by Peter PrestThis is the time for cross-pollinization in art – the bees have been doing great work preparing the field of dreams for us. Artists everywhere are discovering more and more the excitement which awaits them when they move outside the traditional terrain of their selected media.
This dynamic change applies to painting surfaces as well. I’ve been painting on watercolour canvas for 6 years this September. My experiment started right here at Swinton’s when I was looking around the watercolour section and came across a demo which one of the instructors had completed on this new product. I was immediately hooked, and I left with two watercolour canvases that morning. Within the week, I had taken off the shrink-wrap and was preparing to paint my first watercolour on canvas. (Taking off the shrink-wrap is when you get serious. Once you’ve done this, you’re committed; you can’t return it. How many wonderful new ideas died when we just didn’t take off the shrink-wrap?)
It’s six years later, and I continue to paint on watercolour canvas. In fact 90 -95 % of my work is done on this surface. So obviously for me, the experiment was successful. Fredrix, the only company to produce prepared canvas for watercolours, has not been particularly forthcoming about their formula, but it’s a great product, and I, for one, would like to learn more about how it actually is made. The significant difference is that your paint stays on the surface, and this produces a wonderful fluidity. You can paint wet on wet, wet on dry, dry brush and most significant for me, you can lift colour anytime. You can even do glazing if you’re so inclined. However, you can’t layer or at least not easily.
Traditionally watercolourists know to paint darker than they intend, because watercolours always dry to a tone or two lighter. This has been one of the frustrations with the medium – keeping the vibrancy in your work. This is not the case with watercolour canvas. Once you spray acrylic fixative and preservative on your piece, the colours are back as fresh as they were when you squeezed them from the tube – vibrant, juicy colour!
And no glass is needed! You frame it as you would an oil or acrylic – a frame and a liner and you’re in business. When you look at your finished work, there is nothing between you and the piece of art. It’s immediate, it’s more intense, more personal, and there’s no glare. This part is very exciting, because I never put my work into a show where I’m not asked about this very thing. “Is this piece a watercolour? I thought so, but there’s no glass, and the colours are so clear - can you tell me about it?” This, of course, is what we all want, a chance to talk with individuals about our art.
Now this summer I’ve come across another new surface for watercolours – “Aquabord” by Ampersand. This is specially prepared hardboard which takes watercolours beautifully. Unlike Fredrix, Ampersand has been very open about the process they use. If you go to www.ampersandart.com, you’ll find a very full explanation of how this surface is prepared.
And as before, I was puttering around in the store’s watercolour section when I found the aquabords, and I bought two, brought them home and within a week I’d taken off the shrink wrap (the sure sign!) and I’ll be pleased to show you what I’ve been able to accomplish with aquabord at my two day workshop coming up at Swinton’s, October 3 – 4, 2009. In this workshop you’ll have a chance to learn more about both these surfaces, watch me demonstrate how to work on them, and most importantly, get in there with your brush and paints and see how they work for you. That’s the part I’m looking forward to.
Watercolour painting on alternative surfaces is both liberating and frustrating. Techniques which you’ve used forever may work well, may work with modification or may not work at all. New techniques may give you a different insight into all your watercolour painting. Even if you intend to continue painting on paper, you owe it to yourself to find out what’s possible when you put brush to canvas or brush to treated hardboard. It’s all new, all fun, all exciting! See you in October!