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Tag Archives: watercolor on gesso


I wanted to try something other than a landscape on the gesso juice surface. I love experimenting on this surface.

Thank you to wet canvas library for the image of the horse.





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.

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.