I was very fortunate to have been given some big canvases. While discussing my experiments with watercolour on canvas, a friend said casually, that she had some big canvases she would never use and would I like them? Naturally, I bit her hand off. Show me an artist who says they have too many art materials and turns down a freebie and I will show you an artist who has lost their mojo.
Three large and sorry canvases duly arrived. Having been stored somewhere damp, they were a bit mildewed and a stretcher bar had snapped. However they were free! I picked the 100x100cm one as a starter, splinted its bar, washed off the mildew, primed the surface with the Daniel Smith semi absorbent ground and got stuck in.
So what have I learnt?
Drawing – I did a small composition sketch and decided that I had better use the squaring up method to draw it bigger – after all this is nine times bigger than I usually paint on paper! I am good at drawing big, but to get an accurate enlargement to this size, needs a bit of guidance.
Rubbing out – easier on paper than canvas. You need to be light on pencil marks and keep them to a minimum if you don’t want them to show in the final piece.
Priming – a big canvas takes a lot of primer and its easy to miss spots. Two coats would be better, if a) I was not so mean with my expensive materials b) not so impatient to get going.
Paint – it takes a lot of paint and a lot of water! Be generous.
Drying – watercolour is all about controlling the wetness of the edges of your wash. Therefore on this size piece you need to divide it into logical segments. You cannot paint the whole thing at once. You need to do a piece, say 20x20cm (I started top right eye and ear for example), then wait for it to dry before moving to the nose and onwards. It dries slowly – patience, patience, patience – aargh!
Physically this is big. With watercolour you paint flattish or at a slight angle. But with a big canvas you cannot reach the top corner when it is flat. I ended up painting on the table tennis table (sorry boys) and contorting myself, then moving to the floor. Final details could be painted with the canvas upright and me kneeling in front of it.
Stand back – this is big (sorry to repeat myself) and you cannot see the overall effect close up, or three feet back. I had to stand 15 feet away to see where I was going and what needed balancing.
Varnishing – do it outside, otherwise you end up light headed and it cannot do your lungs any good!
Backing – I learnt that a sheet of hardboard does not easily fit into a family car! I learnt that the very nice man at the DIY store was very nice…..
Will I be doing another one this size? Just try and stop me. I am thinking of a flock of parrots or parakeets – we have some feral ones around here. And then we are off to Portugal, so hoping to see flamingos in the wild…..
Will post a decent photo of the finish painting once it stops raining long enough for me to take one – ah, the English summer….