Art History Lab

The Versatility and Advantages of Watercolor Painting on Canvas

Watercolor Painting on Canvas

Watercolor painting is a delicate art that requires a special surface to hold the color pigments. For many years, watercolor artists have relied on paper as their primary surface, but with the introduction of watercolor canvas, artists now have a new alternative to explore.

In this article, we will explore the different aspects of watercolor canvas painting, from the advantages and disadvantages of this surface to the different techniques and considerations involved. Watercolor Canvas vs.


The first crucial aspect of watercolor painting on canvas is understanding the differences between watercolor canvas and watercolor paper. Watercolor paper has been the staple surface for watercolor painting for many years, but it has its limitations.

One of the major limitations is its durability. Watercolor paper is prone to becoming discolored and brittle over time, making it less than ideal for long-term storage.

On the other hand, watercolor canvas is a much more durable surface, making it an ideal option for artists who want their paintings to last. The primary difference between the two surfaces is their absorbency.

Watercolor paper is highly absorbent, which means that it is challenging to work with the color pigments. In comparison, watercolor canvas has a lower absorbency, which allows the pigments to sit on top of the surface, offering more control over the painting.

Absorbency and Techniques on Watercolor Canvas

The absorbency of a canvas surface has a significant impact on the techniques used by the artist. Watercolor painting techniques such as layering, washes, and glazing require a surface that can hold the pigment without it seeping too quickly into the surface.

This is where watercolor canvas comes in, providing the perfect porous surface for these techniques. Layering is especially useful in watercolor painting, and watercolor artists who use canvas can take advantage of this technique.

Layering is accomplished by adding lighter colors to the surface first and then building up to darker, richer colors. The absorbency of watercolor canvas makes it easier to create multiple layers without over-saturating the surface.

Another useful technique in watercolor painting is the wash. A wash is created by adding a large amount of water to paint and then allowing it to spread across the surface.

Watercolor canvas provides a smooth surface, which makes it easier to create a wash without any unsightly streaks. Watercolor artists who use canvas can also take advantage of the glazing technique.

Glazing is accomplished by adding thin, translucent colors to a painting to create a depth of color. The absorbency of watercolor canvas allows for the pigments to be layered, creating a depth of color that is not possible with watercolor paper.

Sizes and Versatility of Watercolor Canvas

Watercolor canvas is available in a variety of sizes, making it versatile for different kinds of art. Artists can use watercolor canvas either stretched or mounted onto board.

The versatility of watercolor canvas makes it a great option for mixed media art, where artists can combine different surfaces and textures to create unique compositions. Stretching watercolor canvas can be challenging, but once mastered, it provides a stable surface that can be hung or displayed without buckling or rippling.

Canvas boards and canvas pads are other options for artists who prefer a more convenient surface.

Lifting Ability and Convenience of Watercolor Canvas

Watercolor canvas also has an advantage in lifting ability. Watercolor artists who struggle with removing mistakes on watercolor paper can benefit greatly from using canvas.

The absorbency of watercolor canvas allows for the pigments to be lifted without damaging the surface. This makes it easier for artists to make changes to their compositions without starting from scratch.

Watercolor canvas is also convenient for artists who don’t want to deal with the tedious process of framing their art. Sealing the surface of the canvas is all that is needed to protect the painting, and artists can display their art by adding hanging hardware to the back of the canvas.

Durability and Considerations for Watercolor Canvas

One of the most significant advantages of watercolor canvas is its durability. Unlike watercolor paper, watercolor canvas does not become fragile over time.

However, there are some considerations that watercolor artists must take into account when using canvas. Canvas boards and canvas pads are more prone to warping and buckling compared to stretched canvas.

Artists must also be careful when transporting their canvases to prevent cracking or damaging the surface. It’s essential to store the canvas in a dry, cool area to prevent mold or mildew growth.

Preparing a Canvas for Watercolor

Before beginning a watercolor painting on canvas, artists must prepare the surface. There are two methods for preparing a canvas for watercolor: using watercolor ground or using gesso.

Watercolor ground is a specialized paint that prepares the canvas surface to receive watercolors. It creates a primed surface that prevents the pigment from sinking into the canvas.

Watercolor ground is easy to apply, and artists can use a brush or roller to apply it to the surface. Gesso is a traditional primer used by artists to prime the canvas surface.

It prepares the surface for the application of acrylics or oils, but it can also be used for watercolors. Gesso creates a barrier between the canvas and the watercolor pigments.

However, two coats of gesso are required to achieve a primed surface suitable for watercolors.


Watercolor painters have many advantages in using watercolor canvas. Its absorbency and durability make it an ideal surface for long-term storage, and its convenience, versatility, and lifting ability provide artists with a range of options and techniques.

By preparing the canvas surface with watercolor ground or gesso, artists can create a primed surface that prevents the pigments from seeping into the canvas. These are all factors to consider when choosing the right canvas for your next watercolor painting.

Watercolor Painting on Canvas Tutorial and Tips

Watercolor painting on canvas is a unique and versatile way to create art that allows artists to experiment with different techniques and styles. Weve already discussed the advantages and techniques of watercolor on canvas, but in this article, well go deeper and explore different painting techniques, how to adjust and fix mistakes, and how to protect and seal watercolor canvas art.

Painting Techniques and Experiments on Watercolor Canvas

Watercolor painting on canvas offers artists a range of options for experimenting and trying out new techniques. One of the techniques that artists experiment with is brushstrokes.

Using a variety of brushstrokes and techniques can create texture, depth, and interest in a painting. Tapping the brush to the surface creates small dots, while light strokes produce washes, and heavy strokes create impasto.

Another technique that watercolor artists can use on canvas is wet-on-wet painting. Wet-on-wet painting involves applying the wet color pigment to the wet canvas surface, creating a softer, blended effect.

This technique is useful for creating a dreamy or atmospheric effect in the painting. Finally, artists can also experiment with adding texture to their painting by using different materials on the canvas surface.

Artists can add salt, sugar, or plastic wrap to the wet pigment to create unique textures and patterns on the canvas.

Adjusting and Correcting Mistakes on Watercolor Canvas

Watercolor painting can sometimes be unpredictable, and mistakes can happen. The good news is that unlike on paper, watercolor artists can usually correct their mistakes on canvas.

One way to correct mistakes is to lift the pigment using a damp brush or sponge and a blotting motion. This technique works best if the color pigment is still wet.

For dried pigments, a little scrubbing with a damp brush can help lessen the intensity of the pigment. If the mistake cannot be corrected using the blotting or scrubbing technique, artists can try painting over the area.

However, the color pigment is likely to mix with the new color, creating a new color altogether, which may not be desirable.

Sealing and Protecting Watercolor Canvas Art

Once the painting is complete, artists must protect it. Watercolor artists can protect their paintings by using a UV-resistant acrylic spray sealant.

This type of sealant helps to protect the pigments from fading over time due to sunlight exposure. Artists should wait until the painting is completely dry before applying the sealant to avoid any risk of smudging or moisture damage.

Another way to protect the painting is by framing it behind glass, but this can be costly and can potentially take away from the natural beauty of the canvas texture. Another option is to use a clear, protective overlay attached directly to the canvas surface.

Its important to note that any sealant or overlay applied over the painting must be free of any solvents or harmful chemicals that could cause damage to the watercolor pigments.

Frequently Asked Questions about Watercolor on Canvas

Using Watercolor on Raw Canvas

One common question that watercolor artists often ask about painting on canvas is whether its possible to use watercolor on raw canvas. The answer is yes, but with a few caveats.

Watercolor paints applied to raw canvas are not absorbed as easily as on primed canvases. This creates a staining effect that requires the artist to use more paint to create the desired effect.

Raw canvas must also be sealed before applying watercolor paint to avoid excessive bleeding of the pigments.

Sketching on Watercolor Canvas

Artists often ask whether it is necessary to sketch or plan a layout before painting on watercolor canvas. The answer is that it depends on the individual artist’s style and preference.

Some artists prefer to start with a rough sketch to outline the composition, while others work spontaneously and freely on the canvas. Sketching can help the artist visualize and plan the composition, ensuring a more cohesive and balanced final result.

Using Mixed Media on Watercolor Canvas

Lastly, another FAQ is whether it’s possible to use mixed media with watercolor paints on canvas. The answer is yes, and this can result in some exciting and unique effects.

Watercolor artists can use ink, pastels, or other water-soluble materials to create mixed media art on watercolor canvas. However, it’s crucial to remember to seal or protect the canvas surface before applying other materials to avoid contamination or damage to the watercolor pigments.


Watercolor painting on canvas is an exciting and unique way to create art that offers artists a range of techniques and options to explore. From experimenting with brushstrokes and textures to correcting mistakes and protecting the final product, watercolor on canvas is a truly versatile medium.

By following these tips and answering frequently asked questions, artists can produce stunning works of art that reflect their style and creativity. In conclusion, watercolor painting on canvas offers artists a durable and versatile surface with unique advantages over traditional watercolor paper.

With its lower absorbency, watercolor canvas allows for control over techniques such as layering, washes, and glazing. The convenience of lifting mistakes and the ability to seal and protect the finished artwork make it a practical choice for artists.

By experimenting with different techniques, adjusting mistakes, and properly sealing the artwork, artists can create stunning watercolor paintings on canvas. The combination of creativity and the durability of watercolor canvas opens up a world of possibilities for artists to explore and create lasting works of art.

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