The question I get all the time from new students is “What paper do you paint on?” 

This is a very important question because many spray paint art techniques depend on doing things to layers of paint. If the paint has already absorbed into your surface, the result is going to be something very different.

Poster board

When I first started learning spray paint art, Gerardo painted almost everything on a glossy posterboard called “sulfatada” that he would buy at a Mexican paper store. He did show me paintings that he had done on canvas and even on glass and mirrors! Unfortunately the one on the glass had flaked off in some places. Except for a few cars,motorcycles and murals, mostly, the paintings were on posterboard because we had to take them to the Malecon (boardwalk) to sell in the evenings. 

Spray Paintings on sulfatada paper.

Over time, we experimented with different ways to prepare canvas for spray paint art. Gerardo wanted to have some texture in his work, so he would use different materials from the hardware store to buld up a rocky texture for his other worldly space paintings.

Spray art lilacs on wood prepared with gesso and acrylic gloss.

The best preparation of canvas seemed to be a mixture of gesso and acrylic gloss or “sellador” (transparent acrylic sealer), which was sold in the local paint store. 

Over time I have noticed that water based spray paint art looks different on canvas and paper than solvent based spray paint art. Some spray paint artists are so used to the shiny smooth look of acrylic enamel paints, that they can’t get used to the more matte look of the water based paints. It did take some getting used to, because I had so many years painting with a shiny glossy finish, but now, I like the way the water based paint looks more than the glossy kind.

My first try at water based paint on canvas.

But if you don’t know how to prepare your canvas or other surface the right way, even glossy paint will look dull, and not in a good way!

The key is to adjust the amount of acrylic gloss and gesso exactly to your needs and the stick with that exact mix. The more acrylic gloss is in the mix, the more shiny and glossy the finish will be. If it’s all acrylic gloss, it might be too shiny and the paint won’t stick! So you have to do some experiments to get it just right for your tastes. That’s why there is no final recipe. Also some glosses are just stronger than others.

Water based paint on water color paper prepared with gesso texture

The same thing is true for paper. There are papers with different kinds of glosses. Photo paper for example is very glossy while poster board is only semi glossy. My best results are with the semi-glossy papers. 

So with spray paint art, the best thing to paint on is something semi-glossy.

I hope this helps you! Much love, Alisa


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