After trying Ampersand Pastelbord a while ago, I saw they had various other boards available, so I got a couple of each to try out. First up was Aquabord.
I’m not sure what wood these boards are made of, but it looks and feels like MDF (according to my Dad, anyway; I’m pretty clueless about woodwork stuff). You can get Aquabord in a variety of sizes (ranging from 5X7 inches to 24X36 inches) and thicknesses (from 1/8th of an inch to 2 and 1/8ths of an inch), but they only come in white. However they seem to only come in rectangular formats, whereas some of Ampersand’s other boards can be bought as square panels. The front of the board is coated in a sort of clay primer with a slightly textured surface. It says you can frame them without glass, but I would probably put it behind glass anyway just be on the safe side, in case water somehow got spilled on it.
The back of the label has a tip telling you to wet the whole Aquabord surface with a thin layer of water to release trapped air bubbles, and I strongly suggest you take notice of it. I didn’t bother the first time and after laying on some colour I was horrified to see little bubbles popping on the surface, creating a pitted look. After lifting the colour off with a wet paper towel, I washed the whole surface with water and let it dry and after that had no more bubble problems.
Another claim made by the label is that the clay surface absorbs paint like a “fine watercolour paper”. While the surface is quite absorbent, it doesn’t really behave like paper. When working on watercolour paper, I often work on backgrounds by starting in one corner, laying down some colour and then picking up more colour and working it into it while it’s still wet, resulting in a fairly smooth transition. However doing the same on Aquabord seemed much more difficult, as that surface really wanted to retain my brush marks. I found that to build up uniform washes, I had to use many layers of pale colour, rather than a few layers of more concentrated colour.
If you make a mistake, it’s very easy to lift colour off compared to on watercolour paper (as I had to when I accidentally got a big blob of dark grey in the pale cream area of the rose), but this can be a double-edged sword. With watercolour paper, if you put some colour down and let it dry, it will pretty much stay put unless you scrub the living hell out of it. However on multiple occasions, I kept accidentally lifting underlayers of colour when I tried to put more colour over it, even though the underlayer had been allowed to dry for at least two days. It is possible to layer watercolour on Aquabord, but you have to be much more careful, using almost no pressure with your brush and being sure to avoid ‘backtracking’ over an area while it’s still wet. With this in mind, I found it a little difficult to work with while trying to paint a fairly realistic rose, but I feel like if I was working in a more experimental style, this unpredictability might have been fun to experiment with, as you’d be able to get some really interesting runs and patterns in the washes.
Also beware if you like to draw outlines for your paintings in either coloured pencil or greylead. While it is generally easy to lift at least most of the pencil marks from watercolour paper using a kneadable eraser, it was very difficult (if not impossible) to do this on the Aquabord, even though I hadn’t pressed very hard when drawing. I used Prismacolor Premier Watersoluble pencils to draw the outlines for my rose (I didn’t want greylead marks muddying the colour, and I thought the watercolour pencil would dissolve once I started applying watercolour paint), but even with a lot of scrubbing, the outlines are still visible in some areas (particularly the leaves).
Prices for Ampersand Aquabord start at around $5 for the 5X7 inch boards and go up to about $28 for the 16X20 inch boards (my local art store doesn’t seem to have any bigger ones). This is noticeably higher than most canvas panels and boards, but for what they are, they are not overly expensive, in my view (many of the cheaper panels use poor-quality wood that warps over time, unlike these boards).
Here’s a painting I did on a 5X7 inch Aquabord panel, based on a photo by C. J. Dee.
Ampersand Aquabord might be a blessing or a curse, depending on your painting style. Though I personally didn’t care for them that much and probably won’t buy more, I can see how some other artists would really like painting on these. It isn’t bad, it’s just very different to normal watercolour paper. If you like to work in fine detail, you should probably proceed with caution, but if you enjoy looser, more abstract techniques, I think you will have a lot of fun playing with Aquabord. I would recommend buying a small board to play with first, so you can decide whether you like it enough to invest in more or larger boards.