Karen Vernon
Vernon Fine Art


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Aquabord by Ampersand Art Supply
General Information

From Ampersand Art Supply

 Over the last few years we’ve received countless calls from customers wanting to understand the conflicting information they’ve read or been told on whether hardboard (most often referred to as masonite) is a good substrate for painting. In the following paragraphs we’ve condensed some of our research and information regarding the choices we’ve made for the hardboard we use to make our wood panels. For those artists who have been reluctant to use the current generation of hardboard, this up to date information should provide a level of comfort to try this versatile and long-lasting substrate that has gained a wider following as a result of today’s revival in panel painting. 

Why the bad rap on “masonite”? To begin, the word “Masonite” is a brand name for “hardboard”.  It has been commonly known as “masonite” after the founder of the Masonite Corporation, William Mason invented this wood product in 1924. Today a few select manufacturers in the US as well as foreign companies produce hardboard. Since Ralph Mayer wrote The Artist’s Handbook in 1949 where he warns against using “masonite”, the method of manufacturing hardboard has changed. This book, already in its 5th revision has not updated artists on the current generation of US made hardboard. Thus the incorrect information continues to be disseminated in both classroom and practice. In the 40’s and 50’s, tempered hardboard was made by immersing the panels in dipping tanks of tung or linseed oil to harden them, leaving an oily residue that caused adhesion problems for artists. Untempered boards also had problems with chipping and fraying, which made conservators leery of paintings done on these now outdated hardboards. Over 20 years ago, the high cost of tung and linseed oil forced U.S. manufacturers to change the way they manufacture hardboard. Today’s U.S. hardboard is made differently and does not have the characteristics of the old hardboard. 

Tips for Painting on Aquabord

1.Having a desk blotter near your painting is extremely handy for cleaning and drying you brush.  Since working on Aquabord can be an additive/subtractive process, maintaining brush wetness/dryness is critical.
2.Use saturated pigment (about the consistency of skim milk).  Aquabord initially responds well to dense pigments rather than veiled or light washes.  However, you can work in veiled washes much like on a paper surface.  Since Aquabord is very forgiving, it is not necessary to build color up in this slow manner.
3.When applying color, use a softer brush and roll back more on the side of the brush rather than the tip.  Use what I call the “shoulder” of the brush.  Natural bristle brushes work best for this. When removing (lifting) color, several techniques and/or tools are effective:
(a)Partial Lift:  When wishing to remove only a layer or minimal layers of color, use a nylon or mixed nylon/natural blend brush.  Stay off of the tip of the brush and more on the side.  Gently lift the color with a damp brush.  Clean the brush.  (I use a blotter and continue.)  After the lift is dry, a glaze may be applied as desired.
(b)Complete Lift:  In order to remove multiple layers of pigment and achieve a white surface, a stiff brush is required.  It should be noted that the white surface will always be the unpainted surface of the board. The more tip application that is used, the more the paint lifts from the surface.  The more the brush is laid on its side, the less color is removed.  Depending on the amount of color to be removed, a nylon brush or a bristle brush works best.  The cleaner the white area is to be, the more important it is to use clean water for removal.  Continually wash the brush thoroughly in order to not scrub color into the surface.  For a whiter area, allow the board to dry and repeat the process.  Finally if there are small dots of stain remaining in the area, use the fiberglass eraser on the dry board to remove the final specs.  (Do not brush the erasure with your hands since the small fiberglass residue is harmful.)
4.As colors stack in multiple layers on the surface of the board, a natural bristle brush will achieve better results in the final stages of work.  The softer hair gives less drag against the established color.
5.When applying paint, pull back on the brush.  When removing paint or creating some textures, push forward on the brush.

Questions & Additional Information:
How do I erase pencil marks from my drawing once I have the color down?

When a watercolor is completed, whether on paper or Aquabord, the original pencil lines may show through the transparent paint.  In the medium of watercolor it is acceptable to see these lines.  (You may wish to look at some of the beautiful renderings of Andrew Wyeth.)  However, if you find these lines offensive, they can be removed to a great extent simply by gently erasing over the painted surface with a white eraser.  Generally this eliminates most marks.  You might find a light lifting (erasing) of pigment in some areas.  Yellows seem to it high on the surface and will sometimes lift slightly.  If pigment does lift beyond an acceptable level, simply retouch the color in the small area in which this has happened.

Make certain the painting is completely dry prior to erasing.  You may use a hair dryer on Aquabord and assure yourself that the surface is crisp and set.

Using Liquid Frisket on Aquabord

Liquid frisket may be used on Aquabord.  Apply it only to a dry surface as you would on paper.  However, when using liquid frisket on Aquabord, you will not encounter the potential problems created when using it on paper, two of which are the staining or tearing of the paper. (See: American Artist, May 2006, Technical Q + A by Jane Sutherland, page 72)

If you are pouring color, liquid frisket is an essential “stop” required for this batik-like process.  However, when working in a more traditional aquarelle manner, negative painting (painting around an area) or lifting provide sufficient whites and lights.  The stark whites of unpainted board should be painted around or masked out.    Be aware that masking with frisket can create a hard, crisp line that is sometimes distinct  from the rest of the painting and may appear unpleasantly different.

Aquabord will also allow you to lift back to whites.  These lifted whites will vary from unpainted whites in two ways.  One, although they are very white, they are never the crisp white of unpainted board.  Also, lifted areas will have a subtly soft edge.  Moreover, lifting of color allows the artist to lift layers of color.  It is not necessary to lift back to the original white layer.  With time and experience, the artist can create subtle patterns by lifting off levels of color.  The personal expressive style of the artist and what he hopes to achieve will determine the manner of creating whites.

Varnishing Watercolor on Aquabord
The matter of “fixing” and varnishing watercolors on alternative surfaces is an interesting one and, I believe, is related to the substrate itself.  I use polymer sprays and brushed on polymer varnishes on my watercolors.  I have researched this and have my own experiences with removing the varnish for restoration and for making changes in the painting after it has been varnished. Thus, the original watercolor may be manipulated or changed if the artist wishes.
I work on Ampersand’s Aquabord and seal my paintings with a quality UV Filtering spray (There are several available.  I currently use Krylon UV Varnish.) and Golden’s Polymer Varnish with UVLS (Satin). Neither of these varnishes are mineral sprit based varnishes.  Both varnishes can be removed with ammonia.  Note that the initial varnish is a sprayed “stop” varnish.  I apply two coats or more.  This dries almost instantly.  After spraying a good “stop” coat, I brush one to four layers of the polymer varnish.
At one time I accidentally scratched one of my paintings, a 40” x 60” painting, horizontally, right across the middle.  I took ammonia and brushed thin layers of the solvent onto the polymer in the damaged area.  I would brush and then blot with a soft paper towel.  When I noticed a small “ghost” of color on the paper towel, I applied a veil of water on the cleaned area and blotted it.  I then lightly sanded the scratch, retouched the paint, and re-varnished the painting.  The painting showed absolutely no aspect of damage and quickly sold.
Another situation was one in which a painting was changed after completion.  I once painted a watercolor of a plaza in Portugal.  The buyer wanted her husband and friend added to the cluster of men sitting around the fountain.  Again, I simply removed the varnish in one area, washed one of the figures off of the painting, drew in the two new figures, painted them in, and re-varnished the area.
Also, I have been fortunate enough to have some of my paintings painted and varnished in this manner added to museum collections.  I feel that museums are sensitive to the archival qualities of works and would only add works to their collections that would be of historical value.
Since these paintings are on a stable substrate, Aquabord, I feel that the potential of cracking is not an issue.  The possibility of the varnishes aging or yellowing are yet unproven through the centuries.  However, as oil varnishes historically have had a history of aging, darkening, getting dirty, I feel that the same potential applies to polymer varnishes.  However, as in mineral varnishes, polymer varnishes can be removed in the same manner as any other restoration work can be done.  A good restoration artist certainly knows how to remove varnishes without disturbing the underlying pigments.  This has been done for decades.
However, in addressing the application of polymer varnishes to watercolor canvases or paper, there are other issues to be addressed.  Since the canvases are pliable, the potential of cracking and chipping definitely becomes a factor to be considered.  Any vibration or movement, expansion and contraction can affect the life of the varnish and pigment.  Moreover, I would be concerned about the ability to remove the varnish in an even, level manner.  Since the canvas, itself, is woven and has hills and valleys, I feel that the varnish might remain in the valleys and overly lift from the high points, not permitting an even reversing of varnish and a level application of any necessary pigment.
I prefer not to varnish papers since the varnish would be absorbed into the “cotton lint”. The nature of the papers is to absorb what is placed on the surface.  Therefore, the varnishes would be absorbed into the surface and bond with the pigment.  Therefore, I don’t believe it could ever be reversed for cleaning.  And, of course, cleaning is the purpose of varnishing any painting.  The dirt and pollutants in the air will attach to paintings just as they attach to any other furnishing.  Therefore, we want the varnish to protect the pigments from these elements.  When they get dirty, we can remove them and restore the painting to its original beauty.

Karen Vernon ACT. BWS, TWS WAS-H