Watercolor Painting with Golden’s Absorbent Ground on Ampersand Gessobord

I’ve been painting watercolors using Ampersand panels and Golden’s Absorbent Ground since about 2012.  I decided I’d like to create a photo tutorial about the process I use to create these paintings as I really like the results I get.  

Before I start the actual tutorial I’d like to talk about what I like about painting on absorbent ground and panels and ways it is a little different than painting on regular watercolor paper.  I like the look of the unframed, simple lines of paintings on panel.  I like that the resulting painting does not have to be framed with mats and glass.  While it remains to be seen exactly how archival a watercolor sealed with the acrylic sealants I use over the absorbent ground, I don’t think it is all that different than the fragility of watercolor on paper when done correctly.  

Things that are different about painting on absorbent ground include the way the surface accepts medium.  

    -Pencil lines drawn directly onto the ground do not readily erase.  So, I always draw onto tracing paper and transfer the finished drawing to the surface with graphite paper so that I know I do not want to change any of the lines once they are there.  

    -The surface accepts paint with edges similar to hot pressed paper which is to say that hard edges are created almost immediately.  Therefore, it is essential to soften desired soft edges almost immediately after laying in a stroke.  

    -In addition, after laying down a stroke it should not be reworked too much as moving around the color too much will lift the color or create washes that are not smooth.  

    -The paint dries fairly quickly on the surface and can make it difficult to achieve smooth washes without a fairly quick pace.  In order to have the speed necessary for the smooth washes and dark colors in the backgrounds of many of my paintings I always mask around shapes that I would otherwise paint the wash around.  

Now for the fun part, and the pictures!

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I mount my board, cradeled or 1/8 inch, to a piece of foam core in order to avoid touching the surface with my finger tips.  If I’m using a gessobord, I use a Martha Stewart sponge roller to roll three smooth coats of absorbent ground onto the panel.  (The Martha Stewart roller is available at some craft stores including some Michaels Arts and Crafts.  It has a better quality sponge and size than many other rollers I have tried.)  If I’m using Aquabord (as there are a couple sizes available in aquabord not available in gessobord), I roll an isolation coat of gesso onto the panel before rolling on the three absorbent ground layers.  I usually use the absorbent ground straight from the jar without diluting it with water.  Diluting it with water can make it slightly easier to get a smooth surface or can make peaks in the layer, depending on your rolling technique.  If you’re finding it difficult to create smooth layers with undiluted ground try diluting but I want maximum coverage therefore I don’t use a diluted solution.  I allow at least 24 hours for the layers to dry and most often 6-12 hours between layers.  This is my preference, not an absolute.

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The next step is to transfer the completed drawing to the surface.  As you can see, I trace the panel size onto the tracing paper to get proper placement.  For this particular drawing, I adjusted the final size after drawing, moving the right edge into the drawing and creating more negative space on the left side.  This planning is crucial as any marks made on the absorbent ground surface are permanent.

The transfer itself can be tricky as mistakes are costly in time so I offer the following technique:

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I use artist’s tape (low tack tape available at most art supply stores) to tape down one side, or two areas, of the graphite paper.  This will allow me to lift the transfer paper to check progess without misplacing the drawing I am transferring.

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Next, I use artist’s tape to secure the tranfer paper directly to the graphite paper, making sure to line up the pencil lines of the panel size with the edges of the panel. Again, this allows for checking progress of the tracing without misplacing and shifting the source drawing.  

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The next step may or may not involve moving the cat out of your light source! For me, this can happen quite frequently! :)

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Here you can see how I am able to lift the edge and check my progress.  Sometimes I lose track of whether I have traced an entire area, such as the missing dancers leg as you can see!  I try not to press very hard when tracing so as to minimize the darkness of the resulting line, as it is permanent; and I use a very sharp pencil tip to create a narrow traced line on the panel.  

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A close up of my line drawing as I trace it.  

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This is the final result of my transfer onto the panel.  After I finish the transfer, I go over the drawing to refine the lines as the tracing process does not produce a perfect drawing.  

The next step is to mask the areas that I will avoid when I do the background washes.  I will continue to post and update as I work through this painting! Hoping this is helpful. XOXO