Although it is possible to produce large watercolors on paper, I’ve found that there are a few problems which almost always arise when painting on a large scale—and it simply has to do with the nature of watercolor paper itself.
First, paper of any kind is relatively soft, and mars easily in a way that often isn’t possible to take back.
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Just by pushing down too hard when you are drawing, lifting color, or erasing, you can create a low spot that grabs on to more pigment than other areas (because water flows to the lowest point)—and usually this creates an effect that you do not want.
If you’re forced to constantly reach across a large piece of paper, the risk of marring the paper becomes much more frequent.
At my height (5’5″) it’s difficult to NOT lean over a large piece while painting—when working wet-in-wet, or doing washes for instance, you MUST keep your paper fairly flat, unless you are really fond of Jackson Pollock-esque drips everywhere. Canvas just stands up to that kind of abuse better than paper does.
Another advantage of using canvas as a painting surface is how much easier it is to frame the finished pieces.
Watercolor paper is absorbent, soft, and thin and the paper tends to bleach in the sun. Therefore, regular watercolors need to be framed under glass or “acrylic glass” to protect the paper from harm, and keep the paint away from water and sun. You also have figure out some way to keep the paper away from the glass, and provide a subsurface (like foam board of some sort) to fit under your watercolor paper.
All of those things add significant cost and weight to the final piece—but if you paint on a properly-prepared canvas surface with acrylic gesso, and then later coat the finished piece with a clear acrylic spray, framing becomes much easier.
You can present your watercolor as you would an oil painting: as-is, with a frame; or unframed with a prepared edge (as I did with Comrades in Fishing, below).
If you’d like information about the paintings above, or have any questions or comments about painting on canvas, I’d be happy to hear from you!
Learn more about Tracy Feldman and her art at by visiting her art blog.