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Does Watercolor Work on Canvas?

does watercolor work on canvas

Lustrous, luminous, and soothing. These are just some of the extraordinary qualities I love about watercolors. That should explain why I was hooked to watercolor painting when I was young. When the lockdowns began, instead of sulking in isolation, I took it as an opportunity to bounce back to art-making and explore creative pursuits.

Yes, I could play around with watercolors on watercolor paper a thousand ways. But, does watercolor work on canvas? Will it sit on canvas or not? I could not get off these thoughts in my head. And to give it a rest, there’s only one way to find out.

I gave it a shot and tried to learn this new approach to watercolor painting. Luckily, I have a few rolls and mini canvases sitting around our home studio to experiment. Curious and excited, I spared no effort. And to my surprise, it was a breakthrough!

My first attempts involved careful preparation of priming the canvas using watercolor grounds and my recent explorations on Watercolor Canvas. If you haven’t heard of this method yet, let’s dive in and find out more about the in’s and out’s.

What is Watercolor Canvas?

Compared to traditional canvas, the watercolor canvas is acrylic primed to make it more absorbent and watercolor-ready. It is ideal for hobbyists like me who work on water-based mediums. It also comes in different forms like canvas panels, canvas boards, and stretched canvas.

I am a big fan of the gallery-wrapped watercolor canvas. It exudes the look and feels of art galleries. I can hang them directly on my wall without framing and worrying about losing their shape over time.

Let’s move over to the numerous advantages it has to offer.

  • Undeniably, it is durable and less prone to wear and tear. It could withstand the abuse, multiple scrubbing, blotting, and harsher treatments
  • It has a superb lifting capability. And you can easily wash off the colors and manipulate the tones, especially on the wet-on-wet technique
  • It is ideal for loose painting techniques and offers a new way to present your masterpiece
  • Provides a bigger scale range for painting. You can find several different sizes online and in art shops. Indeed ideal for abstract expressionism

Of course, painting on a watercolor canvas is an adjustment from paper and has its challenges.

  • Watercolor paint can pool on top of the canvas and may slide off easily. To fix this, try to use less water and keep the consistency like cream. Using a light hand does wonders too.
  • Layering can be tricky and takes longer to dry than paper. You can let the paint settle on its own and let the water work. Some use a hairdryer in a low setting to speed the drying. I am yet to try that.
  • Watercolor painting may not adhere fast on canvas. I used Schmincke Aqua Fix Medium to make the first layer water-resistant. It dries clear and does not affect the vibrancy of the colors. Also, some artists use this over their painted surfaces for protection.

As I see it, the positive attributes greatly outweigh the shortcomings. In a nitty-gritty, it takes patience and perseverance to keep your creativity flowing.

So far, I have only tried the Fredrix Stretched Watercolor Canvas and Watercolor Blank Canvas Panel from Master’s Touch. Both are acid-free acrylic titanium and primed with patent-pending.

Ideally, you could paint on them right away with no preparations are needed. Also worth noting is how their smooth texture takes watercolor properly without a bead. I work on the Fredrix canvas because I can incorporate mixed media on it. Aside from watercolor paints, it also accepts acrylics, ink, and gouache. Best of all, there is no bleed-through, and I enjoy playing with washes to my heart’s content.

Priming Your Canvas to Work with Watercolor Paint

priming your canvas to work with watercolor paint

You can make use of traditionally primed canvas too! Though these are not absorbent enough for watercolor, changing the surface is possible. First, prepare your painting surface by applying a thin layer of gesso. ( This is frequently used by canvas artists and is widely available.) Or use watercolor grounds.

To start with, you need to layer it over the canvas using a soft-haired brush. For a smoother finish, you can use a foam roller. Once done, you’ll have a surface that mimics the texture of watercolor papers.

Daniel Smith’s Watercolor Ground is highly recommended by art enthusiasts online. Their color ranges from white, black, gold, titanium, and transparent. Other than that, it adds texture to paintings and opens a bar of possibilities in making crafts and stuff.

Golden’s Absorbent Ground is just as good without spending too much. I used this over a gessoed surface and was amazed at how it absorbed moisture faster than the watercolor ground.

If you are like me and want to save time and avoid the trouble of priming the canvas, the best option is to get a prepped watercolor canvas. There are plenty of choices to select. You only need to find the right match that would best suit your painting techniques.

Like other art materials, it pays to invest in top-quality, UV-protected, and archival watercolor canvases. Remember its quality is as vital as the mediums you should use to achieve optimal results.

Finally, taking care of your precious pieces is indispensable as well. To seal them and prevent light fastness, you can use a UV-protected spray varnish or wax. I love Dorland’s Wax Medium and its subtle sheen finish on my paintings.

Inevitable as it is, art resources will continue to evolve and push the boundaries of our creativity. In all honesty, I never thought I could still get back into watercolor painting and even produce a pile of fun and beautiful pieces. How cool is that!


So to answer the question of can you paint watercolor on canvas, the answer is yes!

If you are looking for a new surface to paint on, the watercolor canvas is something you should not miss. Trust in me the entire experience is unique and satisfying. Besides, canvas has an exceptional surface in its own right. Good luck and happy painting!

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