I discovered Ampersand’s Aquabord™ with the 2˝ Deep Cradle about a year ago and it has been such a wonderful surface for my watercolors. Previously, I worked on paper, but always struggled with its limitations in presentation. The flawless pebbly surface of Aquabord takes layers and layers of pigment without wearing down. The paint is amazingly workable and removable on this surface. Also, it is so nice that I am able to display my watercolors without glass and that they are already framed when done.
My process starts with a very light pencil sketch to map out my composition. I use a variety of flat brushes sizes #2 to #8 to lay in basic values. Then, I use synthetic round brushes ranging from sizes as small as #.2 to as large as #2 to build up my surface.
My palette consists of ceramic tiles set up with clusters of color; one for skin, one for hair and one for fabric. I prefer the Daniel Smith watercolors because of their absolute purity and intensity. I begin by lightly spraying my palette with water to keep it wet. I mix lots of water with the pigment and apply diluted, wet layers of color to achieve depth. All of the colors are mixed first on the palette before applying them to the surface. Working with thinner washes and allowing each layer to dry prevents the paint from lifting when applying subsequent layers.
My paint application process is very labor intensive and can sometimes consist of close to 50 layers of pigment. I would say that the process most closely resembles that of egg tempera because of how I build up the paint layers by using tiny overlapping brush strokes.
For skin tones, I pull from Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Red Medium, various Purples, Sap Green, Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, and Van Dyck Brown. I don’t have a set formula for skin tones, because skin color is so relative. I have to be somewhat flexible with the flesh colors in order to capture harmony and balance within the fabrics for each individual painting.
When painting fabrics, I use minimal color in order to draw attention to the colors in the subject. I layer complementary colors to build up depth; orange over blue or red over green for example. For fabrics in grayscale, I use a combination of Lamp Black, Payne’s Gray, Indigo, and Cerulean Blue.
I seal my paintings in groups by lining them up and applying about 3 or 4 good coats of an acrylic matte spray. Once the surface is sealed, I use about three coats of Minwax Polycrylic® on the plywood sides. The smaller pieces are hung with simple hardware; a saw tooth hanger on the back of the cradle and rubber bumpers at the bottom so that the painting hangs perfectly flat against the wall. Larger pieces, I attach D rings to the back of the cradle and add wire for hanging.
My daughter is my muse and my source of inspiration, but my paintings are not necessarily portraits of her. In short, they are more accurately self-portraits of me as a child. Patterned fabrics, textures and color are essential elements that breathe life into my portraits. The white negative space serves a multipurpose. It not only emphasizes the composition of the figure, but also creates silence, and this silence gives room for contemplation.
About the Artist Ali Cavanaugh is a Santa Fe based artist who is represented in the US and Portugal. She earned her BFA from Kendall College of Art and Design, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Ali currently has an exhibition in Austin Texas at the
I paint exclusively with oils on Ampersand’s 2″ Deep Cradled Gessobord™. I used to have my painting panels made for me by a friend, and although they were good quality, I could never get the smooth quality gesso surface I wanted without hours of sanding. Ampersand’s gesso surface is flawless and perfect for the precise work I do. These paintings, “#147 Oranges” and “#136 Pyracantha” clearly show the level of detail I am able to achieve on the smooth Gessobord surface.
On a table in my studio, lay at least 100 tubes of paint, arranged like a rainbow in 4 rows. On the opposite wall, color charts hang with paints that I use. I find those charts to be incredibly helpful when trying to match a color from a photograph or my imagination. I am the type of painter that shifts my color palette often. I enjoy paying close attention to the subtle differences in color and at times, how those colors are created by the layering or glazing of transparent or semi-transparent colors. When I first began to paint, I used the color charts often to tell me which paints were transparent and which were opaque. Another artist’s product I find helpful is Daniel Smith’s oil painting medium that when added to my paints, helps with glazing and also speeds the drying time of the oils. Most often, the paints will dry overnight which allows me to paint day to day, in what I call “passes”, slowly building depth and color.
The first step for me to beginning any painting is to decide subject matter, but before I begin, I protect the edges of my Gessobord cradle with painter’s tape. From there, I cover the entire gesso surface with the paint I have chosen as a base color. This color sets the overall tone as well as serves as the first pass towards building depth and deeper colors. I always mix at least 1/3 Daniel Smith’s painting medium to this base color, so it will dry quickly. Once that is done and dry, I pick about 10-30 paints that will make up my palette. My palette is a large piece of glass that sits on a nearby table that is covered with white paper. I like the glass palette for the way it feels when I mix the paint and the ability to scrape away any old dry paint. I squeeze out a bit of each color in a big horseshoe shape on my palette and arrange the corresponding tubes around the wet paint. This saves me a great deal of time trying to locate those colors later on while I’m painting.
When painting from a photograph, I grid both the photograph and the Gessobord which helps me with the enlargement process. It is important to make sure the grid lines are very lightly applied to the panel, otherwise they can be difficult to cover. One of the nice things about drawing on the Gessobord, since it is a rigid panel and has such a smooth surface, it is much easier to get perfect lines when I do my initial “grid and sketch” and there is no bounce or stretch to contend with while drawing. I have found that these attributes allow me to achieve a higher level of detail for both the drawing and the painting process more so than on any other surface or substrate. When a painting is complete, I remove the tape from the birch plywood cradle and have a perfectly clean edge. This way, no additional framing is necessary.