So I used a large (1 1/2 to 2 in) very soft natural brush. I started with the brush slightly damp as this helps to extend its life. I picked up a little gesso and made broad sweeps over the watercolour painting. I started from the outer edges and swept the brush towards the middle or towards my centre of interest. Some of the watercolour lifted off and stained my white gesso. This is OK! I liked the effect. If you get it on too thick or too opaque, just clean your brush (or use another damp clean brush) and wipe some of the gesso off. If you would prefer it to be not so white, you can add either watercolour paint or acrylic paint to the gesso to tint it slightly. I pressed plastic or newspaper over and around the boat house to rough up the smooth texture of the gesso.
After it was thoroughly dry, I went back into the painting with mixed media on top to outline or highlight some sections which I may have obscured too much (any of ink, charcoal, conté, crayon, pastel, coloured pencil will do). Notice I did this with the windows doors, balconies and steps in the Guanajuato piece. Four more examples follow from my plein aire paintings in Daramsala, India. Notice how the centres of interest really pop? I think all of them are less like a photo, are more mysterious (I haven’t clobbered you over the head with too much detail) and therefore they are more interesting and painterly.
The paintings below are inspired by a newspaper article on a Bangladesh flood showing two people escaping. Someone in the media captioned the photo, “Old Man Comforting His Wife”. What inspired me to paint them was the strength and determination in the woman while the man appears to cower beside her….who was comforting whom?
The second technique I used on this piece is a variation of the first. Here I splashed on flicks and puddles of clear water with my hand over my watercolour painting. Then I put my brush on its side almost parallel with the paper and introduced the gesso carefully into the puddles. I let it dry a bit, then pressed into the damp gesso with bubble wrap, grids, and flicks of paint.
Gesso With a Roller
In the final technique below, I wanted to obscure a collage piece of very realistic rocks with a sprig of flowers growing in the cleft between them. I had intended to paint over this piece completely and start again. I started using a damp sponge roller with a little gesso spread evenly on it. I liked the effect almost immediately so I stopped rolling and obscuring. after it was dry, I went back in to highlight the focus point with coloured pastels, and coloured inks. This painting works 4 ways.
The final piece was done the same way as above with the roller. This time I was obscuring a heavily textured painting.
Gesso is cheapest of the whites in your paintbox. It has calcium carbonate in it that not only makes it dry opaque, but gives it “tooth”. This allows you to use dry media to cling over top.
Gesso is the best white to use for the most opaque cover. Titanium is next in translucency and zinc white is the most translucent. Both of these will not accept dry media as well as gesso. It will slide off. Experiment with each of these paints and see which you prefer.
Let me know if you have enjoyed this mini-lecturette, found it useful and/or if you have any questions.