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Does Watercolor Work on Gesso?

Watercolor paints can be a tricky medium to work with because they have such a thin consistency. It can be hard to get the paints to turn out properly when you don’t paint on the proper surface. Usually, you would just use watercolor paper for watercolor paints, but you might not always have that option. 

When you are using watercolor paints, you might also be interested in using other mediums with it. This could be other types of paints, primers, or sealants, but we are going to talk about gesso. Gesso is most commonly used with acrylic paints, but what about watercolor paints?

So does watercolor work on gesso? Yes, you can use gesso to act like a primer for your watercolor paints. Watercolor paint will stick to gesso, and it can even have some benefits. Watercolor paint and gesso can also work together by being mixed instead of layering.

Can Gesso Be Mixed with Watercolor?

Yes, it is possible to mix gesso with watercolor paints. Gesso is water soluble, meaning it can dissolve in water. Gesso is white or off-white, depending on the brand you are using. This is beneficial to watercolor paints because you can add the gesso to make the colors opaquer.

My favorite and top pick is always Arteza Oil Paints. They have so many different colors, and the quality is amazing! I usually use Arteza Paints for all my projects.

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When you mix gesso with watercolor paints, you also have a little more control over the color of the paint. Adding the white gesso can easily lighten your current colors to give you a broader spectrum to choose from. 

You can also mix gesso with watercolor on your artwork. If you put down some gesso first, you can add watercolor paint on top of it while it is still wet. This can help you blend colors together easily and achieve soft edge lines in your details. 

Do You Use Gesso Before Watercolor?

It is not necessary to use gesso before you paint with watercolors, but there are several advantages to doing so. First, the gesso acts as a sort of barrier between the paint and the paper. This makes it easy for the paint to be wiped off if you make a mistake. You could also wipe off paint that has dried already.

Gesso also works as a primer for watercolor paints. The watercolor adheres really easily to the gesso because gesso is absorbent. It can keep your colors from bleeding into each other, allowing you to have a crisper design with your watercolors. I highly recommend this Arteza Watercolor Paper if you’re looking for an artists quality paper. I use this paper for my watercolor paintings and it never runs or bleeds.

Using gesso before you use your watercolor paints also allows you to add specific textures or designs underneath your painting. You can put gesso on some parts of the paper and not others, you can paint designs with the gesso, or you can create a bumpy surface texture. This will add dimension to your painting.

There are techniques that you can try to enhance your watercolor painting with gesso. For instance, you can create a specific texture with the help of some tools. Put gesso over the whole paper, or part of the paper, and use a sponge, brush, or comb to add texture to the entire area.

I recommend Daniel Smith Gesso for watercolors. I like this brand because it’s a transparent gesso, but also is heavy enough to give you a good primer like background.

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You can also create patterned textures with gesso. You would first need to apply a base of gesso, then lay down different things you can find. For example, you can use lace, bubble wrap, leaves, even a paper towel. These would give you an easy textured design to enhance your watercolor painting.

Drawing with or in gesso is another way you can use it before watercolor. If you are going to draw in the gesso, put down an even layer first. You can then take the handle of your paintbrush, your finger, or anything else you can think of to draw in before it dries.

If you are going to use the gesso to draw a design, you would take some of the gesso on your paintbrush and very carefully paint a design on the paper. When the gesso dries, you can paint over the design. The gesso drawing will stick out from the painting.

You can also use a pencil to sketch out your design on gesso. This will make it easy for you to create a guide that you can fill in with the watercolor paint. If you don’t want the pencil lines to show through on your finished product, use a light hand when you sketch. If you do want the lines visible, you can use a heavy hand.

When it comes to using watercolor paints on canvas, you will want to use a layer or two of gesso before you start painting. This will allow the watercolor paint to stick to the canvas surface that it wouldn’t normally stick to. 

Can You Use Watercolor on Canvas without Gesso?

Normal canvas that has not been primed with gesso is not absorbent enough to work with watercolor paints. The watercolor wouldn’t stick well to the surface, and the colors would lift really easily. It would also be incredibly difficult to blend colors together or overlay them. 

Instead, you can try a canvas that has been specifically designed to work with watercolors. This Phoenix Cotton Stretched Canvas was made to be used with watercolor paints. It has already been primed with gesso, so all you have to do is paint.

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If you decide to paint on a regular canvas that has not been designed for watercolors, it can be difficult when you are first starting out, so you should take some time to experiment with this surface. This will allow you to test out a few different techniques and find out what works best for you and your style with the canvas.

If you want to paint on canvas with watercolor, you will need to properly prepare the canvas first. The first thing you would need to do is add two layers of gesso to the canvas. When the gesso dries, you can paint on it, or you can take an extra step to make painting easier.

Absorbent Ground can be applied on top of your two layers of gesso with a roller or brush. You should paint thin layers because you can always go back and add more if you need to. If you put the absorbent ground on too thick, it is prone to cracking.

The more layers of absorbent ground you add on top of the gesso, the more absorbent the surface of the canvas will become. For the absorbency needed to use watercolors on canvas, it is recommended to apply five or six coats, allowing each to fully dry before adding another. Wait 24 hours before painting with your watercolors.

Practicing will give you a feel of how the watercolor paints will work with the layers of absorbent ground and the gesso. This will save you from making any possible mistakes when you work on your actual painting project. 

Final Thoughts

Watercolor paints are an easy medium to work with, but it can be tricky to use them on certain surfaces. These paints work best on watercolor paper, but you might not always want to use them on the same surface all the time. 

If you want to use watercolor paints on a surface other than watercolor paper, specifically canvas, it is possible if you take the proper steps to prepare the canvas. You can also purchase a specially designed canvas that works only for watercolor paints.

Make sure to follow all my tips and recommended products to ensure that your project turns out great. Always prime your surface if possible to get the best painting results. Also, don’t forget to check out my other articles for all your painting Q&A’s. Happy painting!

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