Spring can be seen all over the woods that surround Sewell Mills Studio. Spring Beauties cover the leaf litter down by the river, emerald green Skunk Cabbages have unfurled their leaves in the bog and Bluets are in the meadow. Several pair of brilliantly colored Bluebirds have been checking out all of the nesting boxes, as have a pair of Chickadees. Black and blue Marbled Salamanders can be found moving around among the old piles of firewood that border the woods near the studio. Above, Red Shouldered Hawks call to each other.
It is this kind of activity that inspires me to paint, to find new subjects and plan new compositions. This spring, I have been experimenting with Claybord, made by Ampersand. Claybord is a Masonite-type panel, which has been coated with a smooth white clay surface. The clay is absorptive, and may be painted with egg tempera, acrylic, oils or watercolors.
I have used Claybord several times to paint images of wildlife, but this spring, I began painting more abstractly with transparent watercolors on the surface. At first, I found it difficult, because I was used to paper. The more I experimented, the more interested in the surface I became.
For subjects, I at first chose dark evening images of the river behind my studio. I began painting by pouring liquid watercolors on the surface of the clay. This worked for two reasons: it prepped the surface to accept more paint, and to quickly lay down large areas of color. Then I tried applying color in different ways. I tried scraping, layering with a broad brush, pouring multiple layers and adding multiple layers of scumbled and hatched lines. All of these techniques worked. In at least one painting, I even used masking fluid to reserve whites.
As I completed more and more of the paintings, I began varying subjects. Most are still abstract, but several of the paintings on boards are more realistic, at least in part.
When the paintings are finished, I cover the completed painting with several layers of varnish to seal the painting. It seems unnatural to seal a watercolor, as far as I was concerned, but now I like the idea, at least on a non-flexible surface like Claybord.