05 Mar Aquarell Basic Watercolour Canvases by Gerstaecker
Hi and welcome to my latest Great Art Materials Blog!
This time I’m taking a look at some new canvases, especially prepared for use with watercolours…
These are a newish idea, which means you can work directly on canvas with any watercolour medium…I tested the Gerstaecker ones with the following features:-
- They are stretched with 250 gsm cotton canvas, over a lightweight pine frame, which has additional bracing bars in the larger sizes.
- They are pre-primed with a watercolour specialist primer which has a suitably absorbent surface, so there is no need to paint with gesso or similar before working.
- The canvases come in a useful range of sizes from 20cm x 30 cm – 50 cm x 70 cm, and the 50cm x 70 cm canvas is also available in the ‘plus’ version which has a deep sturdy stretcher, allowing you to paint the sides of your canvas and incorporate them as an integral part of your piece.
- The canvases are tight and durable which makes them ideal for most work in watercolours, gouache, and mixed media.
- You can also use acrylic inks, liquid acrylics and standard acrylics, especially as part of a mixed media approach, but heavy acrylic layers would not be advised as the lightweight canvas and stretcher would not provide a suitable long term, stable base.
- They are ideal for artists who like to use experimental approaches especially including scratching, scraping and collaging which can be tough on conventional watercolour papers-the canvas support is tougher and will stand up to much more artistic punishment!
- They are lightweight which makes framing very straightforward, and you have more options than when framing a conventional watercolour on paper- for instance you an use ‘tray’ frames with a shadow gap, and other framing types without the need for glass. If you decide to go glass free, it is advisable to use a watercolour spray varnish to protect your work, or alternatively a cold wax finish, which can be burnished to create a soft, warm sheen.
As usual I started with some simple tests, using a range of waterbased media to see how the canvases perform…
In the sample tests above, I experimented with watercolours and gouache:-
Row 1: LH first three samples- Here I tried working with watercolours in washes on dry, wet and damp surfaces. They all worked fine, but it does take a while to get used to the different handling of the watercolour canvas compared with traditional watercolour papers, which I’m used to. The main difference I found was that the appearance of the watercolours is slightly more granular, and they don’t have quite the smooth blending and flowing properties that they have on paper-However, if you adapt your approach and go for a stronger, more intense colour, they do work really well on the canvas support.
RH last three samples- I really liked the handling of the intense watercolour on dry canvas. The soft washes on wet canvas had an interesting granular appearance, which would be great for applications where a textured feel is needed. Exciting effects can be obtained using a light spray of water, on top of areas of intense colour.
Row 2: Here I experimented with gouache paint, used both undiluted and as washes. This worked well in both cases, and gave a smoother, less granular feel than the watercolour. Interesting results can also be achieved with gouache and light sprays of water.
At the bottom you can see some dry-brushing with gouache, which I particularly liked on the canvas surface.
In the samples above, you can see that I also experimented with acrylics and acrylic inks- all of these worked perfectly on the watercolour canvas, but do bear in mind that if you want to build up heavy textures and layers you would be better with a standard, heavier duty canvas, than this lightweight one.
These are the lovely acrylic inks I used, by Liquitex-gorgeous on their own and also in mixed media work!
The small study above is taken from a sketchbook page done back in September, on the Aberdeenshire coast. I was fascinated by the interesting shape made by the cliff edge, and the fields which ran down towards it. This one is in a mix of watercolours, and gouache as I wanted both translucent and opaque areas…the two media are interchangeable, and I enjoy the effects achieved by adding a little of the gouache to a watercolour wash. The linear detail is added using a dark grey marker-in this case I used the Dual ended Tombow marker, which I love…it has a brush tip and a fine marker tip which makes it really versatile and you can achieve a wide range of marks.
Top Tip: The watercolour canvas surface is quite rough, and I prefer a slightly smoother finish, so before working on this piece, I rubbed the surface down very lightly with a fine sand paper…this gave me a surface that worked perfectly.
On the next, larger canvas, I began work on a loose study, again based on a sketchbook page. In this case I used a mix of watercolours and Liquitex inks. In the photo above you can see that I sprayed the canvas to create a wet surface and then worked quickly with both Acrylic inks and watercolour washes, embracing the runs and drips that happen when you tilt the surface. Here the canvas is easier to work with than paper, which can be tricky to tilt when wet!
In the photo above, I’m building up vigorous washes in layers-deliberately using very quick and expressive brush marks.
You can also see that I’m adding texture, using coarse salt sprinkled on areas of wet colour. This can be knocked off and rubbed away when throughly dry, leaving a really interesting broken surface.
I’m delighted with the way the canvas performs, especially for these more experimental techniques!
Here you can see my work space…sketchbook page to work from, brushes, watercolours and spray ready to use.
This also gives a good idea of just how wet the washes are- the canvas really worked well in absorbing all the water, without losing the strength of colour. You can also see the fine detail lines I’ve incised into wet paint with a sharp tool.
I liked the way that the watercolours and acrylic inks, suggest a mountainous landscape, but without being specific. The contrast of the salt resist texture works really well-I’m going to live with this one on the studio wall for a bit….perhaps I’ll work into it with more layers? I don’t want to loose the freshness, so a little while to think is a good idea.
Working on the next canvas shown above, I wanted to play with building up layers of watercolours, both wet into wet as you can see here, and also by allowing a layer to dry and building a second on top…This is not a traditional watercolour approach at all, but you can achieve this by using a coat of Aquafix shown below.
*To use the Aquafix, paint a thin layer over dried watercolour, allow to dry thoroughly and then you can build up additional watercolour on top. It doesn’t completely prevent any disturbance of the first layer, but gives a really good way of building strength and intensity.
The photo above shows the strength and intensity of colour built up on the base shown previously- I really enjoy this effect and it allows you to keep fresh brush strokes and bold marks whilst building up tonal contrast and depth.
The grainy mottled effects were made using Jaxacryl Effektspray shown below…to be honest this was a lucky discovery, as it is a product designed for use with acrylics, but it turns out to be great sprayed onto areas of wet watercolour as well!
On the largest format canvas shown above, I expanded the previous study to allow more space for texture, layering and effects. I used a very mixed media approach, with multiple layers of watercolours, acrylic inks and gouache, combined with linear detail using the Tombow pen I mentioned before.
I used the Jaxacryl spray in small areas to produce mottling of colour, and I added carefully controlled trails of acrylic ink which I drew directly onto the canvas surface, using the dropper top, allowing the colour to run slightly, suggesting channels in the landscape surface.
I finished the piece with a light coat of wax, which can be gently burnished when it has dried to create a warm, glowing sheen.
Next, I wanted to test the canvas as a support for some fairly heavy duty collage and mixed media work. I began by working on heavyweight watercolour paper, creating colours, textures and marks which suggested landscape features.
I tore them up into small fragments and experimented with different arrangements on the canvas base.
Top tip: I stuck them down using Acrylic gel medium, which is great for attaching heavyweight papers. My other tip is that I used fine dressmaking pins pushed through the paper and canvas to hold the heavy papers down whilst they are drying. This works really well, and the pins can easily be removed when the glue has set.
*You can see that I have the beginnings of my landscape in place, just by overlaying the colours and shapes in the watercolour fragments…I developed this using some line work, threading across the piece.
In the finished canvas above you can see that I have softened the torn edges, which can be too distracting, and added white acrylic to create texture and contrast. As a final layer, I’ve added washes of watercolour to soften the white, developed the lines to suggest field patterns, and even added some soft pastels in the sky for drama.
* My thoughts about Gerstaecker Aquarell Basic Canvases:
- Great value for money and tough and durable too, especially for mixed media and experimental approaches- They stood up really well to everything I threw at them!
- Personally I prefer them with the surface very lightly sanded for a smoother finish.
- Very useful for allowing a wider range of presentation and framing options for watercolour based work.
- For a more traditional approach using graded washes, my personal preference would still be for a heavyweight watercolour paper, but as I tend to go for a more modern experimental approach, these will become a regular choice for me.
My Materials list-all available from https://www.greatart.co.uk
- Gerstaecker Basic Aquarell (Watercolour) canvases, in a range of sizes: https://www.greatart.co.uk/gerstaecker-basic-watercolour-canvases.html
- Jaxon Fine Artist Watercolours, available in sets and as individual pans: https://www.greatart.co.uk/jaxon-fine-artist-watercolour-sets.html
- Selection of Gerstaecker Watercolour Brushes: https://www.greatart.co.uk/gerstaecker-synthetic-watercolour-brushes.html
- Liquitex Professional Ink!: https://www.greatart.co.uk/liquitex-professional-acrylic-ink.html
- Winsor and Newton Gouache sets: https://www.greatart.co.uk/winsor-newton-designers-gouache-intro-set.html
- Pebeo Studio Gouache: https://www.greatart.co.uk/pebeo-studio-gouache.html
- Schmincke Aquafix ( to set a layer of watercolour, prior to building further layers): https://www.greatart.co.uk/schmincke-aqua-fix.html
- Jaxacryl Effektspray (For mottled effects in damp watercolour): https://www.greatart.co.uk/jaxacryl-effect-spray.html
- Jaxell Extra Fine Artist Pastels: https://www.greatart.co.uk/jaxell-extra-fine-artists-pastel-sets.html
- Tombow Dual Brush Pen in Dark Grey from a selection:https://www.greatart.co.uk/tombow-abt-dual-6-brush-pen-sets.html
- Gerstaecker Acrylic Gel Medium (as a glue for collage): https://www.greatart.co.uk/gerstaecker-acrylic-gel.html
- Empty spray bottle for moistening canvas: https://www.greatart.co.uk/search?q=empty+spray+bottle
- Golden Heavy Body Acrylic in Titanium White: https://www.greatart.co.uk/golden-heavy-body-acrylic-paint.html
I also used:
- Coarse salt for sprinkling on wet watercolour.
- Paper towels, washing up liquid and paper plates for acrylic palettes.
I hope you enjoyed reading this Great Art Materials Blog- look out for the next one soon! Jo
*All text and images © Jo York, and may not be reproduced or used without permission.