Finding the Right Materials

One reason I started my November daily challenge (#20brushstrokes30days) was to try out some ideas I had for semi-abstract landscape paintings.

small abstract landscapes on paper with limited brush strokes
A few examples of the small abstract pieces from my limited brush stokes challenge

In conjunction with this challenge, I created a dozen or so larger and more in-depth studies for a new landscape series that has been brewing in my mind.

The studies were mostly created on watercolor paper using gouache, water soluble pastels, and graphite and charcoal pencils.

Rachel Petruccillo, gouache study of Sally Gap, Wicklow Mountains, Ireland, 2019
Study inspired by the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland

The materials (and often a good amount of water) used on paper allow produced results that I've found hard to achieve on surfaces like canvas or wood panels.

I was pleased with the direction of the studies. There's a looseness that I've been struggling to achieve and I also feel that through these studies, I've begun to communicate something about the feel of a place.

Rachel Petruccillo, gouache study of Sally Gap, Wicklow Mountains, Ireland, 2019
Another study inspired by the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland

The challenge then was how to take what I'd achieved with the small studies and translate it to another substrate – preferably one that can be framed or hung without glass. I prefer using wood panels for the firmness and I don't really like the texture of canvas.

I suppose I could have started using watered down paint on panels primed with gesso but I'm concerned about the longevity of pieces made that way.

Although I am not at a stage where I feel the need to be worried about my work surviving a hundred years, I do not want it deteriorating on a collector's wall in my lifetime. I try to be conscious of the materials I use and how I use them.

If I'm working on non-porous surfaces (I.e. primed canvas or panels), I don't water down acrylic paint because water affects the ability of those little plastic molecules to hold together. The result could be paint that peels and flakes off the panel.

So, how can I achieve the loose and free qualities of my studies on wood panel?

I've experimented with acrylic medium that helps acrylic paint flow more easily but I have not yet been pleased with the results. I've also mounted some paper pieces on wood panels which I find a good solution but I still wanted to paint directly on panel.

Sometimes, the universe presents us with exactly what we need.

An artist I follow on Instagram, @pamelajbates, posted that she was often trying to achieve the qualities of pieces in her sketchbook on other substrates. She shared that a few other artists suggested trying a watercolor ground.

Watercolor ground can be applied to a myriad of surfaces (wood, metal, glass, etc). Once it's dry, it will accept water media such as watercolor, gouache, and even diluted acrylic paint.

I didn't even wait for Pamela's results, I ordered it right away.

Trying Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground on Da Vinci Wood Panels
Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground

I painted it on my wood panels in a single layer. It is thick like gesso but has a dry, chalky quality. It dries fast but it does need to cure for at least 24 hours. The surface can be sanded smooth to remove all brush strokes if desired. I left mine slightly rough.

I've started the new series on panels (primed with the watercolor ground) using the same materials I applied for the paper studies – gouache, water-soluble pastels, and charcoal pencils. It is almost like working on paper and the results have been exciting. The wonderful thing is that it doesn't warp like even good quality watercolor paper tends to do.

Painting on watercolor ground with gouache
First layer of gouache on wood panel coated with watercolor ground.

I have a lot of work to do on the series but I am pleased with this new direction and will probably be ordering most watercolor ground soon since the little pot is already half empty!

What materials have you found that helped take your art to a new level?

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