Using Golden Fiber Paste Medium as a ground for watercolor

One of the downsides of working on paper is that the the work needs to be protected both from moisture and bright sunlight. This usually means matting and framing watercolors under glass. This adds an additional expense, and the way the work is matted and framed is subject to the taste of the person framing the work. Framed artwork can seem more traditional, which may not appeal to people who collect contemporary artwork.

Recently I have been experimenting with alternative techniques and materials that will allow me to use the watercolor medium I love, but also leave the work unframed, without sacrificing a moisture seal and UVA/UVB protection.

Golden Artist Colors has several grounds that work well with watercolor: Golden Light Dimensional Ground and Absorbent Ground (also called Cold Press Ground as part of their QOR watercolor line). I have used both products successfully with watercolor, but I like Golden Fiber Paste more as a ground for watercolor.

Golden Fiber Paste is an acrylic medium that can be used to add texture or as a ground for acrylics, watercolor and many other media. I use it as a ground on stretched canvas, canvas boards, hard boards or cradled panels. Once the paste dries I usually sketch my design in pencil then use watercolor as usual. Painting on the Fiber Paste ground feels very much like painting on textured WC paper and receives the paint well. The material has good "liftability" and a beautiful texture. The ground allows for a variety of painting styles and holds detail very well.

Here is how I prepare the boards/canvas for painting with watercolor:

1. Choose the canvas, board or other surface you would like to paint on. The Fiber Paste can be applied to porous or nonporous materials including metal, glass and plastic. Make sure the surface is clean and dry. Smooth surfaces can be roughed with sandpaper for better adherence.


2. Using a palette knife, apply a thin layer (about 1/8”), and spread to even out the surface. It’s very much like frosting a cake. I usually do the front surface first, let it dry, then do the edges.

You can control how rough the texture is. If you want a smoother texture, either smooth with wet palette knife. You can also fill holes by adding a thin second layer after the first has dried.

You can control how rough the texture is. If you want a smoother texture, either smooth with wet palette knife. You can also fill holes by adding a thin second layer after the first has dried.

3. Use the edge of the palette knife to smooth the front surface edges.
You can make a smoother surface by skimming a wet palette knife over the top.


4. Let the canvas dry completely before painting. You can also add a second coat to smooth out any rough spots or divots. The dry fiber paste can be sanded, carved or scraped.

5. Paint away!

The Fiber Paste texture is fabulous for this wrinkly pachyderm!

The Fiber Paste texture is fabulous for this wrinkly pachyderm!

6. Protect your finished painting by spraying 4-5 light coats of Golden Archival Spray - Gloss, letting each coat dry in between spraying. Use the spray outdoors and with a mask as you don’t want to inhale it.

7. If you want a matte or satin finish, after the last coat of gloss spray dries, follow with one or two coats of matte or satin to get the desired finish. If you use matte or satin for all the coats, it will dull the painting, because the matte and satin spray has ground oyster shell in it… so using multiple layers of gloss first is best.

Once the piece is dry, it's ready to hang!

Marabu Product Test - Fun mixed media art supplies from Marabu

In preparation for my recent Alternative Materials in Watercolor and Mixed Media workshop, I had the opportunity to test some great products from Marabu, a company that makes a broad array of art and craft supplies.

In this project, I used three Marabu products:
Acryl Mousse and Acryl Mousse Pastel – An acrylic-based ground for pastels, water media and mixed media
Art Spray – Vibrant, fluid, sprayable acrylic paint
Art Crayons – Water-soluble wax-based crayon
I used Arches cold press watercolor block for my painting, but any heavy paper would work.

I thought it would be interesting to use a stencil to mask out areas (particularly when using the spray) so I used one I happened to have on hand, but you can easily make your own, or block out areas with tape or frisket film. I first made some sketches and notes to plan my painting. I covered my workspace with plastic (I used old plastic bags).

1. I taped down the stencil and used Art Spray to create my background. I sprayed horizontal bands of paint across the paper, starting at the top and working my way down, I overlapped the colors slightly so they blended together. I started with black, then blue, then pink, then yellow.

Stencil taped down and ready to go

Stencil taped down and ready to go

I knew I would paint some trees in the background in the right side, but I decided to remove the stencil before painting that side so that the tree trunk would also have a bit of green undertones in it. I was so excited about my results I forgot to take pictures while I was spraying! Sorry about that!

Here is the resulting background with the stencil removed:


TIPS: For a more even coating, prime the sprayer by spraying into a bag or onto newsprint to clear the nozzle. That will reduce the larger splash marks (like the ones you see in the image above), and give a more even coating. I blotted the extra paint off the stencil with a paper towel so it wouldn’t drip as I removed it. Then I blow-dried the artwork on the lowest setting until dry.

3. I wanted to give my tree a textured bark, so I decided to try using Acryl Mousse, a white, textured paste that is ideal as a ground for pastel, drawing, acrylic and watercolor. It has a very find, sandy texture and is the consistency of cake frosting. I applied Acryl Mousse to the paper with a spatula, then used a palette knife to create texture.


Marabu Acryl Mousse

Applying Acryl Mousse with a spatula

Applying Acryl Mousse with a spatula

Acryl Mousse spread with palette knife to create bark texture. Notice I let some of the green show through.

Acryl Mousse spread with palette knife to create bark texture. Notice I let some of the green show through.

4. I added lavender Acryl Mousse Pastel with my skanky old palette knife to create shadows on the bark. It is identical to Acryl Mousse but has pigment added:

Acryl Mousse Pastel

Acryl Mousse Pastel

Texture and shadows added with palette knife

Texture and shadows added with palette knife

5. When the painting was dry (again I used a blow dryer to speed the process), I used black and brown Art Crayons to add some shadows and more texture to the bark.


6. After applying the crayon, I used a wet brush to create washes and soften the texture.


7. Then I added some trees on the right side of the painting and a horizon line with some distant trees on the left side of the painting, then used water to create washes and soften the lines.


8. I wanted to use some silver Art Spray to make the sky look snowy to finish the painting. I taped the stencil back in place, and sprayed the top half of the painting, plus a light spritz on the right side.

Here is the final piece with some detail images:


Total time (including drying time, using blow-dryer): 1.5 hours

Since this is the first time I used these products, I will give my impressions:

Marabu Acryl Mousse/Acryl Mousse Pastel
Pros: I think this material is extremely versatile and could be used in a lot of applications. You can use as a ground on wood, paper, and probably other materials like metal or glass (I would test first). I found that the material accepted both the watercolor washes and the acrylic spray very well. It also works very well to add texture, as you can see in this painting. You can mix it with water soluble paint or inks to change the color, but I found that it started to dry fairly quickly so you would need to work somewhat quickly, or spray it lightly with water to keep it moist.
Cons: Just that they dry out a little faster than I would like, but workable time can be improved by lightly misting with water.

Marabu Art Spray
Pros: These are super fun to use, and the colors are vibrant and blend together very well. By using masks and a little planning, they are a quick substitute for airbrushing. They worked great with a stencil. You could also use them as a fluid acrylic by pouring into a palette and using a brush. I can’t wait to play with these some more!
Cons: Not that big a deal, but pay close attention to the directions for clean-up so the nozzles don’t clog. The cleaning process is a little bit tedious, but not so much that I would hesitate to use them.  

Marabu Art Crayons
Pros: These are a great tool for adding detail or covering a lot of area in a painting quickly. They adapt well to rough or smooth papers, and are easy to control with water to create washes. They come in a pen-like holder with a cap, and are very soft and smooth to use. They are a great choice for people with disabilities – they are a favorite with those who have limited mobility in their hands because they are larger than other crayons and easy to grip. I have one student with tactile sensitivity, he loves the feeling of how Art Crayons glide across the paper. They are very soft, almost like drawing with lipstick.
Cons: Because they are so big, not great for very tight detailed work, but you can sharpen them with a large makeup sharpener if you are working on a more detailed piece.

All of these products would be great for kids (with supervision and a little help), but they all have applications for professional artists and are great additions to my art toolbox. If they don't have them stocked at your local art supply store, ask to order them, or you can order online at the major art supply outlets.

A big shout-out to Celia Buchanan at Marabu for sending me the samples!

Link to Marabu mixed media guide
Full Marabu product catalog pdf - viewable online or for download
Marbu Creative USA on Facebook

Fabriano cold pressed watercolor paper test

I received a test sheet of Fabriano Artistico Extra White 140lb Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper in the December 2016 issue of Watercolor Artist magazine.

I usually use Arches papers, mostly because that is what I have always used. I use both hot and cold pressed papers. One reason I like Arches is the consistency - I have used them for so long I know exactly how the papers will respond to different techniques. But sometimes it's good to experiment to push your technical skills and creativity.

Here is the painting I made on the 7 x 9.75” sample sheet:

Autumn Corn , watercolor on Fabriano Artistico cold pressed paper, ©Gayle Mahoney

Autumn Corn, watercolor on Fabriano Artistico cold pressed paper, ©Gayle Mahoney

What I liked:
Overall this paper performed very well. I found it to have some qualities of a cold pressed paper and some qualities of a hot pressed paper. The texture was velvety and fine, and paint flow and pigment distribution was smooth on both wet on wet and wet on dry. I used some areas of Pebeo drawing gum for masking fluid in some areas (the highlights on the corn kernels), which was easy to remove. When the masking was removed, there was no break-down of the paper’s surface and the paper took the paint well.  Color lifting was pretty good, more consistent with hot pressed than cold pressed papers. I loved that the wet paper did not smell like a wet sheep, probably because the sizing is not animal based - which is a plus for me.

What I didn’t like:
When painting over a dry area that had already been painted, the edges bled a bit more than I would have liked and I had to rework some areas a bit to get a hard edge. It wasn’t enough of a problem that I wouldn’t use the paper, but the paper would be ideal for someone who uses a vanishing edge technique or who doesn’t re-work after the first wash.

I would definitely use this paper again, especially if priced competitively against Arches papers.
This paper would be ideal or:
• Any watercolor artist for general use
• Watercolorists who want a paper that has some qualities of hot and cold pressed papers
• Artists who use vanishing edge techniques
• Artists who prefer not using papers with animal-based sizing

I look forward to trying some of their other products in this line. The paper comes in four finishes and weights, in sheets, rolls and blocks, traditional and extra white. I will report here when I try some of the others.

Do a one-eighty

Years ago, in a college photography class, my teacher told a story about the photographer Lee Friedlander. He said that when Friedlander was out shooting and came to the last frame on a roll of film, he would turn around 180 degrees and shoot whatever was behind him, without stopping to focus or compose the image. He did this as a reminder to keep looking around, don’t get so caught up in a subject that you forget all the other subjects around you. Some of Friedlander’s own favorites were taken this way.

As an artist, it’s good for us to shake out of our groove now and then. It keeps us in touch with what is going on outside our studios and brings more creative tools into our toolboxes.

There are many ways you can refresh your creativity, here are two things I have done recently to break out of my groove:

Fun with an iPad

Fun with an iPad


A few weeks ago I participated in an “iPadology” workshop taught by one of my artist friends, Mansa Mussa. Mansa is an amazingly talented multi-disciplinary artist, and very gifted as a teacher. In his iPadology workshop, Mansa teaches iPad users how to use the tablet not only as a camera but as a darkroom and art studio… to manipulate the image into something beautiful.

I am a pretty tech-savvy person, but hate being enslaved by a phone or any other device, so I am somewhat of a late-adopter of phone- or tablet-based photography. But taking Mansa’s workshop moved my horizons a bit, and opened me up to new ideas about how my devices can serve ME and support my creative process.

With a few weeks’ perspective behind me, I realize that the class has fine-tuned my “eye” in a few directions and I am seeing things in just a little different light. As an artist, that is so important - if we don’t put ourselves in a position where we are forced to “see” differently, our work will never evolve.


Yesterday I hung out with another artist friend, Sybil Archibald. Sybil and I get together fairly often to do artwork and to moan and groan about the creative process. She showed me how to make monoprints, which I had never done, and I am addicted. It was really good for me to work in a medium where you have to work that fast, and it gave me some ideas about how I can use them as a creative exercise. The ones I made yesterday are not the best art I have every made, but it was really fun and put me in a creative space that was wonderful and challenging at the same time.

My first monoprints

My first monoprints

So artists - go out there this week and knock yourself out of your groove for an afternoon. It will help nurture your creativity and open your eyes a little wider to the world around you.

Watercolor Series: Connection to place - World Trade Center Memorial

Our relationship with place affects us in very deep, formative ways.

As an artist, this theme of place shows up in my work over and over, in many media. I have begun working on a painting series that addresses this multi-layered relationship with place.

The rhythms and cycles of a place set a kind of inner clock for us, we measure ourselves against the sensory qualities of the places we are used to. As we grow and change, our perspective and relationship to a place grows and changes, even if that place appears to be the same. Sometimes when a place we know well changes dramatically, it challenges our own identity as we mourn the loss of the place as we knew it.

A place that belongs to us all: World Trade Center Memorial

© Gayle Mahoney,  World Trade Center Memorial , original watercolor painting on paper, 2015

© Gayle Mahoney, World Trade Center Memorial, original watercolor painting on paper, 2015

I first visited New York City 30 years ago this summer. A native Californian who was then living in San Francisco, I wasn’t a stranger to urban life, but I was astonished at the scale of Manhattan, how densely built it was, the number of skyscrapers, block after block after block.

I quickly learned that, coming out of the subway, from most of the avenues anywhere in Manhattan, I could see the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The sight of these buildings gave me my bearings and helped me set my course to discover many of New York’s treasures.

Ten years later I moved to the New York Metro area, and during the first six years I lived here (I now live and work in Montclair, New Jersey, just 12 miles west of Manhattan), the World Trade Center became a place to take my tourist friends, a place where I bought discounted theater tickets, and a complex I passed through every day on my way to work at the World Financial Center. It was a social hub where I would eat lunch, shop, meet friends after work, go out for a fancy dinner.

When our nation was attacked and the buildings were struck, I watched from Montclair in real time on TV as the towers and other buildings on the site came down. Obviously, no one was more affected than those who lost their lives in the attacks that day and their families, and those first responders who struggle with illnesses acquired from exposure to the site to this day.

In the weeks and months that followed, I felt like the world was blown apart, and began a series of ceramic sculptures (“Tribe of Immortals”) in order to try to come to grips with my feelings but also to embrace the emotions, longings and values that ALL humans share across the globe. 

©Gayle Mahoney   Tribe of Immortals   series

©Gayle Mahoney Tribe of Immortals series

My ceramic “Shelter Totems” series focused on the resourcefulness of people to carve out safe “places” for themselves - either real or imagined, physical or psychological. My current series is more about the breadth of human experience in relation to place, but since I have so many connections to the “place” known as the World Trade Center, I am sure it will come up again in my work and in this blog.

Once I get the new World Trade Center Memorial painting photographed and can get prints made, for each print sold I will make a donation to survivors of 9/11.

Thank you for coming along for the ride! I will continue to show my progress in this series here.

Please share your thoughts here, or on my Facebook page (Gayle Mahoney Originals):


Seascape watercolor step by step

I have always enjoyed seeing step-by-step images of how things are created, I think most people do. I thought it would be fun to share my process on a watercolor I have been working on, a seascape of a rocky cove in Maine. I actually learned a couple things about my painting process as I went along. So here are the pictures.... please forgive the poor lighting/image quality - I shot on the fly with my ancient iPhone!


After making a loose sketch, I added areas of masking fluid where I knew I wanted sea spray and a driftwood branch. I started painting in the areas around the masking fluid first, so I could get it off the paper as soon as possible.


I started adding some water, leaving areas of foam and bubbles white. I started defining areas of rock and did some under painting to bring the same tones throughout the rock areas.


Filling in the pebbles and the water....


Just about done... I put in some shadows and added more detail to the rocks and water. At this point I will put the painting away for a week or so, and take a look at it with fresh eyes to see what fine tuning it still needs.

It was really fun to paint, and I learned a lot in the process. It took about 20 hours (probably half that time was painting the beach pebbles).

Prints! Now you can buy direct! Yay!

I am so pleased that I can now offer my prints directly through this website!!!

Here's how it works: I order prints in small batches until I reach the edition limit (100 prints).
So.... in-stock prints, which I have in hand at my studio, ship (ground) within 1-2 business days of placing your order.

If a print is "out of stock," it will ship within 2 weeks from my studio.

If you need expedited shipping, rush orders, etc. just email ( or call (862-596-3746). Also if you live in northern New Jersey and want to save on shipping charges, you can come by my studio if you prefer. Just let me know!