DOODLEWASH REVIEW: Daniel Smith Watercolor Grounds

Today I present a Daniel Smith Titanium White and Mars Black watercolor ground review.  So many puns came to mind for this supply.  I’ll try to keep them to a minimum.  If you are not familiar with watercolor ground, it is basically an absorbent primer that allows one to use watercolor, or acrylic paint/ink, on a variety of surfaces and/or build up texture on surfaces.  We start with the main feature, and then a couple little tidbits at the end.

So let’s hit the ground running….

Daniel smith Daniel smith titanium white watercolor ground, mars black watercolor ground

The directions on the jar say:

“An excellent ground for watercolor on all surfaces.  Absorbent surfaces: Canvas, Paper, Plaster, Hardboard.  Non-Absorbent surfaces: glass, plastic, metal- for best results these will need to be abraded before application of the ground.  Thick, brushable and heavily pigmented.  Allow 24-72 hours to cure before applying watercolor or acrylics.  Can be thinned up to 10% with water.  Wash brushes immediately after use.”

Ground from this brand also comes in Transparent and Iridescent Gold, but I don’t have those.  These are the 4 oz jars.  The Titanium White is also sold by the pint.  The white is thicker than the black.  I’ve had the white for longer, so it could be due to age.  It happens to the best of us.  The black has a smoother consistency before drying, the white reminds me of buttercream frosting.  The 4 oz sized containers are going for around $11-$12 on Amazon.  Looks like it can be found for less expensive prices elsewhere.

Daniel smith titanium white watercolor ground, mars black watercolor ground

I know what the directions said, but I’m often fond of looking past such direction.  So I applied these to cardboard, along with Canson XL Mixed Media Sketchbook, a Leda Art Supply Sketch Book, and a small and cheap canvas board.  A ½ inch flat brush was used for application- as evenly as possible. They say 24-72 hours to cure, but I’m in Arizona, nothing takes that long to dry here.  I gave it about 12 hours on the Canson paper. I probably would have waited longer if I had applied it thicker, was building up the ground for shapes, or layering effects.  I want to point out that curing denotes something different than ordinary drying (although I’m not sure what), so my semi cavalier treatment of the product might not be suitable in all locations.  A friend on Instagram shared that in her experience, if the white ground didn’t cure for at least 24 hours, it made the paint look chalky. Another friend uses the ground on top of Altoids tins to paint on and pretty up her palettes.

I had some reason for buying the Mars Black, but don’t exactly recall.  Probably for space painting, as in- “Space the Final Frontier,” so that’s what I’m going with here.  And woo-hoo, now there’s an excuse to use that white watercolor that we’re told not to use!  Or use those pastel colors that contain the white pigment in the mix, which professional brands Daniel Smith and Holbein both carry.   Aren’t we told to never mix white in with other colors?  And why is it included in every palette set when no one uses it, or is instructed not to- taking up space where a more usable color could have been?!  I’m pointing these contradictions out because it’s one other reason I’m not compelled to always listen to, or follow directions or rules.  My supply reviews have a more adventurous creative flavor, than purist views.  What’s not acceptable or popular today, might be tomorrow.  So really- just do what moves you, that’s all that matters.   I love those pastel colors and have a few from Holbein.

Now after saying all that and experimenting, I’m coming right to it- I  don’t like the black ground. Everything I used on it looked terrible.  I’m showing these as examples of what NOT to do- cardboard for one, which might seem pretty obvious, but I gave it a go anyway.  And to further illustrate that, the black ground looks like bad 1970s velvet paintings. Velvet Elvis should leave the building.

This video shows a close up of Luminescent and Primatek Lines from Daniel Smith used on the Mars Black.

Below- the Mars Black ground painted in a Canson XL Mixed Media Sketchbook. The top row are Luminescent and Primatek Lines from Daniel Smith, pastel watercolors from Holbein, and a few Finetec watercolors. White FW Acrylic Ink was used to make stars, and gaseous clouds in the nebula.  I became so displeased with the results that I quit part way through my experiments.

Daniel smith titanium white watercolor ground, mars black watercolor ground, daniel smith luminous watercolors

Australian artist Cindy Lane has some amazing galaxies that she paints on black pastel matte using various luminous colors from the Daniel Smith line. Folks on Instagram might be familiar with her artistry.  Click either link to see her IG account.

On to these disasters- the cardboard.  The black one is especially terrible- I used white and pastel watercolors from Holbein, Finetec watercolor, and then Gelly Roll pen to try and help it some. Egads! White watercolor acted the strangest of all, it was difficult to control in some spots, and looks like a toothpaste stain.

Daniel smith titanium white watercolor ground, mars black watercolor ground on cardboard

General observations before I get into showing more examples. Lifting paint from the surface is easy to do.  Using a pointy tipped fountain pen will scrape through the surface, pens didn’t do that well, I tried a Pigma Micron and Gelly Roll.  Pencil worked fine, but I didn’t try to sketch a bunch or erase. The texture of the black ground surface reminds me of pastel matte. The white seems to be a little bit more paper like, but like painting on unsized paper. Images lack definition, aliveness, luminosity and depth, everything looks a little dull.  In some cases, getting detail was not easy. Anyone that is better with dry brush techniques, might have better luck using ground. This was a frustrating review to do samples for.  To queue the song I was hearing in my head when I thought about presenting these- click here.

Titanium White ground in a Leda Art Supply sketchbook.  This sketchbook has thin paper, and doesn’t accept watercolor without deteriorating some, at least the way I use watercolor. I thought it would be a good place to try ground. Most of the watercolors used were Daniel Smith Primatek and they looked the best out of anything, and this is the best example I have.  Even the gold ring came out sad and dull.

Daniel smith Daniel smith titanium white watercolor ground, mars black watercolor ground, daniel smith primatek watercolors in a leda art supply sketchbook, watercolor palettes

I applied the ground using a brush and a credit card, and also a more uneven application. It sat for months before I painted on it, so it was plenty cured. Close-up to show texture, which worked great for the rock formations.


Lastly, the white ground on a canvas panel, painted with Liquitex Muted Collection and Transparent Collection acrylic inks, which behave much like watercolor. It cured for the proper amount of time before use.  This was also a exercise in frustration.  The painting on the left is the ground covered canvas panel.  The one on the right are the same paints used on an Ampersand Aquabord, included for comparison.  Again, tough to get detail or definition, or depth on the ground surface, and I attempted to put in detail. Blasé.  No transparent luminosity like there is on the Aquabord.

Daniel smith Daniel smith titanium white watercolor ground, mars black watercolor ground, on canvas panel, liquitex muted collection, liquitex acrylic ink

All I can do in these reviews is present from personal experience, and anything personal comes with bias- pretty much anything anyone ever shares comes from that place- eye of the beholder and such. Some people might like how the black ground looks. These products might work fantastically for others because of their personal preference and/or skill.  I didn’t find a lot of examples out there. Here are a couple of links to artists that used ground, whose paintings look good.

Artist Stephanie Law uses watercolor ground in a lot of her paintings to achieve different textures, and layering effects.

This lady on Wet Canvas has a partial example on canvas.

And now that we are all feeling grounded (if this didn’t work, try “Earthing”), here are some Daniel Smith watercolor swatches on regular ‘ol Canson XL paper.  I can’t remember what I was going for here, but they are nice to look at.  I figured I would pop them in because I don’t know one person into watercolor that doesn’t like looking at swatches.  These were personal notes of a sort, so there is sure to be scrawl and misspellings and the swatches were done at random.  Other actual reviews on Daniel Smith watercolors can be found here– Part I, and here– Part II which covers the Primatek and Luminous lines.

Daniel smith watercolor swatches in a Canson XL mixed media sketchbook

Explorers’ Sketchbooks– I asked for this book for my birthday (thanks mom & dad).  It’s a beast of a book, textbook sized, and features the sketchbooks from 70 explorers. One modern explorer in there is Wade Davis– Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society. If you are into outdoors, nature sketching, exploring, travel sketching, looking at handwriting, old documents, history, anthropology, archaeology, it might be interesting to you. If available, it’s a good one to check out from a library.

Explorers' Sketchbooks the art of discovery & adventure

In closing, I’m sharing a quote from the brilliant Austin Kleon.  Today, I resonate with this all the way.

“Try this: Next time you come across someone’s work and you’re not sure exactly how they do it, don’t ask them how it’s done. Don’t go after the “right answer” like some eager honors student. Look closer. Listen harder. Then use your imagination and experiment with the tools you have. Your bad approximation will lead to something of your own.”

The uniqueness and beauty of your personal artistic expression is just that- uniquely yours, right now, this very day.  May it continue to deepen, grow and transform, as you do.

Thank’s for taking the time to read this review, it’s for you.  Supply reviews happen when I have a supply to review, and always on a Saturday.

World Watercolor Group Logo Header by Doodlewash

Join us for World Watercolor Group!  It’s a group for everyone who enjoys watercolor. It is a very active group. There’s also the #WorldWatercolorGroup tag to use when sharing your work on social media.  More info in the link above, or click here.

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34 thoughts on “DOODLEWASH REVIEW: Daniel Smith Watercolor Grounds

  1. As always, I not only appreciate your review, I forward to an art group which I host. Also, I have a very odd application which I look forward to trying, but no point in chatting about until I see if it works. I doubt it is a substrate anyone else will be using anyway.

  2. These grounds definitely don’t suit your type of painting, as they take away what you do best, transparency and luminosity and freshness. They make the paintings look like what you’d buy in a trourist-trap shop! Not for me either, then, and I’m very glad of the review, since I saw them in a shop and was tempted. However, they might suit other artists who like their paint more opaque, or who want to paint on difficult surfaces such as wood. Meanwhile, I’m tempted by the explorer book, which looks lovely, so you’ll have me shopping again!
    And,finally, I don’t agree with Mr. Kleon – I’m very curious, and love finding out how people do things, for pleasure if nothing else. Anyway, I find that, even if you try to imitate something, your own style always comes through. Thanks, Jessica, I enjoyed this as always🌺

    1. Thanks Marina. Your comment made me think…hmm, why did I like the quote? In my mind Kleon was encouraging investigation, adventurousness and independence, all of which I hold to, and sometimes a little too much. I wrote more on my thoughts in response to you on why I liked the quote, but they might be more suitable to share privately. Or I’m just being a wimp. Sometimes it’s not easy for me to put my opinions out publicly 🙂

  3. My grandfather painted on glass, in reverse so that the image was viewed from the back side. Your review of these grounds prompted thoughts about trying to emulate his work for fun and, perhaps, remembrance. Considering that he’s moved on so I can’t ask after his process the quote you shared was perfect!

    1. Thanks Fred 🙂 I’d love to see this project if you decide to do it and willing to share 🙂 Sounds super interesting! I can’t imagine painting in reverse…I have my hands full figuring out how to paint going forwards.

  4. Excellent review! Thanx J. I bought the white ground for use in a painting that had an unplesant passage in it. I thought, ” i can just cover that area up with ground and repaint over it.”. NOT. Just didn’t look right. Perhaps it isn’t designed to do this and, it is user error. I can own that. So except for being able to paint on little mint tins this produt’s use evades me.

    1. Thank you for your comment Zuzala. A few other people have commented on their frustration over the non usability of this product. I was really hoping to be able to use it on canvas. We have each other to commiserate with 🙂

  5. Hello Jessica, I didn’t have much knowledge on the watercolor ground so this is a very useful review! I am not into mix media yet but it is surely an interesting product, especially if it can be used on non-paper surfaces. Thank you for the review 🙂

  6. Thank you for bringing these grounds down to earth, Jessica!! 😊😊 I have been meaning to try them, bi it sounds like they might be grounds for dismissal 😝 Fantastic review – informative, funny and entertaining. Great as always!

  7. This was a helpful and fun to read review. I have looked and looked at that white ground and been so tempted to buy it to use it on all these small canvas panels I have (after deciding oil painting was a NOPE), so I could watercolor on them. I am still tempted but my expectations are now solidly grounded (forgive the pun, couldn’t help it!) in the experimental. I want to try big, juicy sorta abstract stuff on this surface and see how it behaves. I have no expectation of being able to paint on it in my usual realistic style.

  8. Hi Jessica, another great review! And fun.
    I have used ground on my Altoids tins and then watercolors on top of it, worked great. Quite honestly 😄 I never thought to try it on paper or cardboard. I’m happy I read your review so I don’t have to now
    Here is another example of where I used ground and it was a ‘whatever works’ kind of thing. My kitchen cabinets were looking worn around the edges so I painted them with the ground and the results were outstanding! They look like new and are wearing very well. Not sure if the ground is intended for that 😂😂😂😂😂 but ‘whatever works’

  9. Oh my goodness, Jessica, I know you were so frustrated about the grounds not allowing you to develop the kind of art you like, but you really made me laugh a few times, and I hope that doesn’t make you even angrier. Sometimes the experiments don’t work. I cut up that paper and make stuff out of it, even just stuff I can throw across the room – boy, does it feel good to throw something when you’re pissed off. And a little paper wad arcing over your studio might make you giggle a bit.

    When I was a about 10, I saw my very first black velvet painting. I thought it was gorgeous! Thank heaven my taste has matured – or maybe it hasn’t.

    I learned a lot here today so thank you for the education.

    1. Hehe, not at all! I wasn’t angry, just making light of a less than stellar art situation. Those brushes and paint tubes that I painted on cardboard! I was thinking come on- you’re actually going to share that??!! But it was true to the experience.

      The velvet painting I remember the most is dogs playing poker. 😉

  10. Jessica – thanks again so much for the review. I’ve used ground once before and it just isn’t my thing. I really loved the end of your review. That quote was just what I needed to hear today. Independent verification to study and pay attention and experiment and find my own way. Love it!

  11. I love that quote! I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before but it is perfect.
    Perhaps it’s just your photography skills at their best here, but I really like the painting that you did in your Leda sketchbook. I’m sure the ground doesn’t compare to working with lovely cotton paper, but your talented ability really shines through because even working with the ground, I still really enjoyed seeing all that you painted. I’m still on the fence with whether or not I want to give grounds a try, perhaps just my metal tins and wooden boxes?
    As always, I enjoyed and appreciated your review.
    PS. All the puns had me rolling 😂

    1. Hi Katie,

      Pun fun, I love it…hehe! Thank you for the compliments. It’s weird sometimes to want to show paintings, but also not want to show them…at the same time! I try to keep it real, and that means sharing what is…the good, the bad, and the ugly 😉

      Sometimes I wish I did not want to try all the things! I’ve always wished I could some how come up with an art supply sharing circle where people could swap stuff…. you’ve got this that I want to try, I’ve got this that you want to try- so let’s swap a small amount and see how we like them. Or I’ve got an extra brush that I don’t use, or I’m not going to use this entire tube of paint…or something like that. I’ve swapped pans with someone before, and that worked out well. I bet I have a container that I would put some ground in for you to try….

      Best wishes!

  12. Y’know, I’m tacky enough that I kind of love the black velvet painting look, despite not living in a 1970’s brothel. I may have to pick up some of that black ground.

    I did try the white once, a while back, but got rid of it because even when I did the 10% water thing, I could NOT get it to dry smooth. It was like some kind of joint compound — I probably could have used it to mud the walls. Did you ever figure out a way to circumvent the texture “feature” of the product?

  13. Good review but I try it and did not like the effects when I paint on it… I do prefer to paint in my 💯% watercolor paper…. You loose transparency with these products. Thanks.

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