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Featured Artist: Karen Vernon

A New Surface for Bold and Brilliant Colors!

About two years ago I began working on what I consider one of the most revolutionary products to enter the watercolorist’s world: Aquabord. This clay-coated wood panel with a granular surface has allowed me to achieve the deepest, richest color I have ever painted.

Final piece by Karen Vernon

Applying Color Without Fear

One of the most wonderful aspects of working with Aquabord is the forgiving nature of the surface. I can always use a wet sponge or brush and wipe down some or all my color and start all over again! Knowing the board is very forgiving, I am much more aggressive in my application of color.

After completing a value sketch, I draw the design on the surface of the Aquabord with a hard lead pencil, generally an H. Next, I wet the board to a mid-sheen and begin adding color washes. I started with local color washes in all the yellow flowers, using New Gamboge, Windsor Yellow, and Mars Yellow. When laying down these initial washes, I use a brush that will carry more paint to the surface (I use a #12 sable round).

Glazing & Layering Brilliant Color

I began all the leaves with an underpainting of blue using cerulean blue and phthalo blue. I do not use green because I prefer the subtlety of ranges the mixtures of blue and yellow create. When I’m ready to use green I prefer combinations of sap green or phthalo green, which I neutralize with violets. In the past, watercolorists accepted the loss of brilliance in some colors as the pigment was absorbed into the depths of the paper. On Aquabord, the deep, brilliant colors maintain their integrity. In developing the range of values and intensity, I use two different approaches. If I want transitional blends, I make sure the Aquabord is damp in the areas I am going to lay in my color. If I want crisp edges and defined lines, I make sure that the board is dry in the areas I’m adding color.

Karen Vernon detail 1

Creating Detail & Contrast

After applying color, the painting technique becomes more additive and subtractive. The surface of Aquabord allows me to carefully lift down through layers of paint to those colors below, bringing out sparkling underpainting. Using a damp nylon brush (the stiffer the better), I return to areas and lift colors, alter glazes, change values, and create textures and patterns. Notice how I created the water droplets by lifting the color from the leaf. No masking was needed at all! Notice the leaves and how I’ve pulled the color back to the white of the board in some areas and back to the underlying colors in other areas.

Karen Vernon detail 2

Feel the Color & Detail Explode!

Aquabord gives the artist full control! Notice the wonderful contrast between the detailed, more controlled areas and the soft, brilliant, intense color wash areas. Contrast the deep color intensity in the lower background to the soft detail on the centers of the yellow flowers where I lightened the centers by easily lifting color. Finally, I spray the piece with 3-4 coats of a finishing spray like Krylon® UV Archival varnish to seal the surface so I can frame this piece without glass! If I want added protection, I’ll brush on a coat of a UV varnish. Now you can enjoy the wonderful color of brilliant watercolors without the glare of glass!


Karen Vernon detail 3

Karen Vernon is known for her phenomenal rendering of light and color in her watercolors. Her paintings have been featured in museums and galleries throughout the country and are represented in such notable collections as the Amoco Corporation. A retrospective of Vernon's work was done for PBS and she has been featured in American Artist Magazine. An exceptional teacher, she has taught watercolors over the last 10 years. One of her students says, "every time I finish my class with Karen not only have I learned a ton of new techniques, I actually can see my skills improve." www.karenvernon.com