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All Things Ampersand

Painting in Watercolor: An Exercise using Aquabord™ with Karen Vernon

I’ve spent the last few years in quest of more brilliant reflective color and luminosity in my paintings. About two years ago, I paired the most satisfactory combination of materials to date. Working Ampersand Art Supply’s Aquabord with Daniel Smith watercolors, I have achieved the deepest, richest color I have ever painted.

Painting on the Aquabord surface in watercolor is a joy since the surface is responsive and cooperative. On the Aquabord surface, the watercolorist can easily accomplish many of the more difficult watercolor effects created on paper. This museum quality panel has the absorbency of the standard cold press paper, without its limitations. Moreover, the surface allows the artist to control washes and color, and when finished, present the painting without glass!

There is a smooth surface similar to a hot press paper, but I prefer the textured surface of Aquabord. It works best for watercolors. One of the assets of Aquabord is the bright reflective quality of the white clay and the color that can be achieved on it. Previously, the watercolorist accepted a loss of brilliance in some colors as the pigment was absorbed into the depths of the paper. On Aquabord, the artist can create paintings of deep, radiant colors. This new 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 that are possible on hot press paper or bristle board. This fine art panel is also pH neutral and acid free.

After drawing the design on the Aquabord, begin by painting lush pools of water on the surface. If the value of the color is to be dark, use wet color rather than clear water. It is not necessary to wash the entire surface of the board with water, but rather 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.

Apply the water in thick splashy puddles, adding heavily pigmented color into the water as needed. With Aquabord, you need to work with your brush loaded up with pigment. Try not to go back into the wet area but allow color & water to drop down into the clay surface. Mix the color darker since the additional surface water will lighten the pigment value. A good, natural bristle, soft brush is useful for these applications. To achieve the best effect, keep the brush tip within the water layer rather than dragging it on the board’s surface. This application results in an even, flat, layer of color as the pigment settles on the board. 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 and brighter color.

My palette consists of many colors. However, because I like working with the character of each pigment as it stays suspended in water, I will choose to use a pigment that will create the effect I want rather than manipulate the pigment, possibly destroying characteristics or color. A good example is created when Quinacridone Coral and Quinacridone Rose are richly mixed together and dropped onto the wet or damp surface. The two colors will move and separate, enhancing each other as the warmer red, Coral floats next to the cool red, Quinacridone Rose. Both pigments are transparent, intense colors of the same value and hue. Yet when mixed together, they create a subtle and sensuous transition that can only be achieved in this manner.

Try the following exercise on a small piece of Aquabord. Draw a couple of leaves onto the board using a hard lead pencil. Wet the board so it is damp as explained earlier. Apply cool green colors to your drawing while the board is damp. Let the water and color absorb in the surface and reach a slow crawl. Then wash Cerulean Blue across the area. After drying for a short time drop Hansa Yellow we into wet, onto the areas that are to be lightened. See how the warm yellow pushes the blue back and brightens the leaf. Now lift wet color with a soft, mostly dry brush in order to regain the whites.

As colors stack and the painting develops, return to areas and lift pigment. This allows altering of glazes, changing of values, and the creation of the desired textures and patterns. 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. Several tools can be used on Aquabord for lifting. A traditional round or flat nylon watercolor brush can be used. The nylon brush offers more resistance against the surface than a mixed bristle brush or a natural bristle brush. When more lift is required, a hog bristle acrylic may be used. Allowing the board to dry between each removal of color will offer a clear, more controlled lifting. You can also use tools such as sgraffito knives to cut into the surface and create sharp highlights such as on the edge of a petal.

When the painting is complete and totally dry, seal the finished artwork with several layers of Krylon® UV Archival varnish or other final spray. Even though the pigments used may carry the highest permanency ratings, all artwork should be protected against the damaging effect of light and the pollutants in the atmosphere. First, spray the painting with two to three layers of varnish in order to seal the pigment and prevent it from moving. This is enough to protect the painting. However, for a more even finish, brush two to four layers of Golden Acrylic UV Filtering varnish on top of the sprayed varnish. This varnish come in a matte, satin or gloss finish and can be used according to individual preference.

The complete artwork is framed much like a canvas might be without glass! I use silk liners on my paintings. I find the silk is more compatible with my style with a texture suited to water color. The liner provides the visual space around the painting much like that of a matted watercolor. Have fun experimenting. 

Written by Karen Vernon
~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 30 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.”

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ACT 2014 Invitational

Magic Act by Robert Burridge,
Silver Signature, acrylic

Learning through the arts not only results in the creation of beautiful works, but contributes to greater academic achievement, higher test scores, and the creative thought that leads nations. As well, art education helps develop a well rounded person with better communication skills.”  

Over 100 pieces of artwork will be auctioned on Saturday, March 8, 2014, benefitting Artists Changing Tomorrow (ACT). The ACT International Invitational 2014 is an international project of the nonprofit Arts for Rural Texas based in Fayetteville, Texas. 

Artists from across the country and Canada have sent in original works for the auction.  Works will include traditional media such as oils, pastels, acrylic and watercolor paintings and photography.  ACT Exhibitions 2010 and 2012 included artwork from 200 artists from 3 continents, 4 nations, and 15 states across the United States. Many of these talented artists will return and new artists have joined ACT 2014 for ARTS. 

Late Autumn in North Carolina, Joe Mancuso,
Signature Oil

ACT is the inspiration of internationally known Texas artist, Karen Vernon.  Vernon, herself, has been painting since childhood and earned her degree in art education.  After teaching for several years, she began working at her career as a fine art painter.  “Our goal for ACT is to raise funds for cultural programs and to inspire other communities around the country and the world to create their own ACT programs, as well.”   Now, after four years of this program, we are seeing other organizations following our template and growing their arts programs in their own communities.   As an underwriter for the event, Ampersand is proud to have offered 11″ x 14″ panels for each artists’ work.  

Twisted Stripes by Ali Cavanaugh,
Silver Signature, watercolor

The public is invited to attend and to bid on the pieces. The ACT exhibit and silent auction will be from 6 PM to 9 PM on Saturday, March 8 at St. John’s Hall in Fayetteville, Texas.  Phone 979-378-2113 for more details or email ARTS at info@artsforruraltexas.org. Bids and proxy registration are available by calling ARTS at 979-378-2113 or web bids may be submitted via email until March 7th, 2014.  All bids open at $250 and may be raised in $25 increments.  You can preview the work and show here www.act4art.com/ACT2014.

Catalogs from the show are available for $25.  Contact: info@artsforruraltexas.org
Artists wishing to be considered for invitation for the ACT International Invitational 2016 should contact: info@artsforruraltexas.org

All things Ampersand,
Karyn Meyer-Berthel
Artist & Social Media Specialist
Ampersand Art Supply

Click here to explore the full selection of Ampersand panels and tools.

Aquabord with watercolorist Karen Vernon

“Sunflowers in Blue”, watercolor on Aquabord


Karen Vernon is an active painter with a four decade resume in watercolors, showing her work around the country and listed in galleries and museums worldwide.  Karen works exclusively on Ampersand Aquabord™, teaching several workshops a year for all levels of watercolorists.  You might also remember our mention of Karen as the founder of ACT, Artists Changing Tomorrow.  

Starting this month, in a few weeks, Karen will be teaching workshops at The Gallery at Round Top

The Secrets to Amazing Watercolor Florals
April 20, 21, 22, 2012
9:30 – 3:30
$100 deposit reserves you place
Partial supplies provided for a $25 supply fee.

Beyond the Ordinary
Fun, playful, experimental! Go beyond the ordinary. Loosen up. Discover new approaches.
June 13 – 15, 2012
$100 deposit reserves you place

For class registrations, contact Karen at ARTtgart@aol.com or call 979-249-4119

Karen will also be teaching other workshops around the country this year.  To see more of her work, find out about her workshop schedule, or sign up for her newsletter, check out her website:  www.karenvernon.com.

Artists Changing Tomorrow


“The arts are a gift to our children’s present as well as their future, “ says Karen Vernon, a long time friend and product consultant to Ampersand and an internationally recognized watercolorist.  She founded Artists Changing Tomorrow in 2010 in order to fund art education in Texas.   


Artists Changing Tomorrow is a program developed to sustain and maintain the arts: visual, literary and performing.  Its goal is to provide art education and arts outreach via schools and community programs.  To achieve its goals, ACT has developed a bi-annual silent auction to raise funds, where art is donated from one hundred artists around the world.  This years auction is on February 18th at the Sterling McCall Event Center in Warrenton, Texas.   Works will include oils, acrylics, watercolors as well as painting, fiber art, photography and ceramics. 

Artwork from the 2010 auction


Ampersand has been honored to be an underwriter of the event  and the supplier for the panels, either Gessobord™, Claybord™, Aquabord™, Pastelbord™ or Scratchbord™.  Each piece has been created on an Ampersand panel, and you can view the entire auction online at the ACT website:  ACT 2012.

To purchase tickets for the event, register for proxy bidding or order a show catalog contact ARTS, Arts of Rural Texas, information below.

Arts for Rural Texas
114 N. Live Oak
Fayetteville, TX 78940

Even if you don’t live in Texas, you can be part of ACT and part of this event.  If you wish to donate to the event or register for the auction and bid by proxy, you can call ARTS, Arts of Rural Texas at  979-378-2113.  If you are an artist desiring to be considered for the next invitational auction in 2014, contact ARTS at info@artsforruraltexas.org