Saturday, July 30, 2011

Iris on Aquabord

It feels as though summer is nearly over, and I have little painting progress to show for the last several weeks. In truth, I have two projects in the works, though my time for painting has been a little sporadic of late. 

I'll save the other project for another day, but here is my latest "Lunchtime Painting." Yes, yet another iris (easily my favorite flower), but the twist here is the surface on which I'm painting. It's not paper.

This is a 5"x7" piece of Ampersand Aquabord (formerly known as Claybord Textured). It's a a masonite board with a ground of kaolin clay on the surface. The company, and some other painters who regularly use the material, compare its painting qualities to cold-press paper, only lifting paint is much easier, they say.

I worked on the support in a workshop a few years ago and found it to be somewhat interesting. In the wake of that experience, I had purchased some small pieces of Aquabord. However, they've been  in a desk drawer ever since.

Given my painting doldrums, I decided to pull out  a piece and give it a try. And it's been a bit of a struggle so far.

I've been very much in the habit of developing these iris paintings with thin, watery glazes. The 300-pound Arches has been particularly well-suited for that kind of approach. But when I attempt the same procedure on the Aquabord, the outcome is very different.

First, the drying shift is deceptive. Normally, on paper, the paint looks very vibrant when wet and then lightens and loses some saturation as it dries. On this surface, the paint looks chalky and dull when wet, and then dries into more vibrant colors.

Second, it's difficult to soften edges and melt one color into the next because I don't have any feel for the hydrodynamics of the kaolin clay ground.

Finally, when things dry, there is a curious mottled effect that remains, often looking as though I had sprinkled a bit of clear water on the surface. I think it has to do with the textured nature of the ground. It's not unpleasant in this instance because of the texture of the flower's petals and falls, but it's unexpected.

So, it's been a learning experience thus far. I almost think that this surface demands more of a drybrush approach, or perhaps a very hard-edge, posterized style. Watery wet-into-wet seems to be problematic. But, I'll also admit that I'm a newbie, and I'm going to keep plugging along and experimenting on this project.

The watercolor painter I'm most aware of who is using Aquabord is Ali Cavanaugh, who has been featured in several of the national art magazines. She describes her painting process as "neo fresco secco," because she was inspired to paint on plaster surfaces, and then found Ampersand's product lines fit her needs. Her painting process is similar to that of egg tempera, using small overlapping strokes. To read more about her process, click here.

To see more of Ali's paintings, visit her website at: