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Monday, September 27, 2010

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

Thursday, September 9, 2010

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.
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.

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.”