Traditionally, artists have been painting watercolour on paper for a long time. For years I painted on Saunders Waterford cold-pressed 300gsm/140lb 100% cotton paper. Just the right amount of absorbency to create water effects, whilst controlling the paint enough to get some detail. Like anything it has its drawbacks. Watercolour painting has come a long way since those wholesome shows on daytime tv, where the painters set up their easels in fields of cows. Happily the surfaces available to paint on have come along too. I’ve been using Aquabord by Ampersand a lot this past year and thought I’d post a few thoughts on how it compares with paper.
First, price. There is no avoiding that Aquabord is more expensive by area. The watercolour paper that I used to buy was around £4.50 per 30x22” sheet. Aquabord starts at £3.20 for a piece a fraction of the size at 5x7” (though it’s a little cheaper in the US, where it’s manufactured). There are other costs to consider though. Paintings on paper really need properly framing behind glass, whereas Aquabord has a few options for finishing and displaying, which don’t have to be as costly (I’ll go into this more further down).
Whilst it’s not essential and different artists have different methods, I prefer to stretch my watercolour paper before I paint on it. I really can’t stand wrinkly paper, so I thoroughly and obsessively wet it, tape it onto flat board with gummed tape, and let it dry until perfectly flat. Obviously, Aquabord is already (and stays) perfectly flat. Hurrah! It just needs the air bubbles releasing with a wash of water. Both surfaces are fine to sketch on a light drawing in pencil. The drawing on paper can be easily removed with an eraser, even through the dried watercolour paint. Aquabord isn’t quite so easy to remove the pencil, but most will pretty much come out. It seems to me the brand or softness of the pencil makes a difference to how easily you can remove it from the aquabord later. Wouldn’t it be handy if I had made a note of which one I had used on each painting, so I knew which removed best? Yes… Yes, it would.
I’ve tried to use exactly the same colour (English Red) and strength of paint and to make the same marks on each surface, to give an idea of how they take the paint differently.
One of my favourite things about Aquabord compared to paper is how easily you can lift paint out, compared to paper. You can correct pretty much any mistake, from tiny errors to lifting and repainting large areas. This is a great comfort when doing portrait commissions and the likeness is really important. The ability to lift colour from paper is very limited and you can never really get a perfect result. The only troubles I have had with Aquabord are with a small number of dark and blue colours (Indigo, for example, stains the board quite badly), so you’d probably need to rework the area with other dark colours. Of course, because the paint lifts so easily, you have to be pretty crafty when working in layers. The board takes layers beautifully, but to avoid lifting the paint underneath, you have to make sure it’s completely dry, work swiftly and with less and less water as the layers increase. It takes practice!
You can see a timelapse video of how I painted this on my Instagram by clicking HERE.
Finishing and display
I either mount the board onto a wooden cradle (you can actually buy it already cradled at a higher cost, but I don’t like painting on it cradled) and finish the sides neatly, or I display it in a float frame.
If you would like to be supportive of my endeavours as an artist, so that I am able to continue with these explorations of materials and surfaces, please consider purchasing your art materials through the links below. It won't cost you anything more, but I get a small commission.
Click on either of the link images below; Jackson's are UK based, Blick are US.
I am Emily Wilson, a watercolour portrait artist, working in the UK. I have a particular interest in exploring alternative painting surfaces to paper.