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All Things Ampersand

Ampersand 101: Aquabord

Welcome to the first in our series of “101” articles about Ampersand Bords.  With so many new artists just now discovering our panels, this back-to-basics series will help introduce our different surfaces and provide a refresher course to you Ampersand veterans. And who knows, you might learn something you didn’t already know!  Our first product is the Aquabord.


Aquabord is an acid-free, textured coated hardboard panel that gives watercolorists unprecedented freedom and control. The surface absorbs watercolors like a fine cold press paper, allowing you to create washes and stack glazes. Painting on Aquabord is a joy since the surface is responsive and cooperative, allowing the paint to move freely and blend beautifully. It is perfect for watercolors and gouache but is also ideal for casein and acrylics.

This museum-quality panel has a lovely eggshell color and a soft, absorbent mineral coating with a unique granular texture. Although it uses kaolin clay as its base, its formulation makes it is more absorbent than our  Claybord surface. The Aquabord surface has a subtle tooth that is evident in the finished work. The texture, however, is finer than that of a rough or cold press paper, creating fewer shadows on the surface. The bright reflective quality of the white clay allows colors to remain pure and radiant. The surface allows color to be lifted back to white easily while also leaving the richest, most vibrant color possible.

In addition to a 1/8″ flat panel, Aquabord is available in 7/8″, 1.5″, and 2″ cradle profiles that offer more flexibility for hanging and framing your work. Cradles are handcrafted with premium grade 13-ply birch plywood, designed to fit both standard canvas and floater frames. You can easily paint or stain the cradle to complement the artwork or prime it to wrap the image around the edges.


  • Watercolors and gouache are noticeably richer on Aquabord. Colors retain their purity and vibrancy in a way that even the finest of watercolor papers can never match. Previously, the watercolorist accepted a loss of brilliance in some colors as the paper absorbed the pigment.
  • The Aquabord surface simulates the absorbency and texture of standard cold-pressed watercolor paper without its limitations.
    • Will not tear, shrink or buckle even under heavy water application.
    • The surface is very forgiving and durable and will hold up to repeated wetting and lifting.
    • The flawless pebbly surface of Aquabord takes layers and layers of pigment without wearing down.
    • You can paint as heavily as desired because Aquabord won’t warp, crack, or bend like paper when using heavy paint applications.
    • There is no need to worry about lint residue, torn paper, or using masking fluid.
  • On the Aquabord surface, you can easily accomplish many of the more difficult watercolor effects created on paper.
    • The sponge-like granules absorb the water and pigment, allowing incredible control over color, washes, and glazes.
    • The surface’s clay base holds colors in suspension, allowing them to flow into each other to create seamless washes when the board is wet or dry.
    • The surface allows the painter to create the softest washes – typical of those possible on cold press papers – as well as vibrant colors and textured patterns possible on hot press paper or bristol board.
  • The surface of the Aquabord permits the careful lifting of layers of pigment value and hues to those colors below, bringing out sparkling underpainting for emphasis and contrast.
    • Color is easily lifted back to white.
    • Aquabord is very forgiving. If you make a mistake – wash it off!
  • Aquabord is eco-friendly and made in Buda, Texas (just outside of Austin) from US-grown renewable wood sources. The wood used to manufacture Aquabord, like in all of Ampersand’s Museum Series panels, is FSC Certified.
  • Aquabord is archival, pH neutral, and acid-free. When properly sealed, your work will last forever.
  • When you finish your artwork, you can present the painting without glass!

Tips and Techniques:


You can paint on the Aquabord surface when it is either wet or dry.

To get rich, vibrant color and to make it easier to lift colors off, use watercolors in a heavier consistency, more like skim milk, for example.

For crisp edges and sharp details, mix less water with your paint and apply it onto a dry Aquabord surface.

It is unnecessary to wash the board’s entire surface with water, but you can choose to work in smaller areas.

When wet, the natural surface darkens to a light taupe. This value change easily allows the painter to know which areas are wet and which are dry as the work progresses. The bright white color of the clay returns when the board dries completely.


You may notice small “pin-like” protrusions once you lay down your washes, and you may also see tiny bubbles forming on the surface. This behavior is normal.

For smooth even washes, it’s a good idea to first “flush out” the surface of the Aquabord panel before beginning by merely applying an even wash of water with a large brush over the area in which you are working to release the trapped air. By allowing the air to escape first, you are opening up your surface to accept the pigment.

Then, while the board is still damp, apply color in washes with a soft natural bristle brush. Be sure to “float” the color over the surface instead of dragging the bristles across it – also an excellent technique for making transitional blends.

Re-wetting may be needed as you work. Note that heavy water applications may release more air. Use a blow dryer to dry and dissipate air if needed.

Beginning with this method will result in a more even wash.

Glazing and Layering

Build layers of color by allowing each wash to dry thoroughly before applying the next layer. We call this hard drying.  You may use a blow dryer or let the painting sit overnight.  If the air is humid, use the blow dryer. The base color will lift if it is still wet or damp when the second color is washed over it. By allowing paint layers to dry in between, you can apply an unlimited number of transparent glazes and achieve the most stunning reflective qualities impossible on any other surface.

You may notice colors, especially darks, drying dull on the clay.  However, they bounce back with superradiance when sealed and varnished.


Lifting and removing color is easy on Aquabord.

You can create natural-looking highlights and bring light back into your painting using a damp nylon brush or a scrubber brush. You simply need a brush that doesn’t bend but pushes against the surface. Gently lift paint, rinse and then blot the brush. You can do partial lifts or full lifts, depending on the result you are seeking. Repeat these steps until you have reached a complete lift back to white or color you desire.

You can use several tools on Aquabord for lifting, including a traditional round or flat nylon watercolor brush. The nylon brush offers more resistance against the surface than a mixed bristle brush or a natural bristle brush. When more lift is required, you can use a hog bristle acrylic brush.

To partially lift a glaze, gently lift paint once or twice until you reach the layer you wish to bring out. Using cotton swabs, a soft white eraser, or sponges can also be very effective.

As colors stack and the painting develops, return to areas and lift pigment. This method will allow for altering glazes, changing values, and creating the desired textures and patterns.

Allowing the board to dry between each removal of color will offer a more precise and controlled lifting.

You can even add fine lines and details with a scratch knife or other Claybord / Scratchbord Tools that will bring back the white of the board. You can also use tools such as sgraffito knives to cut into the surface and create sharp highlights.

Sealing and Framing

When the painting is complete and dry, seal Aquabord with a finishing spray and free your artwork from the additional weight and glare caused when framing behind glass.

Seal watercolors or gouache with several light coats of spray varnish. These coats are your “stop” varnish. Be careful to spray outdoors during warmer months or in a well-ventilated and heated area during the year’s colder times.

Even though the pigments used may carry the highest permanency ratings, you should protect all artwork against the damaging effect of light and the atmosphere’s pollutants.

We recommend the Krylon UV Archival varnishes. These spray varnishes offer advanced non-yellowing protection against fading, dirt, moisture, and discoloration. The Krylon UV Archival varnishes contain superior levels of UV light absorbers and are removable for conservation purposes.   These varnishes are reversible with ammonia.

For additional protection against scratches during transport and damage from ultraviolet light, follow the application of Krylon® spray varnish with  Golden® Polymer Varnish with UVLSEnsure that you use the polymer varnish and not the one labeled “MSA” in a metal can. This varnish comes in a matte, satin, or gloss finish and is used according to individual preference. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use, with any varnish and fixative. About four brushed-on coats provide a very durable archival finish and are also removable.

The complete artwork is framed much like a canvas might be without glass.

7 comments on “Ampersand 101: Aquabord”

  1. Is there a type of gesso or such that you can prime boards or even objects yourself so you can have custom sized and shaped things to work on?

    I have recently found out about these types of boards and I fell in love with the surface texture. I tend to enjoy the freedom of cutting watercolor paper to size, and I know I could easily have custom masonite sizes if only I could know what primer would be best to do so. I’m unsure if this brand sells it, or if there’s something equal to it somewhere.

  2. Avatar pam says:

    can I use oil paint on aquabord?

    1. Avatar Dana Brown says:

      Hello, Yes, but keep in mind that it is even more absorbent than Claybord. The same steps will reduce its absorbency (if desired). We actually encounter a lot of water-soluble oil artists using Aquabord. Thank you, Dana Brown

  3. Avatar Becky says:

    Hello, thanks for the info on aquabord. I use Dr Martin Radiant concentrated watercolours. As they are due based rather than pigment based the colours are fugitive. Will aquabord make them less vulnerable to UV than watercolour paper?
    Thank so much!

    1. Avatar Dana Brown says:

      Hello Becky,
      The surface type will not effect the lightfastness of the paint. We would recommend protecting your finished work with a spray varnish with UV filters or museum quality glass that has UV filters. Also, we would remind everyone not to display artworks in direct sunlight or near areas that have wide temperature or humidity changes. Thank you! Dana Brown

  4. Avatar Margaret Prowse says:

    can a water color painting painted on clayboard be stored in a building that has no heat for several months in the winter with below freezing temps?

  5. Avatar Blake GeFellers says:


    I just got my first sampling of aquaboard in this months Sketchbox!

    I didnt understand what it was at first, and there was a little card that was included with it. It kind of made me think that it was for…just blending colors and then using those colors to paint on a piece of paper.

    I discovered that that was incorrect, and then tried..cleaning it with lots of water.

    It feels okay, but not as rough as before.

    I guess my question is; did I ruin it?

    Thank you!

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