Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Painting watercolor on gessoed board

I am teaching a course in my studio, ARThouse, this spring about painting in watercolor on different surfaces, other than the usual Arches 140 lb cold-press that so many watercolorists rely on. Last time we painted on gessoed illustration board, something I hadn't done in a while, and the results were very interesting. If you've never tried this, you really should! Above are some of the demonstration paintings I did for the classes.

On this surface, you end up seeing the brushstrokes made when applying the gesso. It has an interesting effect--almost like an oil painting that is actually a watercolor. But it depends on how you apply the gesso. Here is how I did it:

I took a sheet of 4-ply Strathmore 500 illustration board (acid-free) and cut it up into the desired size (the mug is on a 6x6 inch sheet, while the painting "Beach Boys" is on a 12x19" sheet. Then I taped the edges with 1" drafting tape to get a clean edge at the end. I then applied acrylic gesso with a 1" flat brush, using about 1 Tbsp for every 6 sq inches of board. I applied it evenly and then created interesting brush marks in the wet gesso, similar to one of those old-fashioned plastered ceilings. I let this dry for several hours.

When you paint on this surface, it is kind of weird. The watercolor beads up at first and just lies on the top. The great thing is that it is almost completely removable when dry. So this surface is extremely "re-workable". My painting style relies a lot on selective removal or paint, so I love this attribute. Try it--you'll like it!



  1. Susan,
    I really loved working with a gessoed surface(an oil painter at heart). Working loosely, putting paint on and taking paint off......yes I like it.

    Cudos on starting this blog!

  2. Hi Susan! What a great idea to initiate this Blog! I share Roberta's comments about the gesso board... It's fun!

  3. Congratulations, Sue! Your new blog will be a fun way to keep in touch, and to see your new paintings. I, too, enjoyed painting on the gessoed board, but I have a question: Can I apply gesso to regular illustration board, or should I use Bristol Board? And if I put gesso on Arches paper, should I staples the paper down before I apply the gesso?
    I'm looking forward to seeing other paintings on this site. And I'll see you on the 23rd!


  4. Hi Sally-- Thanks for your post! This is so exciting! I think you could apply the gesso on just about anything--including covering up a old painting you don't like... You can paint it on regular watercolor paper and don't seem to have to staple it down. I would make sure the substrate is acid-free, though, just so that it has longevity. --Sue

  5. Hi Susan ! I found you !! You look like you've been doing this blog stuff your whole life !
    N I C E . :)

  6. Oooooh, The next class project looks like fun! I have so many old family pictures to choose from. Do you suggest a portrait or a full-length photo? Or should we bring a couple of both to class?

  7. Hi Sue,
    Thanks for posting this blog, it's my first one to ever participate in so I will have to learn the ropes ! There's a first time for everything, though, like watercolor painting on gesso :) I like the removability but I miss the way the paint plays with the surface of watercolor paper.

  8. Hi Sue Adams-- Welcome to my blog! I am new at this too, and it has taken some effort to figure out how to do this, but it is worth it. I know what you're saying about the action of the paint on regular watercolor paper--they are two different animals. On the gessoed paper, the paint just sits on top and doesn't flow out smoothly or blend with other colors smoothly--you have to sort of stir it up. Yes, there are definitely pros and cons. What I like about the gessoed paper is that the brush strokes in the gesso give you an immediate unique surface texture that you can't get with Arches paper. I think you would have to paint on it for a while before deciding if the trade-offs are worth it... --Sue Murphy

  9. Last night's class was "mesmerizing" , can't wait to see the portraits on your blog!

  10. Thanks so much for posting the portraits. I love the way Dickens turned out and I especially loved watching the whole fascinating process. The watercolor canvas really does lend itself to this style of painting.
    I have started my portrait, actually restarted. I wasn't happy with my first attempt so I took it to the sink and washed off the paint. I think I scrubbed off the gesso too! My second painting is going better but it's not as easy to remove the paint! Still, the canvas underneath the wiped off paint looks good, it adds an interesting texture. Your great-grandmother painting is really special, I recognized your "thumbnail" painting of your son in the tree! How clever! It sure is helpful having you post your process.

  11. Hello Susan
    Your blog is terrific. What do you use to fix your paintings that are on gesso paper or W/c Canvas? Thanks, Lesley

  12. Hi Lesley-- Good question! The ones on watercolor canvas I am spraying with a matte acrylic fixative so that I can frame them without glass. The one I use is by Pearl Paint and is called Digital Print Protector ("clear protective coating for digital photographs and paper creations"--acid free and UV-protective). The ones on gessoed illustration board I am going to frame under glass. For original paintings I use the Tru-Vue anti-reflective glass, which has an optical coating and cancels out reflections. Just curious--what is your full name and where are you from? --Sue