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All Things Ampersand

A discussion with Ampersand about using Egg Tempera on Claybord

First, we always recommend Claybord for Egg Tempera. Here’s why:

1) It has a very absorbent ground that is made with kaolin clay. Claybord provides a very smooth and absorbent surface similar, in behavior only, to a “traditional” non-acrylic gesso ground or the chalk grounds used during the Renaissance. Over the years, we have continued to increase the absorbency of the Claybord.

2) We have never used rabbit skin glue in the Claybord formula. Our tests showed that Claybord’s clay ground, when made with a minimal amount of polymer binder instead of rabbit skin glue, holds to the substrate much more effectively. Note the added plus of Ampersand’s “Archiva Seal” barrier technology. Prior to applying the absorbent clay ground to the substrate, we seal the rigid hardboard with our panel sealers to ensure that over time, you do not experience support induced discoloration that can come from a poorly prepared wood panel.

3) We have strong relationships with many professional egg tempera artists that use Claybord successfully for their work. We have received only a couple of calls over the years about lifting, but in talking further to the concerned artists and other egg tempera painters, we have found that individual technique is most likely the cause, not the painting surface.

Examples of exquisite artwork by artists using egg tempera on Claybord:  Ampersand Online Gallery (egg tempera only).

Listed below are a few good practices to follow when working with egg tempera on Claybord and most other surfaces. These practices are provided by artists who use Claybord exclusively for their work as well as from Robert Massey’s book, Formulas for Painters
The important keys to working with egg tempera on Claybord are:
a) How you apply the first layers of paint and
b) Ensuring that you allow each layer to dry before beginning any fine detail work

When using egg tempera, begin by using three to four thin washes of paint over the entire panel, allowing them to dry thoroughly in between. The first four layers should dry overnight to allow good adhesion for subsequent layers. Use a very large brush and stay away from detail work in the beginning stages. After the preparatory layers are finished, alternate to smaller brushes. Continue painting in thin layers, allowing adequate drying time in between. Gradually increase the paint thickness as the layers develop. Repeat the previous step many times, gradually narrowing the size of the brush as the painting progresses. The paint consistency in the final stages should be relatively thick so that the vibrancy and character of egg tempera is thoroughly enhanced. After adequate drying time is complete, buff the finished painting with a soft cloth and frame as desired.

Much of the information about Claybord located on the Society of Tempera Painter’s Website is incorrect.  We are working with them to resolve the problem.

With regard to using hardboard as a substrate, a thorough discussion is provided here on the Ampersand Website.

Also, with regard to rabbit skin glue, here is an article we found interesting written by Virgil Elliott. 

We welcome your questions and comments. Feel free to post them here or contact us directly.

The Power of Nature’s Inspirations

Artist Joseph Mancuso explores California with Pastelbord™ from Ampersand

Autumn in California is a colorful time of transition that provided the inspiration for “An Owens Valley Autumn”. If I see something like this that sparks an idea for a painting, I prefer to quickly record the idea and completely work out the composition in a pencil drawing on paper before I begin. For this painting, I selected a large grey Pastelbord™ made by Ampersand Art Supply. I prefer this board because of its surface and durability. It can absorb wet applications and many layers of pastel. I use a grey board because it is neutral in value and it helps me to judge color and values more accurately.




Step 1

 (Step 1) My first step was to draw a rough sketch on the board using my finished drawing as a guide. I use a light valued pastel pencil or hard pastel in this step because I want the sketch to disappear as I lay down my subsequent pastel layers. Once my line drawing was complete and all the large shapes were placed, I began my second step.



Step 2

 (Step 2) I began blocking in color using a hard pastel, working from background to foreground. I was equally concerned with putting down color and establishing values at this point, so I tried to keep the colors fairly neutral in preparation for the subsequent steps.



Step 3

 (Step 3) The next step involved a combination of blocking in color and applying alcohol washes. The Pastelbord is ideal for this stage because it accepts pastels perfectly, allowing me to use dry and wet layering techniques simultaneously. I used an alcohol wash to develop the larger shapes. I prefer rubbing alcohol because it dries fast and I can paint quickly without waiting. This is a wonderful part of the process because some interesting transparent and opaque effects can occur depending upon how much I load the brush with alcohol. I normally use a #6 or #8 flat watercolor brush for this process. During this stage, I can be looser and more spontaneous with my strokes while maintaining control to achieve the results I want.

(Step 4) My fourth step began once I was satisfied with the under-painting and when most of the larger shapes were covered. I then layered soft pastels on top of the alcohol washes from Step 3. I added the finishing details by alternating between the dry soft pastels and alcohol washes to complete the painting.




Step 5

 (Step 5) The fifth and final step was the slowest part of the process. I stepped back from the painting to view it from a distance. I also used a mirror to look at the painting to see if it worked in reverse. This technique helped me to check the composition, color, edges and value with a fresh perspective. After close inspection, I added in any final highlights and smoothed various edges using the softest of pastels. When I feel that I am nearly finished with a painting, I always ask myself, “Is this the visual representation of the feeling I want to convey?” If the answer is yes, then the painting is complete. Then, it is time to begin working on the next piece and the process begins again.

About the Artist: California-based artist Joseph Mancuso is widely published and exhibited. He is also a signature member of the Pastel Society of America. For more information about the artist and to see more of his artwork, please visit http://www.mancusofineart.com/.

How to Print Etchings on Claybord or Aquabord by Charles Ewing


“Old Bones”, etching printed on Claybord by Charles Ewing.

Printing a zinc or copper plate etching (or drypoint) onto the clay surface of Claybord or Aquabord has three distinct advantages over printing on paper:

• The permanence of the print: Claybord is an archival surface
• The ability to rework prints with mistakes or add finishing details and colors
• Glass free presentation

 A matte acrylic varnish or spray fixative like Krylon® UV Resistant Clear Coating #1309 (Matte) or #1305 (Gloss) sprayed on the Claybord works well and seems to bring out the relief caused by the clay pressing into the etched lines of the plate. The following exercise is a great place to start.


Detail of “Old Bones”, etching on Claybord by Charles Ewing

1. Etch a zinc or copper plate as you would for printing on paper except for: a. Avoid deep wide lines as the clay pressing into the line cannot “reach” the ink in the bottom of the etched lines. b. Use as thin a metal plate as will take your depth of etching and bevel the edges. The thicker plates seem to be pushed by the press, digging into the clay surface.


2. Choose an appropriate Claybord size and determine the placement of the image. Sand the edges to prevent damage to the press blankets. If Aquabord is used, the surface should be lightly sanded.

3. Using matboard or thick paper (should be same or slightly thinner than the metal plate), cut a template with outside dimensions the same as the Claybord, with an opening the size of the plate cut into it for consistent positioning of the image during the edition. This also keeps the plate from moving on the clay surface.

4. Ink and wipe the plate as you would for a paper print.
5. Thoroughly wet and sponge dry each piece of Claybord before printing, removing all excess water with the sponge.

6. Place the damp Claybord, clay side up, on the bed of the press. Position the template on top and carefully drop the metal plate into the opening image side down.

7. Print with moderately-heavy pressure to force the softened clay into the etched lines to pick up the ink. Allow to dry thoroughly.

8. Any ink smudges around the image can be cleaned off with fine oil-free steel wool (0000). The image itself can be redefined or manipulated with scratching tools.

9. Varnish with spray fixative like Krylon® UV Resistant Clear Coating #1309 (Matte) or #1305 (Gloss) and frame without glass and matting if desired. 

About Charles Ewing, inventor of ClaybordCharles, a versatile artist with diverse interests in media as well as subject matter, is known for his figurative paintings of people, wildlife and nature. Along with his extensive use of oils, he works in a unique medium of his invention known as Claybord. He has also been instrumental in developing new printmaking techniques and enjoys the third dimension of bronze sculpture.

Charles was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico and now resides near the south San Juan mountains of Southern Colorado. An avid outdoorsman, Charles’ paintings of nature and wildlife come largely from personal observation, each year spending many weeks on horseback in the nearby wilderness areas. Travels in Latin America and Europe have also offered much inspiration for his work. He is collected widely and shows in several Southwest galleries. http://www.charlesewing.com
This etching process is fully illustrated along with a number of other printing and painting techniques on Claybord in Charles Ewing’s book, The New Scratchboard available at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/New-Scratchboard-Charles-Ewing/dp/08230465833

Charles Ewing discusses the invention of Claybord“The invention of Claybord, as with most new products, was developed out of necessity. I loved the scratchboard drawing technique, being able to create highlights by scratching off the black ink to expose the white clay underneath, however the traditional scratchboard left much to be desired as a fine art surface. It was much too fragile both in the versatility of technique as well as in framed presentation requiring one to glue the thin cardboard to a flat stiff hardboard to keep it flat and to protect the soft surface with glass.

I was able to eliminate these problems by developing a clay coated panel which, unlike scratchboard, would readily accept very wet applications of water media, such as India ink washes, without hurting the clay layer and which could simply be varnished and framed without glass like an oil painting. I made these panels for my own use one or two at a time for ten years before my wife and I decided to bring them to market, first making them on a very limited scale in an old adobe shed behind the house. Later, we helped Ampersand Art Supply in Austin, Texas create and manufacture Claybord for the national and international art materials market.”

Tips For Screen Printing on Claybord™ by Franz Spohn

Ampersand’s Claybord™ is a wonderful surface for screen printing. This ultra smooth rigid panel will not stretch or change during the printing process ensuring perfect registration every time. Warping, tearing, and shrinking are virtually eliminated from the printing process. Claybord holds up to heavy saturations of transparent color and very wet applications. The smoothness of the board allows you achieve incredible detail and allows you to reduce the dot size when using a finer mesh screen. Claybord’s unique clay coating also allows the artist to handwork each print and scratch back into the surface for unique prints or details not achievable on paper. Claybord accepts all types of printer’s inks and is so much easier to handle than paper in terms of drying and storing. When finished, your prints are ready to frame without any additional work. If this is your first time trying out Claybord for screen printing, the following tips will help you achieve successful results.

Prepping the Claybord

Claybord is a very absorbent surface. The kaolin clay will dull out your first layers of color whether working in oil-based or water-based inks, so I recommend sealing the surface first. However, please note that if you decide not to seal the Claybord, you can achieve a variety of interesting and layered effects without sealing. I primarily work with waterbased inks. I first seal the Claybord surface by screen printing a thin, even flat layer of Speedball Overprint Varnish. This seals the surface and prepares it to accept the inks so that they don’t soak into the surface.

Creating a Registration Jig

Claybord is a 1/8″ thick rigid panel. In order to facilitate printing and to ensure perfect registration, I create a jig that will hold the Claybord in place while I’m screen printing. If I’m working with an 8×10 image, I cut down another 8×10 Claybord resulting in four 1″ strips. I then place the 8×10 Claybord that I’m going to print, on a sturdy piece of mylar(.01 thickness). Your piece of mylar has to be large enough to stick out from under the screen because you will use it to align the board with the stencil on the screen. Place the cut strips around the 8×10 on the mylar and mark their position. Glue them down to the mylar with epoxy glue making sure that when you’re done, the 8×10 fits snugly into the jig as illustrated. You’ll want to leave a side of the jig without stripping so that you can easily lift the board from the jig (as illustrated). To register, simply insert a panel in the jig, place under the screen, and use the edges of the mylar sticking out from under the screen to align the board with your stencil. Tape the mylar securely to the printing surface and use to register for subsequent panels. The registration jig also provides a transitional support on which to start and end the squeegee during the printing process. Without this, the squeegee will move the panels or stress the screen fabric and stencil when the blade of the squeegee comes in contact with the edge of the panel resulting in mis-registration and distortion of the image.

Helpful Printing Tips

Print off contact.

Elevate the front of the screen with a 1/4″ piece of foam board so that the fabric of the screen is not touching the surface of the Claybord. This enables the snap back of the fabric when I’m printing and keeps the Claybord
from sticking to the screen.

Don’t use excessive pressure or speed to print.
Claybord’s surface is so smooth and if sealed as recommended, the inks do not absorb into the surface. Therefore the inks will bleed into the non-image areas if too much pressure is applied with the squeegee. If you are concerned that your details will dry up, then use adequate amounts of ink retarder rather than relying on hard pressure to keep your inks open. Also, make sure to use a squeegee with a nice, sharp blade.

Create your own easy to handle drying rack (as shown).
Claybord is really easy to handle and dry since it is rigid unlike paper. You can create a simple drying rack with a board and upright supporting dowel rods. An edition of 20 can dry on a constructed board that is about 15″ and can be placed right next to the printing area within arm’s reach – much more convenient than a drying rack or line. Also, it is much more expedient than trying to find enough table surface to lay out the prints.

Other Exciting Possibilities

Ampersand also has Black Scratchbord™ that is great to print on with Speedball’s opaque fabric inks. You can use this surface one of two ways.
1. Scratch and Then Print: You can use etching tools to scratch in the image on the Scratchbord as you would for traditional scratchboard, revealing the white. Then, use transparent inks to screen colors onto the white image.
2. Print and Then Scratch: Speedball’s opaque fabric inks work splendidly on the board. I like to use the black of the surface to create the linear element so that the stencils print the “fill-in” shapes with color. The opaque fabric inks are dense enough to cover the black of the Scratchbord and have a shimmering or opalescent effect. Then, an additional scratched texture can be applied to enhance the overall effect.
3. Cut outs and Printing: Another advantage of printing on the boards is that the printed shapes can be cut out with a scroll saw and incorporated in constructions. The boards or other pieces can be screwed, glued or otherwise attached to create box-less shadow boxes, tableaux or very hardy “pop-up” books. Consider the construction elements in Red Groom’s or Frank Stella’s dimensional prints.

Biography Franz Spohn

Franz Spohn earned his M.F.A. from the Ohio State University in screen printing and drawing in 1975. Franz is currently among the tenured art faculty at the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania where he teaches screen printing. Franz has exhibited widely in solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally in both museum and commercial gallery venues including The Museum of Arts and Design in NYC, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta, Pacifico Gallery in NYC and The Marian Lockes Gallery in Philadelphia. Among Franz’s illustration credits are children’s books and book covers for Bantam, Doubleday and Dell publishers. Commissioned projects include works for The National Science Museum in London and the Department of Parks and Recreation in NYC. Franz is the host and co-producer of the instructional video series Eureka! The Creative Art Series, seen on many PBS stations nationally and in Canada and he is the recipient of an NEA grant. Franz regularly presents workshops and lectures throughout the United States and Canada.

Contemporary Artists Series: Henry Cardenas

UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures in Association with the Smithsonian Institution’s Texas Contemporary Artists Series continues with the work of Henry Cardenas, July 3 – October 15, 2010. Curated by Arturo Almeida. All of the paintings in the exhibition were created on Ampersand Gessobord.

Henry Cardenas is the resident artist at the Little Studio Gallery at La Villita. He has won awards in juried shows, including the Hill Country Arts Foundation, New Braunfels Art League and the State Fair of Texas Arts Exhibit. His paintings and sculptures have been collected regionally, nationally and internationally.

Visit the Institute of Texan Cultures website for more information: www.texancultures.com/museum/cardenas.html