Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The "Love" Part of a Perfect Love/Hate Relationship: Me and Aquabord

I Admit at times this all look like slow motion (to all the incredible fast painters out there who makes me feel like a snail...), but, a love relationship just cannot be rushed, especially when it's facing some significant difficulties... Ok, ok, before your thoughts go astray, I am actually talking about this new surface I have been continuously trying (and tucking away out of frustration) for about a year -- the Ampersand Aquabord. And I think I am finally making real progress in understanding how it works...

You see, the problem of painting on Aquabord mostly come from the fact that it seems to have a will of its own -- washes laid down on it does not seem to go to places you want them to go, smooth washes are next to impossible for large areas, surface dries in a heartbeat and wet-in-wet applications almost always fail -- despite all of which, once you have tried it, it's hard to put down: colors do not sink into the surface and the brilliance of hue you can achieve on this surface is almost unsurpassed as far as watercolors go. Just like a perfect lover, it's wild, hard to tame, but your heart always goes back to it after every painful fight and every separation.

Remembering June,  Watercolor on Ampersand Aquaboard, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 2

Like any other love affairs, it only start to become better and the two parties involved have "broken in" with each other. After much trial and frustration, the beauty of handling quality of this difficult surface start to reveal itself little by little:

-- Glazes of color merge seamlessly without revealing where the rewetting starts and where it ends. On paper, when applying a glaze to an area, despite out best effort to fade color back to clear water on the edge of shapes that requires a soft transition, often than not a "watermark" show up at the edge of the area that has been wet if the glaze is applied on areas that already have heavy pigment applications on them. This is because water would almost always loosen the pigment lying underneath and redeposit them on the edge of the wet area, no matter how light your touch is. I've tried soft squirrel hair brush, it helps but still does not totally eliminate the problem. On this surface, though, the surface texture of clay seem to break the obvious "ring" appearance of the rewetted areas, and glazes merge without a trace into existing color passages if you apply them lightly and avoid to disturb the existing pigments too much.

April's Passing,  Watercolor on Ampersand Aquaboard, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 2

-- Delicate layering of colors truly "GLOWS" on this surface. If I apply washes that are so faint only a trace of color can be detected when applied directly on white paper, the color seem to stand out with more integrity and shows up more. So, if you are patient, the colors on this surface can almost be infinitely modified by applying a very thin, watery glaze over any existing passages, like the shadow areas on the petal in the details shown below -- the Cobalt Blue glaze I applied would totally disappear had I try to do this glaze on paper, but here, a very lovely subtle purple tinge shows clearly on the glazed areas.

-- Lifting from very dark to near white can be easily done with a synthetic brush, while lifting from pale passages would result a pearl-like glowing stain that hints the original color. The lovely surface texture also gets emphasized and adds surface interest with these near-white liftings and thin glazes, as shown in the lifted white shapes in the detail below.

Details of April's Passing,  Watercolor on Ampersand Aquaboard, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 2

-- Very interesting diffused edges where a dark area meets a light area can be achieved by laying the dark pigment thickly (almost like cream or paste consistency), then immediately teasing out the edge with a wet (not just damp) brush. I used a small (size 4) brush with synthetic hair to do this, laying water droplets next to juicy dark passages, then push and pull color with the brush and water on surface, lifting if necessary, to create all the interesting shadow shapes on the leaves shown in the detail below. Since lifting back from near black to near white is not hard on this surface, once I let go of the fear and allow water to push and pull pigments with its own will to areas I have not expected, some very interesting edge effects and texture appears miraculously...

Details of April's Passing,  Watercolor on Ampersand Aquaboard, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 2

In the end, what did I learn from this very difficult yet extremely rewarding relationship? I discovered that once you stop the dire effort of trying to control every aspect of it -- making every shape, every edge, every color passage to go exactly as you imagined -- and let go a little bit to observe what happens on surface as you lay down the colors, half in panic (always), half in expectation, beautiful surprises lies in every corner. A partner with character may be hard to handle, but never will there be a dull moment or boredom in the relationship that comes along...


  1. You make ME feel like a snail! You are achieving and learning more than I am, and doing a wonderful job at it. It has been a long time since I did my one piece on aquabord, so I don't remember how I accomplished it. I did like it at the time, but haven't tried it again. Thanks for sharing your experience using this surface.

  2. Hi Arena. This is a brilliant post about aquaboard. I have yet to try it, but I'm keen. I have to make a trip across the border to pick some up. From one snail to another, we do enjoy the longer journey, and the results are fabulous! :)

  3. Love your last sentence. The colors are showing brilliantly!

  4. Hello Arena:) Have you ever tried Yupo? You will see that aquaboard isn't that difficult. Whit Yupo it's a real fight, to the very end:)


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