I love painting on alternative watercolour surfaces to paper. Paper is wonderful, of course, but a prepared panel somehow has more of a feeling of luxury and permanence. Ampersand offer some lovely ready-made board surfaces, my favourites are Aquabord and Encausticbord, but sometimes the cost and availability of these can be restrictive. I also find that I can’t always get these panels in the shapes and sizes I want – I particularly love square panels, which are mystifyingly not available at all as Aquabord in the UK.
The wooden panel
I usually start with hardboard, bought from my local DIY store. Our store offer a cutting service if I know what sizes I want cut when I buy it, but I find I’m also able to cut it at home with a heavy Stanley knife and some perseverance (it takes several slices for each cut, but with pressure and a steady steel ruler it seems to work fine). I’ve also uses plywood and mdf board in the past and been happy with the result.
At this stage I’ll add that it makes a lot of sense to prepare several boards all at once, taking into account the time, mess and energy involved.
Once I have the size/shape I want, I seal the surface with acrylic gesso, to act as a barrier between the wood and the painting surface. Some watercolour grounds say that the ground medium acts as a barrier itself, but I prefer the peace of mind of having the extra gesso.
Applying the ground
There are a few techniques to apply the ground, and the best will probably depend on how you like to paint and what kind of texture you prefer to work on. I usually aim for 3 layers of the ground, drying in between. Any less doesn’t give me the absorbency to apply multiple layers of paint, any more just uses an awful lot of ground and I’m frankly not made of money.
I’ll detail two methods of applying the ground that I’ve tried – one smooth and one textured.
Many of my pieces have a brushstroke texture as a feature of the final painting. To achieve this I use a paint brush to apply the ground, instead of a roller. I don’t want a hugely ridged surface, so I use an old watercolour brush, with nice soft bristles.
When I’ve completed the final painting in watercolour, I always finish it in the same way, which you can read about in THIS BLOG POST.
I sometimes mount them on to a wooden cradle, which you can read about in THIS BLOG POST.
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.