More Tips for Painting Watercolor on Canvas

By Tracy Feldman in Art Tutorials > Painting Tutorials

After my first article was published on EE a few weeks ago, a number of artists wrote me with more questions about the process of creating large watercolors on a prepared canvas surface.

For instance, a couple of people asked questions about preparing the canvas; while a few others asked how I handled glazing (painting in layers) since paint lifts so much more easily from the gessoed surface of canvas than it does from the more-absorbent watercolor paper.

After responding to those questions, I decided to experiment even more in my latest piece, and today I’ll be sharing those results with you.

My first experiment involved the preparation of the painting surface. I normally leave my sketch lines on the surface and simply paint over them, but this time I used a Kirkland wet wipe on part of the gessoed surface to see if that would affect the way my watercolors stayed on the surface.

I noticed that while the wipe was great for lifting the watercolor sketch lines, there must have been some slight residue left behind, because in those areas my watercolors DID seem to have a harder time grabbing the surface than normal.

Thus, in the future, I won’t be routinely wiping down the surface with a wet wipe before starting to paint.

Another experiment I did when working on this piece dealt with glazing (creating layers) on the painted surface. But before I started in on it, I went to one of my favorite watercolor instruction books, Building Brilliant Watercolors by Judy Treman.

Judy creates beautiful, dramatic watercolors in a somewhat unusual way—she creates an underpainting in purples before adding local color to her pieces. While doing a value underpainting is a classic technique in oils, it is not standard in watercolors where people need to worry about their colors getting muddied if their under-colors lift when glazes of other colors are placed on top of them.

Treman’s works, however, don’t have the problem because purple tends to be so staining. Thus, the layers of purple underpainting tend to stay put as she glazes the final colors over her underpainting. Treman’s “trick” for doing this involves not only the use of staining purples, but assuring the underpainting is dry throughly before she begins her final glazes.

The neat thing about the color is that after the final colors are glazed over her purple under paintings, the purple “disappears”—but the values established by the purples remain.

When I finished reading and finally got down to painting, I started out by doing what she suggested. I created pools of purples of varying intensities and temperatures each in their own bowl, then I used them to create an underpainting for this piece.

However, because I was painting on gessoed canvas, I knew that I could not apply the underpainting in the same way as I would on paper, since it wouldn’t “stick” as well to the surface.

So I tried out something I had suggested to another artist who had wanted to know how to create watercolor glazes/layers on canvas—I dipped my brush in a little matte acrylic glaze (along with the water and the paint) in the thought that it might help the under-layers of color be less vulnerable to lifting when other colors were worked on top of them

This piece is the result:


I used my various purples (with matte acrylic glaze) to create the underpainting. I then glazed, and lifted, and glazed again and again over the underpainting until I got the image I wanted. The intensity of the underpainting was maintained, so I’d say this experiment was a success.

You can find this painting in my Dailypaintworks Gallery. . . if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

Learn more about Tracy Feldman and her art at by visiting her art blog.


We'll send you articles & tutorials right as we publish them, so you never miss a post! Unsubscribe here at any time.


This post may contain affiliate links.