Fredrix Watercolor Canvas

I enjoy painting on canvas with oils. I’ve been wanting to try gouache on canvas. (I want to try gouache on everything. It washes of faces and gesso but stains clothing. Go figure.)

So I tried gouache on canvas. It failed miserably. In general, canvas is primed with acrylic-based gesso, making it ideal for oils, but gouache simply won’t stick to it. It literally washes completely off.

So you can imagine my thrill when I saw Fredrix Watercolor Canvas, which is primed with something-or-other specifically designed for water-based paints. Finally! A canvas that will take gouache!

Except, not really.

I’ve found that one of the critical differences between gouache and watercolor is the thickness of application. Watercolor can be used thickly, but for the most part, people water it down quite a bit and use washes and layers. Gouache can be used this way too, but the washes rarely turn out as smooth, and layering without lifting requires finesse. Gouache is more suited to thicker, opaque application. Unfortunately, this canvas is great for washes and horrible for thick application.

I’m not sure what it is about the absorptive qualities of the cotton canvas + special gesso combination, but washes sink in, whereas thick paint does not. It sits on top and will come off with even the small amount of moisture on your (seemingly) dry finger. I learned this after I painted the sky of The Witch and rested my hand on it to work on the trees. There were little finger whorls all over the sky and bits of white canvas showing through. It had to be repainted.

If I had taken the time to read the label on the canvas, I would have seen that one of its virtues is “superb lifting ability for easy washes and corrections.” Layering, therefore, is nearly impossible, especially with thick paint. The first thick layer is fine, but once the canvas gets wet, forget it… everything lifts right off. Reworking can only be done after everything is completely dry, and even then it’s a tricky operation. I don’t have the patience for it.

I was able to use fixative spray on it after I finished, and the canvas took it wonderfully. No changes to the finish or colors. However, even with several coats of spray, the gouache will lift off with water. At least it was safe from my fingers at that point!

It is durable and doesn’t buckle. That was nice.

So… this canvas will work with gouache, but in a limited capacity. Washes work, and if you want a messy, textured painting. I simply chose the wrong support for this detailed painting. I estimate it took me twice as long to paint than if I had used illustration board.

Today’s lesson: test your medium+support combinations on small projects before you have only a week left before the painting has to be done.

Duh, right? *sigh*

2 thoughts on “Fredrix Watercolor Canvas”

  1. Trying something new without testing it is totally something I would do. I’m glad to know this doesn’t work so well, I layer my gouache quite a lot. I recently saw a product called Claybord at an art store that said it would work for watercolor and gouache. It was beautiful stuff and was mounted so it didn’t need to be framed, which is something I’m tired of doing, but it was pretty expensive and I just don’t know how it will work.

  2. Lesley, I have a lot of experience with gouache the different types of Claybord. Check out my “gouache” tagged blog entries and you’ll find my reviews. Basically, the textured types of Claybord work well, but avoid smooth Claybord and Gessobord. Gouache will wash right off those two. Aquabord and Pastelbord are fabulous! I recommend trying the little 4×4 Aquabord squares or the 5×7 3-packs of Pastelbord, to do little tests.

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