Combining Watercolour and Gesso: How to Fix a Failed Watercolour Painting

These techniques will help you to:
– simplify complex paintings,  focus on the centre of interest, layer/obscure with gesso and fix old watercolour “dogs”
Let’s talk first about one method – fading with gesso:
 Peggy's Cove, mixed media Guanajuato Calle
Early in my career, I painted a lot of landscapes and cityscapes. I was not discriminating and put in every detail from the scene just as if I were a camera and not an artist. So  imagine Peggy’s Cove above with every building, rock, blade of grass and boat painted in- all equally important.  It was hard to know where to look and though well done, I thought it was boring. The same can be said of the small alley in Guanajuato, Mexico above. I wanted to change them both. See below to find out how:

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.

Sacred Himalayas II, mixed mediaSacred Himalayas

Newpics27-10-06 donation to Salvaide Laos Village, 9 x 12 in, mixed media

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.

Giving Her Strength, mixed media

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.

Cleft, 24 x 28, mixed media flipped,sm Cleft, 24 x 28, mixed media,sm

The final piece was done the same way as above with the roller. This time I was obscuring a heavily textured painting.

Shore Fantasy, 22 x 15 in,mixed media,2009repaired

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.

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4 Responses to Combining Watercolour and Gesso: How to Fix a Failed Watercolour Painting

  1. Gail Knox says:

    Enjoyed reading this Shirley. Why don’t you write a blog entry on your trip to the Pontiac. You could get double bang for your buck if you put it in the newsletter and your blog.

    • Shirley Mancino says:

      Thanks for the suggestion Gail. This was my subject when I taught up in the Pontiac several weeks ago….so the blog serves both as a blog and my notes to the Art Residency folks who attended my session. I’ll take your suggestion for another double bang under advisement. You may see it in about 12 months. LOL or HA HA or whatever is current now!

  2. nora ritchie says:

    What a lovely effect, Shirley. Particularly love the piece with the green boat & the one with the rocking chair…

    Date: Thu, 13 Aug 2015 19:35:15 +0000 To:

    • Shirley Mancino says:

      Thank you Nora for the feedback…..I am sure not a consistent blogger but I
      hope I have something meaningful to say when I do decide to publish one.

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