Striving for Imperfection . . .

As “sunny” as it is, this little painting made me mad.

I got over it, but still.

The reason it made me mad has to do with a story that would be interesting if you found the crazy artist process interesting. Do you? OK, then . . .

I have been a watercolor painter all my life.

I have wanted to paint on canvas all my life.

Those two things do not go together. You just don’t use watercolor on canvas. It beads up, it washes off, it needs protection from UV and moisture. It just ain’t done. Blah blah blah.

First, I tried to convince myself to use other media on canvas to see if I could get happy: acrylics, oils, waterbased oils, inktense pencils, which worked well but did not have the feel of “painting” which I love. Most recently, I have been working with Holbein Acrylic Gouache, which has been the most satisfying thing so far, but it is opaque, and is more like acrylic or oil than watercolor.

But I LOVE watercolor.

I have tried coating the canvas with all kinds of things and adding all kinds of other things to the watercolor paint itself. All kinds of witch’s brews and magic potions. Yes, I have tried watercolor canvas and really did not like it for a variety of reasons.

I have stacked up (literally) a  _ _ _ _ load of blank canvases in my studio. If I had that fear of the blank canvas thing that some others have, I would be too scared to go in there at all.

I want to use those canvases up. I want more space for my glass.

And MEANWHILE . . . I have noticed over the past year or so that my painting has gotten into my sketch journals – iwatercolor of course. I might work on a page or spread for days getting it just right. Those pages are no longer “sketches”. They are paintings – locked up in a book.

And lately, I feel that my actual “sketches” and simple drawings want to escape the journals and get out into the world to have some fun.

So I decided to try something I will call my “canvas sketchbook”.

I could fill all those blank canvases with ink and watercolor sketches as if they were my sketchbook pages, but they could hang on a wall. And be in the gallery!

“I’m going to loosen up,” I yelled to Mark.

“It’s still watercolor on canvas,” he said, and I tightened up again.

But determination reigns supreme.

After two entire days of non-stop experimentation, and due patly to the honey in my new favorite watercolors (M. Graham), I came up with something satisfactory. Honey is sticky, you know, and it doesn’t hate gesso as much as other watercolors.

But there were still big problems to solve . . . like waterproof ink is not waterproof unless it can sink into a surface, for one thing. And if you seal the ink drawing with anything, the watercolor REALLY won’t stick.

I just kept experimenting until I came up with a ridiculously elaborate way to do “simple” ink and watercolor sketches on canvas, having to do with layering varnishes and washing the drawing off a couple of times . . . and so on.


“NOW, I’m going to loosen up,” I yelled to Mark.

So I grabbed one of the smallest canvases and drew a simple sunflower.

And I grabbed my watercolors to throw on some color.

After awhile, I realized I was “painting” my sunflower, not sketching, not loose, not the imperfect look I was after.

Just look at all these brushstrokes!

sunflowerdetailMaking those with watercolor on canvas is pretty tricky, but is this loose and sketchy?


That’s when I got mad.

“What is wrong with me?!” I yelled to Mark. His answers (yes plural) shall go unreported.

I had to get out of “perfect” mode.

So I tried another one, this time with a “no brushstrokes” rule in place. (Who said there are no rules in art? Ha!)


Much closer to what I had in mind.

“That’s better,” said my dear husband. “It’s cute.”

My response to that “cute” word shall remain unreported.

But no brushstrokes, and it looks more like a watercolor sketch . . .

3flowerdetailSo I am happily on my way to loose and imperfect. Who knows where this may lead?

News & Stuff

Just as it did last year, my sketch journal retreat in Tubac (Arizona) has filled without ever going public. (DATES: March 23-27, 2015)

Well . . . almost filled. What we have left at this moment is one room at the B&B, the Tubac Country Inn. It is the biggest and nicest with a full kitchen and separate sleeping for two folks – one queen bed in the room and one bedroom with a door. The room is 1100 square feet! Our reduced rate is $150

So, if you or you and a friend have an interest in joining us, please email me for more details at


13 thoughts on “Striving for Imperfection . . .

  1. Alcina Nolley


    y,know what’s keeping the paintings from looking like watercolors?
    The lines…..

    The golden watercolor ground works too. But as long as you put a line around everything, they wo ‘t look like watercolors.

  2. jessica Post author

    Hi Gals,

    Believe me, I have had MANY go arounds with absorbent ground, and it is not the answer for me. Feels more like painting on sand and the flow is not even like anything I am happy with for my style.

    Also, I want these to be *ink* and watercolor sketches which is why there are lines. I am not going for the traditional;, impressionistic watercolor look. I am really trying for my own ink and color sketches to work on canvas.

    I think I have my answers – just need practice letting go of control a little more.

  3. Terri

    Daniel Smith came out with a new watercolor ground not terribly long ago and it is suppose to be much different than other grounds, for what it is worth.

  4. Jocelyn

    In another life when I was painting a lot, I used acrylics for everything. When I wanted a watercolour look, after a bit of experimenting, I used very thin washes of paint with good results. It was a long time ago and I wouldn’t be surprised if a medium has been developed which enables you to use water colours on canvas.

  5. jessica Post author

    Hi Terri _ I have not tried that one and I may. I might have actually bought some – where would it be? Oh my.

    Jocelyn – I think there are many good things about acrylics but my major issue is with brush marks – so hard to eradicate – and I don’t mean the intentional ones. I have never loved an acrylic wash I created for that reason.

    I have this urge to start adding words or titles to these sketches – right on the canvas. That’s an unusual thing in the gallery world – not unheard of, but unusual. The ink drawing idea would work well with that.

    What fun, everyone!! Who doesn’t love to explore!?!

  6. Jerrie

    Geeze Jess!!!!!
    All you gotta do is send some canvas yardage to get a layer of your magical “Sheer Heaven” sprayed on it…
    Hmmmm, another business adventure for you?

  7. Anne Harris

    I enjoyed reading this and like the look….lines or no lines….I just like the look. It’s interesting and fun to look at.

  8. jessica Post author

    Thanks, Ann – I like the look too. Many moons ago. I used to sell ink drawings with partial color on the streets of San Francisco. Being a “street artist” was a big thing back then.

    Hey, Jerrie – if only Sheer Heaven were a spray!! Unfortunately, you can’t really etch canvas and that is what we would have to do.

  9. Diana in Texas

    Keep Calm and experiment on ! You always work out a successful solution, Jessica. Can’t wait to see what it is. Merry Christmas.

  10. Jeanne from Austin

    Oh, I find your “crazy artist process” not just interesting, jessica, but fascinating! You are a scientist working with art supplies the same way others work with medicines or stem cells or cake recipes. I love reading about how you experiment and keep reaching. Thanks for taking us along for the ride!

  11. Hermineh Miller

    Have you thought to work with your non-dominant hand? Some of my left-handed calligraphy students choose to work right-handed. Though wobbly at first their letters are often better than right-handers after 9 weeks of work. No bad habits in the non-dominant hand.

    Working cross-handed might help free up your “good” hand, give you a better feel for more looseness.

    Namaste, Hermineh Miller

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