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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Demo on Aquabord at the Longmont Artists' Guild

Marcio's demonstration at the LAG meeting
(photo courtesy of Yvonne Ogg)

Last night, the Longmont Artists' Guild held its first meeting after the summer hiatus, and I had the honor to be Guest Artist. For my demonstration, I chose to do a piece on Aquabord panel, size 20x16. I used a variety of mop, flat and round brushes, and mostly Daniel Smith paints on this demo: Permanent orange, cobalt teal blue, manganese violet, french ultramarine, quinacridone burnt scarlet.

I was able to advance it only to half completion, not as much due to the time limitation of an hour, and to the size of the board, but to my unwise decision to decline the offer of an overhead mirror. Having to maintain the board at a steep angle to allow the sitting audience to view the painting without glare, I struggled with paint runs and drips while painting very fast. Watercolor painting is always a partner dance, and I had to adapt my approach to conditions and persevere. I had to rework areas, work on smaller areas at a time, move from shape to shape to allow for drying time, etc. In the end, I was still able to give the attendees an idea of my method and style, and a sense of the benefits and challenges of this relatively new painting support.

The best part for me was indeed the interest and participation of the audience. They had questions on selection of paints, drawing strategy, choice of subject, materials and techniques used and avoided, and so on. Aquabord was indeed new to many, so I was pleased to share some information and tips, repeated here in summary:

  • Aquabord is a panel manufactured by Ampersand for use with watercolor, with a warm white, slightly textured surface made of kaolin, also known as China clay. Working on Aquabord is similar to doing fresco paintings.
  • Prior to use, it is important to "flush out" the air bubbles trapped in the clay, by brushing or sponging the entire surface with a good amount of clean water.
  • The surface texture is equivalent to cold press paper, but the clay is more abrasive than paper, so the use of expensive and delicate brushes is not recommended. I use older squirrel mops, or synthetic brushes on it instead.
  • Aquabord is more absorbent than watercolor paper and paint dries fast on it. To me, it makes it harder to achieve large, smooth washes than on paper. But when working at an angle, there is less beading, and more runs than what you experience with watercolor paper.
  • It is very easy to lift paint from Aquabord, which means you can correct errors easily by lifting slightly or back to white. You can actually remove an unsuccessful painting altogether and start from scratch. But it also means that you have to be careful when applying new layers of paint--if your brush is stiff or if you rub too hard, you may unintentionally lift the previous layer. I like that this feature allows me to mix with a previous layer, or correct a drip or run, by applying a different color on top of it and mixing the two with the friction of the brush. 
  • Painting on a panel is more convenient than stretching paper to avoid buckling, particular helpful for outdoor work, but panels are heavier than paper to carry.  
  • Aquabord is versatile. Colors are very vibrant on it, as you can see in the works of Karen Vernon. It is great for Wyeth-like dry brush realistic technique. Ali Cavanaugh does beautiful, detailed portrait work on this surface. Stephen Quiller uses it with acrylic paints.
  • Paintings on Aquabord can be varnished and framed without glass. The Ampersand website has recommendations of varnishes to use. I use spray varnish--Krylon crystal clear acrylic coating, then thin coats of Krylon UV archival varnish mat and gloss in alternation (matte removes glare but too much can deaden the colors; gloss enhances colors, but produces glare).
  • Aquaboard panels cost more than the equivalent size paper, but the added cost can be offset by savings in framing, as neither backing board, mats or glass are necessary.
  • Most watercolor societies do not accept paintings on Aquabord in their main water media exhibits.
Many thanks to the LAG Board for the opportunity to share my work!


  1. Although YOU felt the struggle, you seemed quite calm and your lesson was clear and interesting. I have watched your blog for a long time and jumped at the chance to come see you paint. It was both educational & fun to see ....thanks for a great demo.

  2. Ha, thank you for your comment, Chris, very kind of you, and thank you for following my blog. I am really pleased that you liked the demo. I guess grace under pressure is a very good skill at these moments...