Clayboard verses paper, a watercolorist’s dilemma.

People write to me often and ask me why I paint on surfaces other than paper. Some folks have always challenged my methods because they are not traditional in nature. The use of heavy pigment at times almost straight from the tube, the use of spray fixative and of course the use of non traditional painting surfaces. First, I would mention that this is nothing new, people have been painting on gessoed masonite for over 40 years. I’m sure canvas, wood and other supports have always been available to watercolorists and have been used as well. I started painting on other surfaces for several reasons. I’ve painted on paper for more than 20 years and feeling like i was missing something, wanted to branch out. I’ve always like experimentation & now that I’m confident of my painting skills, wanted to see what else is out there for the watercolorist. There is a lot of work in the area of water media, which is exciting and fresh and not limited by the traditional restrictions of watercolor on paper. Even our state (SC) watercolor society changed their name to watermedia society and this made me realize that things were changing. The South Carolina watercolor society has always been at the forefront of new artistic avenues and being a part of it was important to me. I also found that sales of my paintings on clay board, canvas or gessoed masonite were selling for a higher price than the works on paper. These surfaces are actually easier to paint on once you learn their limitations and yet give the artist many ways to express an idea. Without having to plan ahead, and the ability to correct mistakes easily it helps the artist be more in the moment. It also allows the artist (especially the new artist) a certain amount of freedom that watercolor on paper can only do after many years of experience. I still love watercolor on paper and probably always will. It not that one is better than another but they offer the artist variety and a challenge. Also… why is it that we watercolor  artists feel we must restrict ourselves for traditional methods. Some of these methods aren’t even traditional but have just recently ( within the last 40 years) become rules. For instance the forbidden use of white paint, Turner, Homer, & Sargent all used white paint. I love the look of white paper but don’t see anything wrong with using white if the painting calls for it.

Here are three examples of very similar paintings on three different surfaces. Fom a distance they look very much the same but up close they have a slight variation in texture.  The one on the right is traditional 140 lb paper. The one in the middle is gessoed masonite and the last is illustration
(#100 )board.

DSCF2190 Gessoed masonite illustration board

watercolor paper


9 thoughts on “Clayboard verses paper, a watercolorist’s dilemma.

  1. I really like that you are taking on this issue of traditional (when did that become 40 years or less?) mediums being used in traditional ways. I like the gessoed work much better than the other two, but being that I am an untraditional oil painter, that one looks the crispiest to me and I like it best. The cool thing is that you have options, not only as the creator, but as the buyer of art as well. You like traditional stuff…then here’s something that vain for you, and so on. Thanks for sharing, I feel like I must be the only one out here having to explain my use of substructure to paint on…like I plaster my own canvases and then paint on top of that, not so new right? Well I use drywall paste/plaster ready made and cheap at the hardware store (been doing this for years, nobody said I couldn’t so…why not?). When I say plaster and oil painting, people have an idea about the word plaster. At a show one time, I was telling a student how I got the effect I got with a new work (he was excited about learning something new) and was overheard by another art patron…she was horrified that I would use such a cheap product under my work. I didn’t get it. Still don’t. I did learn to leave out the drywall part and just go with plaster when selling though. 🙂

  2. I’m no chemist but I would venture a guess that gesso is a very close cousin to plaster. It would be interesting to have someone who knows such things take a look at it. Also, weren’t Fresco’s painted right into the wet plaster? You have to take comments from other artists with an understanding that there can always be some animosity for your work, and there is a High brow element who will find ways to disapprove of other’s work. Usually they are frustrated themselves and limit themselves to a “purist” attitude which makes them ( in their own mind) a better artist.

    I see this also with folks who are down on artists who use projectors, photos and even girds as drawing ads. Why is it we have to tie one hand behind our backs and limit our creativity by these prejudices?

    Thanks for your comments
    Shanti Marie

  3. just started using the ampersand aquaboard and loved it! very workable and forgiving. not confident sealing though…scared i wil ruin my piece. prefer to frame my watercolors under glass.

  4. I’m doing a painting of ‘red poppies’ on clay board with watercolor paint.
    I painted the flowers first. The red on the poppies is dynamic.

    I’m painting the background now. How do I create a ‘smoother’ look rather than a ‘busy’ look caused from the brush.?

  5. I just don’t understand the animosity towards artists being creative. I mean…isn’t that the point? I found your website because I wanted to use watercolors on a gessoed wood canvas and was curious if it could be done. I’m glad to have found your site!


  6. I’ve painted poppies on clayboard..not realizing it was for acrylic…The red in the poppies comes alive. I just finished another poppy picture on ampersand watercolor board..textured. The picture is again alive. Spraying fixative is very simple…hold the can of fixative spray up and spray allowing the soray to fall gently on the surface. It has worked on both paintings that I completed.

  7. Pingback: watercolor on clayboard « Making Art with Fabric

  8. Sorry to respond so late …I didn’t see this comment when it first came out. To smooth things… you can always add more water if using watercolor or acrylic Just pour the paint on by any means usually a small area can be covered by drops or drips. Larger areas by cup, the paint will flow.. If you want the paint to stay in one area you can create boundaries with masking or scotch tape, friskett or masking fluid. Its fun using droppers or pipettes but your finger tips will work well to smooth out lines. Wet you fingers and smooth away the stroke marks.

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