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Watercolor Canvas​




Canvas has traditionally been the preferred support for oil and acrylic paintings but new absorbant Gesso formulations have now made it also suitable for watercolor.
There are commercial watercolor canvases available, or normal primed canvas can be given a number of coats of watercolor gesso if you wish to paint on it with watercolor.
Stretched watercolor canvas


This canvas is stretched over a 70x25mm frame and the plastic wedges are tapped in to tighten it if it sags.

This little painting was done on commercially  available Fredrix watercolor canvas stretched onto a 25x50mm stretcher frame.

Watercolor painting on canvas

The canvas is different to paper to paint on. The paint tends to sit on the surface and is easily washed off. It just takes a bit of getting used to. Once the painting is finished a clear acrylic varnish seals the surface.


The advantage of working on this type of surface is the ability to combine watercolor, gouache, acrylic and ink, then not have to protect the finished work with glass. It also allows you to work as large as you wish.

Watercolor Canvas Texture


Watercolor Canvas has a very fine texture, well suited to the subtle nature of watercolor.

Fredrix Canvas have produced a watercolor canvas that provides  the opportunity to work on a large scale, without having to protect the finished painting under glass. The same freedom is offered by a number of manufacturers of Gesso designed to accept watercolor.


Several coats of watercolor gesso on regular primed canvas make a great, large scale painting surface.

Golden Paints “Absorbent Ground“, Daniel Smith “Gold Gesso“, Art Boards “Superior Quality Panel Gesso” and Schmincke “AQUA Primer Fine” are all Gessoes blended to be absorbent to watercolor paint.

Techniques need to be adjusted when working with watercolor on canvas, just like changing from a familiar paper to an untried one.

The canvas surfaces don’t have the absorbency of paper, causing the pigment to sit on the surface. This means building up washes is trickier than on paper.


Speed and delicacy are required to save disturbing the underlying paint. This feature becomes an advantage when you wish to lift off pigment. Tones can be lightened by lifting off and, if necessary, taken right back to pure white.

The great advantage over paper is that, once sealed with a suitable varnish, the painting does not require glass. I use a pressure pack of mat varnish first of all, then spray everything with a few coats of acrylic satin varnish, which intensifies the darks and saturates the colors slightly. The painting ends up with a durable, impervious finish.


Watercolor receptive gesso is available from a number of manufacturers in various sized containers.

Watercolor Gesso spreads easily and dries to a chalky, plaster like finish. It can be applied roughly to leave a brushed texture for the washes to settle into or sanded and applied with a hake brush for a smooth, flat surface.



You can see above the slightly more subtle softened edge on the paper, but the Gesso and Canvas lift off cleaner.


In this painting, watercolor was painted onto stretched watercolor canvas then worked over with ink, gesso then more watercolor. Tones could be adjusted by scrubbing and washing back, then building up again without any surface damage.




Watercolor canvas was used here to experiment with washes of white gouache to build up the areas of light. The canvas behaved much like paper, except the edges were a little harder to control. This was not really a problem, just a matter of getting used to the different surface.

To me, the great advantage over traditional watercolor paper is that size is no longer limited and once sprayed with acrylic varnish, or coated with a wax varnish, there is no need for glass to protect the surface.


See Painting Varnishes for information on protecting these works.

Author: John Lovett

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