prepared a surface to work on using a mixture of gesso and water and scratched and swirled the medium around with a credit card to create texture and movement. I lightly sketched my composition on the dried surface.  I have painted rocks before but never so many! I was intrigued with the shapes and the shadows and the way the elements had worked on their surfaces. I chose a piece of Arches 140lb rough and some of that texture was still evident poking through the gesso. This helped to add to the roughness of the surface of the rocks. As I was working on this, I began to wonder what a canyon scene might look like on masa paper and put it on my to-do list.  At some point, I deviated from my original photo reference and used rock  forms from several others to create the background.

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

Nancy Longmate Nancy Longmate

watercolor, ink and Citra-solv collage

Sue Mendenhall2

Sue Mendenhall

watercolor on masa paper

Dorette Hess2 Dorette Hess

watercolor and ink; barn siding drawn with ink and razor blade

The above paintings are just a sneak peak of what I have posted on the “Student Art 2” page found by clicking here. My students just finished a class I title Watercolor Plus. In this class, 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 watercolor in several different ways, and created a watercolor and Citra-solv collage.

Thank you to all my fellow artists who agree to share their work on this blog. I know they inspire others to try what they have tried by doing so.

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!

Jennifer Parks

Judy Notestine

David Hess

The above gouache resists were created by students in my watercolor plus class. This class has just ended. I have posted one example of each of the students’ work on the Student Art 2 Page.

In this class we explored rice paper collage with watercolor, painting on gesso, gouache resist, and ink and watercolor. We explored the effects of splattering, creating texture with saran wrap, and the use of frisket.

I want to personally thank all my students for their hard work and extra input and sharing during this class. I am always sorry to see them end.


The above painting was inspired by a photo I took last July as the Queen Anne’s Lace began blooming where I painted plein air this summer.  This is a view from standing in the shadows of the large pines to the north of the property and looking over the fence to the north west.  The texture in the foreground shadowed area was created by painting and splattering with frisket in several layers as I painted in the darks.  I am enjoying this project of painting Indiana and am noticing the beauty of my State through new eyes. There is so much to share at one small location. Oh! The queen Anne’s lace was dotted in and splattered using gesso.

Every once in awhile I try something I see others doing. Thanks to Carol King’s workshop on Citra Solv collage papers made from National Geographics, I had some interesting papers to add to this project. Thank-you Carol! 

I have watched Isabelle post her muse collage work for a year, now, but not taken the time to try one myself. Last week I began visiting Ghadah at Pretty Green Bullet and was inspired by her loose ink drawings of figures and applications of collage.  I thought I could try a little of both artist’s approaches.  Thank-you Isabelle and Ghadah!

As a theme, I chose to respond to a post that I thought very informative that Eva posted not long ago about the water cycle. Thank-you, Eva!

I used waterproof black ink, Citra Solv collage images, newspaper text, watercolor and gesso to create this. Beyond that, I will let the piece speak for itself.

The above is the beginning of a painting that I used a mixture of sand and gesso on to add to the texture of a painting.  I mix clean craft sand with white acrylic gesso and apply it to areas of my paper where I want to accentuate the texture. In the above image, you can see the mixture as foliage on the trees, not yet painted. In the lower portion, the lighter yellow, rough-looking areas are other areas of the mixture.  The light grasses along the bottom were painted with plain gesso, allowed to dry, and  painted over with watercolor. The gessoed areas usually appear lighter than the areas that are not gessoed. At this point, I splattered frisket and painted in some extra frisket grass blades along the bottom.

I am always studying Chris Carter’s loose value paintings for anything I can pick up. I noticed in many of hers that she created a path of darks for the eye to follow. I attempted to set the values in this scene’s foreground, here.  I was drawn to the way the darks wove through the wildflowers and other weeds.  I also began painting more grasses and green leaves in the foreground.

At this point, I decided what I wanted to accentuate in the painting. There was a long strip of light in the upper third of the painting that was blocked in by a treeline in the distance. There were also clumps of white wildflowers (not Queen Anne’s Lace)  that twisted their way to that light area. I painted the distant treeline and the leaves on the middle ground trees. This helped to act as a guide to balancing the foreground I had yet to do.

In this step, I added the flowers in the scene. NO LIE! These flowers were really there!  ( A big thank-you to Al for teaching me to be more aware of my surroundings!) Where I had to add light value flowers over dark, I used white goache and added yellow or violet watercolor to it. The clumps of white flowers were dotted in with gesso and a brush. The frisket was removed and I touched up the values to finish the painting.

  finished painting