In an effort to try and make my larger paintings as texturally interesting as my smaller paper works, I looked at Golden's Fiber Paste to see if it might make a good large-scale ground.
I don't really like the idea of pasting normal paper onto canvas (kind of feels like doubling up on two very different items), and also I haven't found a large sheet of watercolour paper I particularly like painting on yet (I'm not so keen on Arches).
The fiber paste is not made of paper, either, so has better longevity and UV stability.
So, I decided to do a couple of fiber paste skins to see what the difference is. With these skins, you can use a palette knife and spread it out on a plastic page protector, and then peel it off once you're done.
It goes on like icing on a cake, which is a bit fiddly trying to get it smooth out of the pot. I did one version where I got it smooth with just the palette knife, and then a second one where I smoothed it further by dipping the knife in water and skimming the top. I then waited 24 hours for it to dry off completely.
To make this as much of a fair experiment as possible, I did all three at the same time, using the same consistency of fluid acrylics with the same time intervals between each layer.
The Strathmore paper I use is: Strathmore - Watercolour Paper - Cold Press - Series 500. I love the absorbency of this paper so much, it provides a nice amount of granulation and retention of brush strokes. It layers nicely and withstands a lot of acrylic paint. So I decided to use this as the benchmark.
I was pleasantly surprised by the fiber paste and how it performed. It was really like painting on paper. The rough version was VERY thirsty, and I had to reload the paintbrush more often than for both the paper and smooth versions. I also noticed it took slightly longer to dry, and therefore I had a few "bleeding" issues when it came to painting the palm trees over the sky. The rough version also seemed to suck more colour out of the white flowers I painted on top.
The fiber paste smooth was most like the Strathmore paper. It didn't granulate to the same extent, but was lovely to paint on. It had a similar sound of the brush dragging across it, and provided a good amount of resistance to pull the paint off the brush.
With this in mind, I decided to try out the smooth version on a canvas that I was wanting to paint over.
Time for the Canvas
When it came to adding the fiber paste to the canvas, it was relatively straightforward. However, I went through about half a pot of the fiber paste on a relatively small canvas (12 inches square). At this point I was thinking that this could get quite expensive and be time consuming if I decided to scale up to larger canvases.
The sides were really tricky to add the paste to, much like doing the sides of a cake with icing would be. As you can see, I managed to smooth the paste, but it ended up being quite uneven. I believe you can sand down the final version to get it smoother, or even fill in bits with more paste (although you'd have to wait another 24 hours to let it dry, before painting on it).
As you can see, the edges are pretty uneven, and I did eventually sand the corners so that they weren't pointy or sharp.
I treated the canvas in the same way that I would a normal paper painting. I did the outline in pencil, and then did thin layers of acrylic paint to get the colours I wanted. It looked amazing with lots of subtle detail in the paint while I was working on it, but as is the way with acrylic, it flattened out a lot once it was dry.
There were also some speckles in the original paste that appeared once it was dry (not sure if this was dust that had settled on it by being left near the window while drying). These bits were pretty impossible to cover with the paint, and so after a few layered attempts, I left them as is.
Below is the final painted image. As you can see there is quite a lot of texture through the painting, very reminiscent of handmade paper. I'm sure with practice, this could be refined ever further. It was nice to be able to work from light to dark, like you would do if you were using watercolours. It meant the yellows really popped, and the shadows were easy to add in over the top of lighter colours.
The downside is, as with paper, you have to be pretty confident of your final image, as painting over sections would gradually change the texture and the variation of colour.
Fiber paste vs. coloured ground
In the interests of fairness, I decided to do an (almost) identical one but by starting off on a coloured ground instead, without the fiber paste. Below are the two pictures side by side.
The colours are different on these two as the Nickel Azo Yellow I used was difficult to work with on top of the coloured ground - mainly because of its transparent nature. I would imagine if I wanted to get the yellowy-green to work, I would have to first of all paint the ground a much lighter (or white?) colour and then lay the yellow on top.
I really like the final result of both of these, and find it difficult to tell which is my favourite. I think the fiber paste version, although has a beautiful finish and is a similar process to paper, felt more like paint by numbers than the coloured ground one. There seemed to be less freedom available to layer up. However, having said that, the one on the coloured ground seemed to take longer in the painting process, as one coat of colour wasn't enough to get the right colour.
The fiber paste is definitely a win for being similar to watercolour paper, however, its long drying time and fiddly coating process might put me off using it as my default for larger sizes. It might be good to use it as skins, or for unusual shapes. And because it is flexible when dry, it could also be used to wrap round something, or coat on top of another object.