I used something new (at least new to me) for my last painting. Playing with new paints and materials excites me, and it's a way to stay engaged with the creative process. Typically, I paint on Arches watercolor paper and mount it on a cradled panel. I've used other watercolor papers over the years, but none top Arches for quality, durability, and archival properties. It's expensive to buy, but ultimately worth it. I keep other watercolor pads and blocks around for test paintings and fast renderings and save my Arches for the pieces I am serious about.
While shopping for the wooden cradled panels I use, I came across Aquabord.
Although these panels are even more expensive than comparably sized Arches paper and a cradled panel, the information intrigued me. The paintable surface is already mounted on a wood panel. The product promised to be an excellent base for watercolor and offered unlimited washes, layers, and scrubbing (using a brush or sponge to remove color).
Here is Ampersand's description of their product Aquabord: "Museum Series Aquabord is a textured, highly absorbent surface designed for watercolor and gouache. Aquabord is crafted from our premium warp-resistant 1/8" FSC-certified Hardbord™ that is protected with our proprietary Archiva-Seal™ and coated with an acid-free clay and mineral ground with a texture similar to cold-pressed watercolor paper. Colors retain their purity and vibrancy in a way that even the finest of watercolor papers can't match and Aquabord allows artists to frame and display their watercolor without glass."
I bought one 8x10 panel and used it for "Tiny Coquina." It took me a while to grow accustomed to working on a raised surface--I got the 1 1/2" deep panel--and I often struggled to find a way to rest my hand as I worked--that was quite a shift from working on flat paper. The benefit was the ease with which I could turn the panel on my table and work at different angles.
The biggest challenge was the absorption, tinting, and drying time of the surface. The Aquabord absorbed more water than my Arches paper, and I had to keep adding more water. It also dried more quickly, and I had to paint faster. The most distracting part, however, is that when water is applied, such as when working wet-on-wet, the surface (already beige vs. my usual white), darkened a few shades until the water dried. This meant that, at first, I used base washes that were too light and had to apply more layers to get the values I wanted. I did adjust to this as the painting continued, and it ceased to bother me.
What I like best about Aquabord is the ease of softening hard edges and creating highlights by subtraction (removing paint). Hard edges in watercolor, sometimes called "tide lines," is something I work hard to avoid. I think many watercolor artists struggle with tide lines, and it takes much practice to avoid/correct them. On paper, once the paint is dry, these distracting water marks can be very hard to soften without damaging the paper. Aquabord made it so easy! Even when the hard edges dried, I could soften them with a damp brush. Highlights, too, were really fun with Aquabord, and "Tiny Coquina" had plenty of them. I used a variety of scrubber brushes to pull off the paint and make the highlights on the bubbles and the wet shell.
Will I use Ampersand Aquabord again? Probably. I have a good supply of Arches paper, so I'm in no rush. But working on a larger painting with Aquabord could be beneficial--transferring a finished watercolor painting on paper onto a cradled panel is a delicate process, and Aquabord is all one unit. That's a time saver, despite the high cost of the panels. Finally, the wood grain on the sides of the Aquaboard panels is very pretty and can be stained or varnished instead of painted.
Ampersand offers high-quality products for artists, and I use their floater frames exclusively for my paintings. I see more Aquabord in my future.