Sketching on Canson Plein Air Watercolor Board Pads

September 9, 2016

160904_David_CrossCRBRLeft: Sketch of stand-up comedian, actor, director and writer David Cross on a recent appearance on Netflix's "Chelsea." Canson Plein Air Watercolor Board Pad (9 x 12 inch cut to 6 x 9 inch). Pentel pigmented brush pen, Daniel Smith Watercolors, Montana Acrylic Marker background.

One of the great things about the aftermath of sketching at the Minnesota State Fair is that there is usually paper or board, or whatever it was I used, left over.

So for the next little bit I'll be working on watercolor boards here and there to use it all up.

This year at the Fair I worked the first trip with 9 x 12 inch watercolor boards, and the last trip with those boards cut in half (to reduce the weight of the materials I had to carry).

I really enjoyed working on this watercolor board. 

1. It isn't as nice or easy a surface to work on as Arches Watercolor Boards. The Arches has better sizing and makes lifting easier and more effortless, though of course it depends on the staining nature of the pigment you're lifting.

2. Sometimes the Canson Watercolor Board surface almost repels paint. I found this to be true when I was painting up to and over Pentel Pocket Brush Pen or Pentel pigment brush pen ink lines, as well as lines made with the Sakura fiber tipped brush pens. It's something you sort of have to see. I'll see if at some point we can't get it on video. But for now just be aware of it. I found ways to work around it so it's not a problem in my mind.

3. The boards are nice and stiff and easy to hold when you are standing and sketching. 

4. The cold press texture is tight and small and it's still easy to work with color pencil or fine tipped ink pens on this board. (There will be examples in my 2016 Minnesota State Fair Journal, but they haven't been scanned yet.)

5. The Canson Plein Air Watercolor Pad seemed like a good idea, but in the field, in practice it isn't—here's why. The boards are all joined on one wide side by perfect binding—pad glue. In that way you can in theory carry them around in the field with you and use one, turn it over, and use another. It doesn't work like that in life. You can turn a board over and it can break the glue and fall off the pad. It's a lot to juggle. 

Additionally if you want to work with the single board it is sometimes IMPOSSIBLE to pull it off the pad. And sometimes when you do pull it off, if you aren't extremely careful, you can tear into the working surface of the board.

I test everything at home before I take it into the field and I discovered all this at home. I took the pads apart and carried individual boards in a large pouch. I would strongly suggest that you do likewise if you use this product.

A surprising negative—Nichiban artist's masking tape PULLS up the surface of this board, even if only left on for 30 minutes. I've been using this tape for years and it never pulls up the paper fibers of a paper unless it's a soft printmaking paper. On a heavily sized watercolor board I wasn't expecting it to pull the paper up—and I am expert at gently pulling tape off at just the right angle so as to not catch anything!!!

Even tape that had only been on for 30 minutes or less had the potential to pull up the surface. Sometimes the pull up was great, and can be visible on the scans I've done so far. Other times it was minimal. There was no rhyme or reason for where or when this would happen. It was not where I had pressed the tape down the hardest, or pushed with additional weight from my fingers as I held the board and sketched.

Because the effect/interaction is random this makes it a non-useful approach for me to use tape when working with this board. That's a shame because the sketches I did on this board with a uniform masked border looked really spiffy. 

When will I work with this watercolor board instead of Arches Watercolor Board?

I'll use this board for the next few weeks or more as I use up the stockpile I purchased thinking I'd take it every day to the Fair. (I went a little overboard to ensure I would have enough and not only bought some locally but ordered some on sale mail order. I'm glad I did, it's cheaper for me to work on this board than to use paper. The sale is still on at Jerry's Artarama. I am not connected with them except as a customer.)

If I run out of this board and want to work on board (I've been doing watercolor board experiments since April when I did my International Fake Journal Month Journal on Arches Watercolor Boards) I will certainly buy this board again IF IT IS ON SALE.

But I will not purchase this board again at full price as I think Arches Watercolor Boards are a better product that doesn't have all the fuss related to the pad.

(This padded product also comes in a Mixed Media Board and an Illustration Board. I'm still testing both of those and haven't had time to work with them enough to review them. There are some other options Canson makes that weren't interesting to me. I'll write more when I've worked with them.)

    • Tyanne agle
    • September 9, 2016

    Have you ever used the aquabord by ampersand?

    • Tyanne agle
    • September 9, 2016

    Thanks for the info. I want to do a painting based on my maine sketches and photos and wondered if this would be an apprpriate surface. Sounds like it would

    • KerowynA
    • September 9, 2016

    Roz — Can you give us a link to the Arches Watercolor Board? I cant find anything like it when I Google…

    • Tyanne agle
    • September 9, 2016

    My plan is to come on the 18th but I do have a 9×12 piece here, so no need to bring me any. just wanted your opinion on it cuz it is expensive and I need to get over my fear of messing it up.

  1. Reply

    Kerowyn, here’s a link, but it’s common everywhere so search around for the best price. Since the last time I purchased it’s called Arches Art Board, but if you google Arches Watercolor Board you’ll still find it.

  2. Reply

    I am going to bring that piece. When you asked about it I remembered I had small squares. It’s not a matter of you goofing things up, You need a scratch piece. Then you can go to town on your big piece.

    I wish they made the little pieces (ovals and rectangles) with the aquabord™ surface instead of just the Clapboard™ surface. Ah well.


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