In my work as an Artist Educator for Marabu, I have been integrating some of their mixed media products into my creative practice. In the last few years I have been experimenting with using watercolor on various grounds and substrates that liberate the medium from the need to be framed under glass, and Marabu's Acryl Mousse is a great option as a ground for watercolor. In this tutorial, I am using Marabu Acryl Mousse as a ground, much as you would use gesso. The Mousse is an acrylic-based product but works well with watercolor or any water media.
I am also adding another Marabu product in this tutorial which is great for any artist working in watercolor or mixed media - Graphix Aqua Pens. These are great archival water-soluble markers that come with two different tips - brush and fine-point.
Substrates suitable for Marabu Acryl Mousse as a ground for watercolor
Acryl Mousse is a somewhat fluffy, acrylic based paint/medium with very fine sand-like particles. It's kind of like cake frosting with some fine sand in it (you definitely don't want to eat though!). Any heavy paper, Masonite, wood, cradled boards, art board, illustration board, canvas, canvas board, etc. is suitable for a substrate. It is flexible when dry and doesn't flake off so it doesn't have to be used on a rigid surface like some textured acrylic grounds do. I have successfully used Acryl Mousse on metal, wood, plastic and paper. In some cases you may want to roughen a surface or apply the appropriate primer/gesso, but in most cases direct application is fine. If you are using a nonporous surface like glass, plastic or metal, clean it first with rubbing alcohol to remove any oils from fingerprints etc. This will ensure a strong and even bond.
1. Applying the Acryl Mousse to the substrate
The amount of coverage you get from each tube depends upon how much depth and texture you want. In this project, I wanted to use just enough to give an even coating across the panel. The material is very forgiving - you can sand or carve it after application, or build up multiple layers to sculpt it into textural shapes. Acryl Mousse is very lightweight yet strong, so you can use a lot without it weighing down your artwork. Some textured acrylics are too heavy to use on canvas, but Acryl Mousse is lightweight and flexible so it works well on canvas.
Use a squeegee or palette knife to spread out the material. Keep a fine mist spray bottle of water handy to keep the material moist if you want a smooth surface.
Once the surface is covered, use a palette knife to clean up the edges a bit. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You can always sand or cut away rough edges later.
After the first layer dries, you can add more Acryl Mousse with a squeegee or palette knife to even out the surface. You can make it as smooth as you like - the surface can be sanded once it's dry.
2. Sketch out your composition
Once the surface is dry, use a pencil to rough in your composition. I like using a water-soluble graphite pencil so the lines will blend into the painting. (It takes about 45 minutes to an hour for the Mousse to dry if you want some soft edges/bleeds, or let it dry a few hours to overnight if you want crisper edges.)
3. Use Marabu Graphix Aqua Pens to draw the outlines of your forms. I chose three colors - a dark blue, a dark green and a dark brown to use throughout the painting. Limiting your palette will help unify your painting. I used the brush end to lay down a lot of pigment.
4. Once you have drawn the outline/shadow areas, use a brush with water to soften the forms. Don’t worry if the colors bleed or blend, you can clean up later. Just let it flow!
5. Once you have your shadows defined, start using your favorite watercolors to create your painting, or you can complete the painting using just the Graphix pens. If you want a wet-on-wet style, you can start working in about 45 minutes. If you want a harder edge, wait at least a few hours - but it all depends on humidity levels when you prepare the ground.
The Marabu Acryl Mousse allows for re-working and color lifting as you would expect with good quality watercolor paper. The texture is rough, like sanded pastel paper, so you definitely do NOT want to use your best Kolinsky brushes. Good synthetic brushes hold their own. The surface is great for mixed media, drawing, chalk, pastels, etc.
6. Paint baby paint! The surface is just luscious to paint on. It has good lift-ability and the texture brings out the best qualities of watercolor.
7. Use the fine tip of the Graphix Aqua pens to add details and shadows to your painting. You can soften and blend them using a wet brush.
8. Use an archival spray varnish (with UV protection) to protect your painting. I start with 3-4 coats of gloss varnish, followed by two coats of satin or matte so it's not too shiny. Satin and matte varnishes have solids to dull the shine, so I don't want to use it for all the coats or else it will make the painting look cloudy. Or you can use just the gloss spray if you want more shine.
Here's another painting I did using the same technique:
1. You can also use the mousse to add highlights by brushing it on or with a palette knife. I did this in the light area on the large rock, center left, in the painting just above. It's a very thin layer so the color below still comes through.
2. The rough texture is hard on natural fiber brushes, so I use synthetic brushes when painting on the Acryl Mousse.
3. If you have problems getting a smooth surface, us a light spray of water from a fine mist bottle. Also you can always fill areas with a second coating once the first coat has set but still feels damp or even after it's completely dry. The surface can also be sanded or carved after it's dry.
4. Acryl Mousse comes in several light neutrals and pastel colors. In this tutorial I used white, but I have also used blends of other colors which adds a lot of interest to the finished painting. You can also mix it with acrylics, watercolors, inks or any water based medium.
5. If you use a stretched canvas or a cradled board, you can also add the mousse on the outside edges and paint them too.
6. I prefer a spray varnish to liquid because brushing it on can disturb the watercolor underneath.
For more info about Marabu Acryl Mousse click here or watch this video:
For more info about Graphix Aqua Pens click here or watch this video: