Oil and Water DO Mix

Bird of Paradise 2017, by Ora Sorensen. Mixed Media on Canvas, 40" x 40".

The mediums I use most often are watercolor paints and oil paints. I do enjoy both, and each type of paint possesses different attributes and can yield wildly different looks. I love the brilliant depth and maneuverability of oils, and I love the delicacy and translucency of watercolors. It is possible to combine all those characteristics in one painting to exploit the different aspects of each medium with the use of a watercolor ground. Watercolor ground is an absorptive primer formulated to receive water based paints and can be applied to many surfaces. I like to apply this substance to canvas, or portions of the canvas, so the surface will then mimic the properties of watercolor paper. The watercolor paint will react similarly, but not exactly as it does on paper, so experiment to become familiar with how the paint behaves.

There are several manufacturers who produce watercolor ground; the brand I use is Daniel Smith, which comes in several colors; Titanim White, Buff Titanium, Transparent, Mars Black, Pearlescent White, and Iridescent Gold.

Bird Of Paradise

In this painting, I want to use watercolors to render the delicate texture of the bract, the triangular, bent end of the flower’s stalk, but I want to use oils to capture the brilliant hues of the orange sepals and three vivid blue petals of the flower.

After sketching out the bird of paradise on my canvas, I applied the watercolor ground with a synthetic brush to the bract of the flower. I only need one coat of the toothy watercolor ground, which has a thick, brush-able consistency. I then let it dry for 24 hours. When the surface is completely dry, I mix watercolor paints into the colors I want and apply them using wet-into-wet methods, dry bushing techniques and I splatter paint on for texture. Once I have achieved the delicate texture only watercolors can yield, I paint the petals and sepal with oil paints brushed directly onto the original surface of the canvas.

Once the whole painting has dried, I varnish the surface for protection, but the varnish also serves to unify and harmonize the distinctly different types of paints used in the piece.

I have only used the Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground on canvas, but it can be used on many different surfaces from wood and paper to glass and metals. So almost any surface can be painted with layers of luminous water based paints!

You can purchase the watercolor ground here:


Ora Sorensen (orasorensen.com) was born in New York but grew up overseas in such countries as Libya, Turkey, Iran, Holland and Thailand. Her paintings are collected worldwide and have been shown in numerous exhibitions.