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One of my art co-ops decided to have us all work on a large panel, cut into individual pieces that form a puzzle. Each of us was given a gesso covered birch panel to paint. I thought about painting on paper and gluing that to the panel, just trimming off the excess. But then I decided it would be a great chance to try watercolour ground.
Watercolour ground is an acrylic medium that can be applied to a variety of surfaces, in order to make them more absorbent so that they will work with water media like acrylic and traditional gouache. So I bought some ground (QOR brand) and applied it to my panel with a foam roller (hoping this would give me a nice even surface).
One coat of ground was too thin and showed the gesso brush strokes. Two coats was very smooth, like a hot press paper, even though this is said to be a cold press ground. Three coats was very rough, rougher than cold press or even rough watercolour paper. When wet, the ground smelled vaguely like cat pee. Still, one must press on.
I found the ground still absorbed poorly. It felt like working on cheap paper. It took several coats of paint to build up any saturated colour, and it still looked bland. It does work - I was able to use ordinary, professional grade watercolours to paint on the surface - but I was not especially thrilled with the results.
At the end of the day, the panel is going to be varnished with Golden spray varnish to keep the surface intact. I am hoping that this will make the colours look more saturated. My final assessment: not my first choice for a watercolour painting, but perhaps useful in some mixed media applications in the future.
For more reading on watercolour grounds, here's a good article online: https://www.jacksonsart.com/blog/2020/02/18/watercolour-grounds-painting-with-watercolour-on-canvas/