The Class Clown, Pat Holscher, 2012, Watercolor, 38″ x 24″

The Class Clown, Pat Holscher, 2012, Watercolor, 38″ x 24″

Reinventing the Watercolor Wheel with Gesso and Water

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How are contemporary artists pushing the envelope? How are they using their media to demonstrate their concepts in new and interesting ways? One way in which an artist is breaking free from tradition and taking on challenges in her medium of choice is Pat Holscher, who gessoes her watercolor paper before beginning her paintings.

Traditionally, watercolor has involved working on hot or cold pressed paper but by using gesso, a medium normally used to prep a surface for acrylic or oil paint, one throws a wrench into this classic art-form. As Pat states, applying the gesso to the surface “creates textures as the paint settles into the crevices and mixes with other colors of greater or lesser density”. However, the gesso also adds a layer of difficulty to this already tricky medium. It causes the surface to become water-resistant—notice I did not say “waterproof”—which makes the pigment simply sit on top of rather than sinking down and becoming absorbed by the paper fibers. This has both the positive and negative of being highly workable: even after drying, the paint is relatively easy to lift with a wet paper towel. The superlative aspect of this technique is evident when looking at the vibrancy and multitude of color in Pat’s artwork. Her colors are rich and dynamic. The theory behind this vivacity is that the gesso makes the surface remain white whereas watercolor paper absorbs the pigment into its fibers resulting in the eventual blending and bleeding on the surface itself.

Pat takes her technique one step further by spraying her paintings with water. The resulting effect is rivulets of color that run and drip throughout her artwork. She does this numerous times throughout the process allowing the watercolor to achieve its traditional translucency. Thus, Pat has found a way to reinvent the wheel. She has developed an innovative and inspiring way to use a longstanding art-form, watercolor.

Zoe Fabian


Zoe Fabian is an art educator and active member in the local Buffalo community. She received her teaching degree from Buffalo State College and regularly volunteers with organizations such as Journey’s End, Grant Street Global Voices and Young Audiences of Western New York. Zoe is currently involved with the Grant Street Global Voices project including the creation of public art and community workshops centered on The Immigrant and Refugee Experience: Yesterday and Today.