Watercolor Canvas Art

Can You Use Watercolor on Canvas? – Watercolor Canvas Art

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Canvases are the holy grail of surfaces when it comes to painting art. Canvas is made from a highly durable, tightly woven fabric that can be stretched out into the perfect substrate for painting. The best part is that almost any kind of paint would be suitable for use on a canvas, provided that the surface is prepared correctly. If you are fond of working with watercolors, you might want to know whether or not this paint works on canvases. The good news is that you actually can use watercolor paints on canvases. However, there is a caveat. Canvases need to be properly prepared in order for them to be painted with watercolors. In this article, we are going to cover how to paint canvases using watercolors.



Can You Use Watercolor on Canvas?

Yes, you can use watercolor paints on canvas surfaces. However, you will first need to ensure that the surface of your canvas has been properly prepared to accept watercolor paints. This would involve applying a suitable primer to the surface of your canvas before you begin painting. In this article, we will discuss watercolor canvas painting and the various processes involved in the art style, such as the process through which canvases can be prepared for the acceptance of watercolor pigments.

Watercolor Paints on Canvas



Preparing Your Canvas

An essential step in watercolor painting on canvas is the preparation of the surface. By doing so, you will ensure that the paint adheres effectively to the surface of your canvas. Unlike traditional painting mediums such as oil-based paint, where the canvas would be coated with gesso or primer beforehand, there is a different preparation process involved in readying a canvas for watercolor painting.

This step should not be avoided as it ensures that the watercolor paint will adhere to your canvas and not bleed. In this section, we will be covering the different types of canvases at your disposal and how to properly stretch and prime your canvas for watercolor painting.


Types of Canvases

Canvas is one of the most popular surfaces among paint artists on account of its versatility and durability. You will find a wide variety of canvas types available for purchase at most arts and crafts stores, each of which comes with its own uses and sets of characteristics. When it comes to watercolor painting, the three most common types of canvases one would find themselves working with are cotton, linen, and synthetic. Cotton canvases are the most popular choice among beginners and intermediates on account of their versatility and cost-effectiveness. The material is lightweight and easy to stretch and prime, which is what makes it ideal for painting with watercolors.

Linen canvases, however, are the pricier option. But with that extra cost, it comes with superior strength and durability. Compared to cotton canvases, linen is less prone to warping. This makes it the more suitable option for larger paintings.

Watercolor on Gesso

Nylon and polyester are some of the most common types of synthetic canvases on the market. These non-absorbent materials are part of a more contemporary development in the art world and are another suitable option for watercolor painting. These synthetic materials are more resistant to warping and stretching, which means they are similar to linen canvases in their suitability for larger paintings.

For watercolor painting, you are encouraged to get a 100% cotton and acid-free canvas. High-end, super-absorbent surfaces are ideal for watercolors. 100% cotton canvases do not just fit the bill for this but are also durable enough to not degrade too fast over time.


Stretching Your Canvas

After acquiring the canvas most suitable for your painting, you might need to stretch it properly before you can begin painting. This is a process of tightening your canvas over its frame so that the surface remains taught and is free of wrinkles or bumps. Stretching is a crucial part of preparing canvas for watercolor as it readies a smooth surface that will not adversely affect the quality of the painting. However, If your canvas has been pre-stretched for you, you can skip this step.

In order to stretch a canvas, you are going to need stretcher bars, which can be purchased from art stores in a variety of sizes. Of course, you should purchase whichever stretcher bars are suitable for the size of your canvas.

Different Watercolor Canvas Art

You may begin stretching your canvas by placing it face down on a clean surface before placing your stretcher bars around the edges. The bars need to remain flush against the canvas. Beginning at one end, you can use a staple gun to attach the stretcher bars to the canvas, pulling the canvas taut as you proceed. You can continue to staple along all the sides of the canvas until it has been completely stretched. Using scissors, you can then trim away any excess canvas.


Preparing Canvas for Watercolor

Once you have stretched your canvas, the next thing you must do is ensure that the surface is suitably primed for the use of watercolor paints on canvas. It is important that your surfaces are properly primed before being painted with watercolors to prevent the paint from bleeding or not adhering. If your surface is not properly primed, the quality of your workpiece will be marred.

To prime your canvas, you could get away with using a gesso primer, which is a product that is available at most art supply stores. However, as we will get into shortly, there are a number of options for preparing your canvas.

Regardless of what you choose to use as your primer, you must apply it to your canvas using a large brush, working in long, even strokes. Be sure to cover the entire canvas, including the edges. You should always give your primer enough time to dry entirely before you add an additional coat on top. After your second coat of primer has dried, you may then lightly sand the surface using fine-grit sandpaper to produce a smooth surface upon which to paint. If you are going to use watercolor paints on canvas surfaces, the surfaces you will be painting on need to be absorbent in nature. If your canvas is not absorbent, it can be made as such by using certain techniques. In fact, the bare definition of a watercolor canvas is a canvas whose surface has been specially prepared to accept the high volume of water in watercolor paint. So, what options do you have?

How to Prepare a Canvas for Watercolor

If you are going to work with watercolor paints on canvas, there are essentially two options for you to choose from. Firstly, you could take advantage of the availability of ready-to-paint watercolor canvases. Secondly, if you would prefer a more DIY or cost-effective option, you could get a standard canvas and prime it yourself using a material called watercolor ground. Properly preparing your canvas is the first step toward achieving a successful watercolor painting.

Picking the right type of canvas, stretching it properly, and priming it with gesso also ensures that the paint adheres properly and does not bleed. By following these steps, you will find yourself on the right track toward creating beautiful watercolor canvas art.


Watercolor-Ready Canvases

​These sorts of canvases are a contemporary invention and one that comes in handy when making watercolor canvas art. The thing about these canvases that makes them earn their namesake is that they come pre-primed with a layer of unique gesso that bonds well with watercolor paints. The tooth of these canvases is comparable to that which one would expect of normal canvases. The texture, however, is finer, which makes it easier to apply your watercolor paint.

It can make your life a whole lot easier by purchasing a watercolor-ready canvas as it cuts down on time. These canvases, however, might be harder to come by or cost more.


Watercolor Ground

If you will not be working on a canvas that has been pre-primed specifically for watercolors, you will need to prime the surface yourself. Fortunately, this is not hard to do. There are a few things you could do to manually prepare the surface of a normal canvas to make it suitable for watercolor painting. Whichever method you use, the intended outcome will always be the same, which is to make the surface of the canvas more absorbent. If you are using the most typical form of an artist’s canvas, you can apply several coats of watercolor ground, also known as watercolor gesso. You will have a much easier time painting watercolor on gesso and the end results will look much nicer too.

Preparing Canvas for Watercolor

Watercolor ground comes in a liquid form and its special ability is to make any surface more absorbent and thus more suitable for being painted with watercolors. This formula for painting watercolor on gesso can be used on more than just canvases. Metal, wood, and stone are just a few examples of the many other surfaces that watercolor ground can be used for. The texture of the surface it generates can be compared to satin.



Choosing Your Paints

If you want to produce a watercolor painting on canvas material, the type of watercolor paints you choose will have a major impact on the results of the painting. Thus, knowing what paints will work the best for what your wish to achieve is crucial. Picking the appropriate paints is an essential step in working with watercolor on canvas board. You must consider the type of paint that you need and browse among reputable brands for the colors you wish to work with.

By acquiring the right watercolor paints, you will be heading in the right direction toward producing beautiful artwork. In this section, we will go over the different types of watercolor paints available and how to pick the best ones for your painting.


Types of Watercolor Paints

Watercolor paints are available in a variety of forms, including pans, tubes, and liquids. The most common formats in which watercolor paints are sold are in tubes and pans. Although less common, liquid watercolors are excellent at creating washes and covering large areas with color. If you want to work with large quantities of paint, tubes are a great choice. They are a great option for artworks of any size, however, because their sizes range from small to large across a broad spectrum. Artists who prefer to mix their own colors may favor tubes since they allow for more precise mixing.

If you only plan on working with a small amount of paint, you may prefer to work with pans. They are available in a wide variety of sizes, though they are most commonly sold in smaller quantities. Pans can be easily swapped out, which makes them great for artists who enjoy working with a limited palette.

Watercolor Painting on Canvas

Then, you have liquid watercolors, which are a good option if you wish to cover large areas of the canvas fast. When it comes to producing washes and backgrounds with watercolor on canvas board, look no further than liquid watercolors. They are often sold in bottles that one can easily dilute with water until the desired color intensity is achieved.


Choosing the Right Colors

In order to achieve whichever effect you desire, you must ensure that you select the correct set of watercolors to work with. The exact colors that you choose to work with will be dependent on the subject matter of your painting and should reflect the mood and atmosphere that you wish to portray. If you want to make sure that you are picking the correct colors for your intended watercolor artwork, having some understanding of color theory could be of help. Complementary colors are a decent example of a palette one could use to create striking contrasts. Complementary colors can be found on opposite sides from each other on the color wheel and are the colors that produce the most contrast when paired together.

The pairing of complementary colors is a simple yet effective means to make your artwork more eye-catching. The intensity of the colors you are using is equally as important to consider. Low-intensity colors will appear subdued and muted, whereas high-intensity colors will be bright and bold. You can pair high and low-intensity colors together to create a composition that is both dynamic and balanced.

How to Paint Watercolors on Gesso

Another thing worth considering is the opacity and transparency of your colors, especially when working with watercolor paints. You would most typically use transparent colors to create washes and layering. Opaque colors, on the other hand, are more suited for creating solid shapes and for covering up mistakes.



How to Apply Watercolor Paint on Canvas

Transparency and fluidity are both key characteristics of watercolor painting. When working with watercolors on canvases, however, it may prove more challenging to achieve these qualities. This is because canvases tend to have more texture across their surfaces as opposed to watercolor paper.

In this section, we will help you learn some basic techniques for watercolor painting on canvases.


Preparing the Surface

As we have discussed prior, it is essential that you first prepare your surface before painting. Unless you have a canvas that has been pre-primed for watercolor painting, your first step will always be to prime the canvas to create a smoother painting and to prevent your colors from bleeding. After your primer has dried, you may lightly sand its surface with fine-grit sandpaper until a smooth surface has been generated. The benefit of this is that the surface you are painting on will not only be easier to work with but will also serve to prevent paint from soaking into the canvas, which keeps the colors of your painting vibrant and bright.

Learn How to Prepare Your Canvas for Watercolor


Layering and Building Up Color

Watercolor paint tends to dry rather quickly on canvas surfaces, which makes this style of painting quite challenging for beginners and veterans alike. The best way to circumvent any issues caused by this, working quickly and efficiently is paramount. You must work fast enough to layer your paint and build up the color and depth that you desire. For starters, you can give your canvas a light wash of color.

You can then gradually begin to build up more layers of paint to generate depth and intensity. Each and every layer must always dry before the next one is added to prevent colors from bleeding into each other.


Blending and Mixing Colors

Mixing and blending colors to create a wider variety of tones and shades is a big aspect of watercolor painting. In order to achieve this on canvas, however, one needs to work fast and allow colors to blend with one another while still wet. If you want to blend colors, you begin by painting down one color before quickly adding a second, which can be blended directly into the first. A damp brush should be used for this blending process to produce a smoother transition. Another way to produce different colors is by mixing colors on a palette and applying them to the canvas from there. If you do things this way, you are encouraged to experiment with a variety of combinations until you find the exact color you are looking for.

Can You Use Watercolor on a Canvas Board


Dry Brush Technique

This is a technique that involves the use of a dry paintbrush to produce depth and texture in a painting. If you would like to make use of this technique, you will have to dip your brush into the paint before dabbing off most of the paint on a paper towel. You would then have to drag the brush along the surface of your canvas with a very light touch.

The surface that this technique produces is textured in a way that can spawn better intrigue and depth in your work.


Lifting Color

As we have covered prior, transparency is a hallmark of watercolor paints.  This means that mistakes in a watercolor paint job will be more easily visible than in most other types of paint. If you need to remove an unwanted color or correct a mistake in your watercolor painting, you could make use of the uplifting technique. If you would like to lift watercolor paint from your canvas, you should wet a clean brush that you may then use to gently blot the area where you want the color to be removed from. The gentler you blot the area, the better because rubbing too aggressively can easily damage the canvas’s surface.

Watercolor on Canvas Board



Pros and Cons of Using Watercolors on Canvases

Overall, there are numerous unique benefits to using watercolor paints on canvases. For instance, they are good for the creation of texture. Nevertheless, the medium does present its fair share of challenges. For example, blending colors can be a difficult task due to the absorbency of the canvas and the fast drying times of the paint. If you are deciding to make the jump from watercolor paper to canvases, it is worthwhile getting familiar with the pros and cons. To make things easier for you, we have listed them here.


  • Allows for a unique texture not possible with watercolor paper
  • Creates a more permanent artwork
  • Allows for the layering of color and building up of depth
  • Provides the opportunity to experiment with different techniques, such as dry brushing
  • Offers the chance to create larger artworks


  • Canvas can be more absorbent than watercolor paper, which can cause the paint to bleed and create less crisp lines
  • Canvas can be more expensive than watercolor paper
  • The paint tends to dry more quickly on canvas, making it harder to blend colors
  • Canvas has a texture that can be difficult to work with, especially for beginners
  • Lifting color can be more difficult on canvas


So, can you use watercolor on canvas? Yes, you most definitely can. However, as we have covered, it is crucial that the surface of your canvas is properly primed beforehand to prevent bleeding and to have a smooth surface to work on for the paint to adhere to properly. You should also pick the right paints and properly apply them to your canvas. We hope that we have assisted in enlightening your understanding of watercolor paints and how to use them on canvases. Lastly, we wish you the best of luck in your future art projects!




Frequently Asked Questions


Can You Use Watercolor on Canvas?

Yes, you can use watercolor paints on canvas surfaces. However, you will first need to ensure that the surface of your canvas has been properly prepared to accept watercolor paints. This would involve applying a suitable primer to the surface of your canvas before you begin painting.


What Are the Benefits of Using Watercolor on Canvas?

Using watercolor paints on canvases allows you to create a unique texture that would not be possible to produce on watercolor paper. The artwork it creates is also a lot more permanent. Using watercolor paints con canvases also allows for the layering of color and the build-up of depth. The medium grants artists the opportunity to experiment with a variety of different techniques, including dry brushing.

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