how to make your own clayboard

several years ago, at an art supply promotional activity at our local art supply store, i was given, among other things, several ampersand clayboard panels.

they sat unused in my studio for a couple of years, but i wanted to do some miniature painting in egg tempera, and i took one of these panels and cut it down to a 4×5 inch size (it was something like 8×10).

as soon as i started laying in the egg tempera on the little clayboard panel, i thought – what a lovely surface – and really enjoyed working on it.  i think these panels must be a delightful support to work on for many different media, egg tempera in particular, and i recommend them highly.

while i was still in the process of doing this little painting, i got out the label that came with my clayboard, and read the ingredients and the information the manufacturer supplied, and my first thought was – i have five pounds of kaolin clay sitting on my shelf in the studio that’s probably been there for eight to ten years (leftover from the unsuccessful manufacture of handmade pastels.)  so naturally, i thought – why don’t i make up some of my own?  i can do gesso, why can’t i do clayboard? which i proceeded to start doing within a few days.

i’ve liked the results, i find it no more difficult than doing the traditional gesso.  in fact, for me it may be a little easier, because of the nice simple flow off the brush, and the rapidity of the application, which goes faster than the regular gesso.

after making a number of these panels, and painting on a few, i have made a few inquiries amongst fellow egg tempera painters, whether or not any of them have ever tried making their own clayboard, and so far nobody has come up with any stories about trying it themselves, altho a number of them have tried the commercial product and seem to find it very workable.

also, checking with some technical sources (amien rocks), none of the scientist types seem to come up with any objection to this product on an archival basis.  so it looks like a full speed ahead, go to it situation to me.

and for an artist who is not imaginative enough to market everything he produces almost instantly, the economic advantages are a real consideration.

the recipe

one cup boiling water
1tsp – 1 tbs rabbit skin glue
one cup kaolin clay
1tsp – 1tbs dry pigment (titanium white, or for a warm gray, 1 part raw umber to 3 parts titanium white)

you’ll need

double boiler, or saucepan and bigger saucepan to fit it into, stove to boil water
spoon and measuring cup
gesso brush
sized panels

how to do it

it’s just like mixing up a bunch of rabbit skin gesso, but you use clay instead of marble dust.

boil a cup of water in the small saucepan, and sprinkle the rabbit skin glue into it, stirring well.  use more or less to make the surface more absorbent (less glue) or less absorbent (more glue).  let this cool.  they say to cool it overnight, but i’m not very patient, and usually just wait until all the glue crystals disappear.

mix your pigment with your kaolin.  use more or less pigment depending on how much covering power you need.  mix in roughly a cup of kaolin for every cup of water.  i usually mix up three cups of water and fill my little saucepan.  stir it well.  let this cool, several hours or overnight.

i usually use this time preparing the panels with acrylic size, one coat per board.  there’s no need for two coats, as all you’re doing with the size is making the board somewhat less absorbent, so that the paint goes into the surface, but doesn’t disappear into it.

when you’re ready to coat your boards, heat the clay mixture over a double boiler until it stirs easily.  in summer weather, i only have to heat the mixture up in the morning and it stays workable for hours, sometimes all day.

using your gesso brush, a wide, flat brush, coat your panel and let it dry.  then coat it again.  i put 7 coats on panels i recently made, and several panels got 9 coats.  i could have used more white in the mix to make the opacity build better, but i don’t mind the grain coming thru a little.

when you’ve got enough clay built up on your panel, let it dry well, and then take a razor blade and use the flat of it to scrape over the top of the board.  this knocks off the burrs and scrapes a smooth surface, like a zomboni making ice.  when you’re done scraping, take some fine sandpaper and rub it gently until your surface is as smooth and shiny as you like.  it’s a good idea if you’re going to use it with watermedia to make it super smooth, because imperfections will show.  but if you’re using it as the substrate for oil painting, or encaustic, then who cares, and you might even skip the initial planing with the razor.

nobody makes their own clayboard as far as i can tell.  buying it at the art supply store gets expensive really fast, and i’m against the idea of artists paying thru the nose for art supplies.  so i make all my own supplies whenever possible.  the current batch of clayboard – 16×20 panels – comes from a 4’x8′ sheet of luan plywood from home depot – 20 bucks.  rabbit skin glue is $13 a pound, and a 5-lb bag of kaolin cost us $13 just yesterday, and will go a very long way a cup at a time.  i figure the 16×20 panels cost us about $1.40 apiece, and they’re ten times that at the art supply stores.

some of the panels i have made are substantially larger, twice or three times as big as the largest commercial clayboard panels i’ve seen listed in the catalog.  since these smaller panels retail for several hundred dollars, something two or three times as large would begin to look a little costly.  so i don’t really see having much of a choice should i want to work on clayboard on this particular scale.

this post has been viewed a whole bunch of times. i should write some more how to posts, you think?


105 comments on “how to make your own clayboard

  1. Jim, I was interested in this article. I have a Letterpress studio and have been looking for a great high contrast media which will permit me to create artwork that can easily pass as a wood engraving and translate well as a typographic / Letterpress die. I have been experimenting with Clayboard which I purchased, black india coated, to use as a scratchboard white-line media. You’re right about the expense: three 5×7 boards were ten bucks! I am wondering, with your method, could the surface be painted with black india ink without significant bleeding into the clay itself? Thanks for your research and posting. It is saved now to my fav. places.

    -gary johanson, Printer.

    • gary, thanks for reading. i have no idea how far into the depth of the clay and rabbitt skin glue mixture india ink will penetrate. because i have never actually cut a piece to look at the area from the side. but it would seem to me, if you make sure you have a moderately thick coat of kaolin clay built up on your support, and if you were to put one or two coats of clear rabbit skin glue on your surface as a final coating, you would stand a good chance of not having deep penetration of india ink into the deep body of the clay layer.

      i’ve never used india ink on anything but paper, and i’ve never really used it on gesso, so i have no idea how deep it penetrates. but i wish you luck on being able to cut back down to a good clear white.

      • Hi Jim. Thank you so much! Do you know how this recipe will work with alcohol inks? Also, how would this recipe work with a piece of luan plywood 5′ x 7′? Would priming the back keep it from warping or how would I keep something this big from not warping? Also, do you suggest
        how to hang this? what would I use since I have never built anything this big before (for brackets) My clients don’t want a frame or cradle panel around the painting just the artwork itself . Please help! Thank you. Sincerely, Joana

      • hi joana, i have no idea how clayboard works with alcohol inks. i suspect the surface would absorb the alcohol very quickly.
        as for the luan, priming the back does help it not warp. as for hanging without hardware, you can possibly glue (with the strongest epoxy) a hanging wire across the back of the panel itself. you can’t really use hardware on the panel itself, because it’s too thin.

      • Hi Joana; am just a visitor reading your post. A piece of plywood that big needs to be braced in order to reduce chances of warpage. The back should also be painted with at least a big thick X from corner to corner (gesso will do), in order to balance the effect of stuff being painted on the front. It looks as though your biggest work for this project will be figuring out the invisible parts (as usual with art). Try looking at YouTube videos with titles like “how to cradle/reinforce a plywood panel”, “how to hang a large plywood panel”, “avoiding warpage in a plywood panel”. – not actual vids, but this is the kind of language that gets effective search results. Note that if you do not prepare the panel carefully re. Avoiding warpage, once gesso is applied it’s chances of warping the board as it dries is strong. Also, your bracing framework does not have to be visible from the front of the artwork.

      • Hi Joana; am just a visitor reading your post. Was just thinking that a piece of plywood that big probably needs to be braced in order to reduce chances of warpage. The back should obviously be painted with at least a big thick X from corner to corner (gesso will do), in order to balance the effect of stuff being painted on the front. It looks as though your biggest work for this project will be figuring out the invisible parts (as usual with art). Try looking at YouTube videos with titles like “how to cradle/reinforce a plywood panel”, “how to hang a large plywood panel”, “avoiding warpage in a plywood panel”. – not actual vids, but this is the kind of language that gets effective search results.

    • Hi jim your clayboard techique work great , my only problem is the board starts to bow or distort after i build up a few layers of the clay mixture can you help, clayboard in australia is hard to get and extremely expensive to buy thankyou for your recipe michelle

      • hi michelle, one of the reasons that a panel will bow is the depth of glue that creates so much pressure as it dries and shrinks on only one side of the panel. either one of two approaches will remedy that problem – the more complex approach is to use the same number of coats of glue on the back as you do on the front, thus equalizing the tension on both sides of the panel. when we were told how to do this in art school, they simply recommended painting an ‘x’ across the back of the panel from corner to corner, with the suggestion that this would be tension enough to keep both sides equal. an alternative procedure would be to simply use very few coats of clayboard ground on the one surface you do coat, and get by with fewer coats if you simply add some titanium white pigment along with your kaolin clay. if you get too many coats of clayboard ground on the one side, then you cn go back and balance it out by adding more rabbit skin glue to the back side. it’s the glue that tightens and makes the tension, but it’s easier to use the same mixture on both sides.

      • I am using Plaster In Paris with glue on masonite board and don’t have any trouble with the board bowing. I am still experimenting with differint textures on the surface as the plaster is very absorbant! I use transparent watercolors exclusively and the colors do not dry dull as on paper! There is a sparkle in the plaster that is very nice feature! I don’t know about acids in the plaster though but I don’t see my walls at home turning yellow and I think they contain a lot of plaster! Ramona Martin

  2. HI Jim,

    I am interested in making a clay ground for my panels, but I do not want to use Rabbit Skin glue. Do you know of an alternative that would work? Thank you, Marissa.

    • i don’t know of any alternatives to rabbit skin glue offhand. ah, i just remembered. gelatin. you might try mixing up clear gelatin from the grocery store and mixing the kaolin clay in with the gelatin while it is still warm. the mixture is probably going to have to be highly diluted with water. i’ve never tried this, and it only occurred to me as a possible alternative. but gelatin is a glue. if you’re not going to make big batches of ground color for clayboard, you might also try experimenting with both casein and guache medium. gum arabic is a very hard glue, and might not give you good absorbency. you’ll have to experiment to find out what works well, and in what proportions. unfortunately i have no experience with anything other than rabbit skin glue. one place you might look, for answers would be the amien forums – best of luck.

  3. hey great article, I am really interested in making my own. I just have some questions. I have used clay board in the past, but its just not thick enough

    how would u compare the store bought item to your home made? better or worse ex..

    is it necessary apply the ground in thin coats (fat over lean) or can I just pour on the mixture?

    how thick can I get the ground?

    thanks for your time

    • gary, i keep losing this answer so i’m going to be very sparing. there is no fat over lean with clayboard, it is simply clay and glue. just one layer after another of the same thing. if you were to pour it on to make it really heavy in one layer, my guess is that it would crack as it dried, which might make a really great surface texture. otherwise, to make the ground as thick as you like, you put on more layers, letting each set up before you apply the next one. this can be anything from two or three layers up to the endurance of your patience. for me, i find three to five layers more than sufficient. and i actually like to use as few layers as possible to get a good white surface. in regard to white surfaces, i also like to add some dry pigment to the mixture, frequently, to create a toned surface rather than a pure white one, but this is a matter of individual preference. as for the comparison to store bought, i only bought one panel in the store, and liked it so much i decided to make my own, so i don’t have much of a comparison for you. mine turn out much rougher than commercially made clayboard, but i brush rather than spray, and actually want some surface. my wife, who does not, sands hers to the same glassy surface you get with a commercial product. it’s all a matter of taste. good luck to you.

  4. This is just what I was looking for and the same question I was asking. Have you ever tried doing block prints with clayboard? I have used the paper scratchboard for some time and I am getting into clayboard as scratchboard. I like it.


  5. Jim, I am so excited about your recipe for clayboard. I tryed a store bought one and fell in love! It is so absorbant and forgiving at the same time! I was wondering if the textured paint that you use for ceilings would work. I will check out the ingredients and even try it out! I’m very stingy when it comes to spending money on art supplies. Don’t they know where all starving? Thanks again for your recipe! Mona

    • ramona, i’m pretty sure that the textured ceiling paint is acrylic based, and has additives you may not want to make up all that texture (like styrofoam). acrylic won’t give you the absorbency that clayboard does. since you’re really stingy, you may want to learn how to mix up your own paints and save on all that pre-processing.

  6. I experimented making my own a few years ago using porcelain clay slip & pva glue and if it was too liquid, I added a little chalk. You are the only other person I have come across making their own clayboards and wonder if you think my recipe is viable as a modern archival alternative? So far mine haven’t seemed to deteriorate over time [ 10 years for the first lot] I also painted some with ink and it took a lot of coats before it cut back to white.Although, I am thinking of grinding charcoal & adding to gum arabic to see if that works better. I make my own gesso but after an illness I had to look at modern alternatives that are non or low toxic.

    • your mixture sounds interesting and not too far from what i’m doing. my mixture is half chalk and half kaolin with rabbit skin glue and water. if it’s working for you, and you like the results, then i think you should stick with it. you might try running your mixture by the wonderful people at amien – and seeing what they have to say about it.

      • Thanks very much Jim, will check them out :) I haven’t run across that forum before. Yes, you are the only person who I’d been able to find posting about it to see if I was on the right track or completely delusional! Oh, and no, the charcoal didn’t work ;) Thanks again!

  7. Heh Jim, I was trilled to see your recipe for making clayboard! I’m a tight wad and when I did my first watercolor on it, I couldn’t believe it! It is a very forgiving serfice! I was too cheap to buy the clay so I used plaster in paris with knox gelitin instead of rabbit glue. It worked like a charm. It’s so absorbent you have to work very fast before it drys on you to get the watercolor to blend and this is transparent watercolor at that! I’m still experamenting and will keep in touch with the results. Any more ideas, please let me know! Thanks, Ramona Martin

    • hi again ramona, i would probably have never thought to use the combinations of materials that you have discovered, but they seem to have worked well for you. go girl go. and keep in touch with your results.

      • Hey Jim, I’m still messing around with the Plaster In Paris (by the Dep Co.) I tried a cheaper plaster and was really sorry! Plaster in Paris is the one! As it dries, it heats up and forms a very hard surface with the glue and I don’t skimp on the glue or the surface is to powdery and soft. This does not buckle either as it dries! I’m still experimenting with suface texures and the last panels I made (masonite) I used a smooth roller to put it on changing directions at each coat. This gave the effect of a rough almost clothlike look pattern like blown up canvas! This surface is very absorbant and I use only transparent watercolor. It behaves somewhat like paper but the color changes a light grey when it’s wet and the paint acts different in the flow. I love the look of the watercolor on this surface as the color doesn’t dry dull as it does on paper! There is a sparkle to it too that adds a beautiful touch! No more glass over paper, just a uv varnish spray and your good to go! Thanks for your recipe, I’m soooo greatful! Ramona Martin

      • Hi ramona what glue are you using ? I have tried rabbit skin glue with plaster of parisand was not completely happy , kaolin clay engraved better also what ratio of water to plaster are you using . I am manly using boards for scratching and ink

      • I use 1 cup water to 1 cup plaster in Paris. I’m using it for watercolor paintings so I want a more absorbant surface. I should have used a bit more knox geletin in the last batch I did as the surface was a bit too soft. When I did my more successful 1st boards, it was in the middle of summer and I think the slower curing with higher humidity and temp made a big difference too! Like I said, it’s all still experiementing until the right combo is found. I also sealed a few finished boards with really watered down gesso (like a skim milk color) and that made the surface a little harder and less absorbant. It’s all experimenting and I love the discovery of it. Good Luck to all and thanks again Jim for your help to fellow starving artists! Mona

    • Genius, Ramona! In Cennino Cennini [there was a Dover reprint] this mixture (Plaster of Paris and gelatin glue) is called ‘gesso grosso.’ For egg tempera he covered this with ‘soft plaster,’ gesso sottile, where the filler was made by stirring very, very, milky thin plaster of paris for half-an hour until past the risk of setting, and mixing the sediment with gelatin/rabbit glue. That gives a surface less like Ivory board.

  8. Thank you so much for posting this recipe! I have been trying to find a way to replicate the surface on larger boards that don’t cost a prohibitive amount, and I appreciate your willingness to share with other artists.

  9. Hi Jim. I am about to start experimenting with your recipe. I use clay board as a base for large scratchboards. If this works it will save me many hundreds of dollars a year. It will need to be quite hard in order for it to with stand the scratches. Do you have any recommendations for ensuring a certain amount of toughness to the surface?

  10. Hi Jim,
    Thanks for this article. I’m getting supplies together as we speak. I just have a few questions. You mentioned in a post above that you use chalk and kaolin, but the recipe only mentioned kaolin. How much chalk do you use (is it interchangeable with the kaolin?). Also, I’ll probably try gelatin since I had no luck finding RSG at the local hardware stores, plus I’m hoping that gelatin won’t cause the warping problems mentioned with the RSG. Thanks again. I can’t wait to art it up with homemade boards!

    • you can get rabbit skin glue mail order (utrecht, art supply warehouse, etc). also, you can probably get it from anyone who supplies dry pigment. i’ve never tried gelatin and have no idea how it’s going to work, but the warping problem comes because these things tend to tighten as they dry, and with more layers, the effect is increased. the antidote is to coat out both sides with equal amounts of the binder. if you use chalk, the material is traditionally called gesso. if you use kaolin clay, the material is called clayboard. if you were to use a combination of the two, you could call it a whole new art product. have fun. i would encourage experimentation by mixing of materials, and scan see no reason why any proportion of these two products couldn’t be experimented with to see what gives you best results.

  11. Jim
    I am confused about the rabbit skin glue. Do you add that to the mixture of Kaolin or do you simply put it on the board as sizing. I don’t see anywhere on the recipe where you say to add the glue to the clay. ??? Are they applied mix or layered with each coat?

    It doesn’t seem clear to me if you put the glue into the clay mixture once you disolve the rabbit skin glue into the sauce pan.

    • not very clear, i guess. the first step is to mix up the glue and water, heating it, and then let it sit for awhile and set up. like several hours. then heat it back up and mix in the clay, and then let it cool back down again. and when you’re ready to use it, heat it back up again. the heating is to make it go on smoothly and thin. you mix them both together and put them on that way. hope that’s more clear.

  12. Hi Jim,

    Great article. I was happy to find it. My application for your recipe is a bit unique and I was hoping to get your input for the possibilities of this working. I’m a gourd artist. I create unique projects with dried gourds and travel the gourd show circuit teaching the projects I develope. I am interested in the possibility of painting the clayboard mixture directly onto a prepared gourd (cleaned & sanded smooth). Then doing the typical scratchboard prep technique of painting 2 coats of india ink in cross directions, allowing to dry and scratching into it with the appropriate tools. Your thoughts?

    Thanks again for an enlightening post.

    • your proposal seems like it would work to me. you might want to put more than one coat of clay and rabbit skin glue on the gourd itself. clayboard is pretty absorbent, but since the india ink has shellac in it, it shouldn’t sink in too much. if you can’t scratch white back out of it, then you don’t have enough clay on it.

      that’s pretty inventive, using it on gourds. when you get one of two of these done, email me a photo of it, i’d love to see it.

    • dear hank,

      i would suspect that the clayboard ground would crack on a flexible surface, such as paper or canvas, if not at once, then certainly later, particularly as it’s a rather thick coating. you’d have more luck using acrylic as your binder, instead of glue. foamcore (styrofoam) isn’t stiff enough. canvas mounted to board, if you like, but mount it first and prime it afterwards.

      for my own practice, when i want larger surfaces, i use a large sheet of plywood product called underlayment (luan or mahogony) that i get from home depot or lowes. one or two coats of clayboard over that seems quite stable, and you can start off with pieces as large as 4×8 feet, and cut it down as desired.

      if you want to go the luxury route, try using big sheets of gatorboard. i’ve heard that it’s good, but have never used it myself because it’s too pricy for my budget.

      • hi Jim,
        super fantastic idea – just what I was looking for to paint water colour on board. I am excited to try this in a large format for a commission piece. I hope you are still answering to this post.

        My question – about a primer coat under the clay coating – when you use the luan, which I plan to, do you prime it first? If so, what do you use?
        One post on this thread (and other sites) said
        acrylic primer = acrylic gesso,
        but then another said
        gesso = the clay coating or the coating you would paint on….
        I’m a newbie and so easily confused !

        I’ve read conflicting sets of instructions and warnings on how to/or not do this, but feel a primer would be prudent, as a barrier over the wood or luan, and the clay coating is the final working surface, separated from the board by the primer.

        It’s very important that this lasts for a long time, thus my questions,
        thanks very much!

      • you can use a primer, but the object of putting clay emulsion on an unprimed surface is so that it sinks in and binds tightly. so if you use a primer, you don’t get the absorption.
        one thing you’re going to want to watch if you’re doing watercolor, is the cracking. clayboard will crack when the support is dropped. i cover my watercolors with a coat of wax to prevent any loss of surface.

  13. thanks much, Jim; just what I was looking for. I am sure I will give this a try soon, and will probably have need for some input then. until then, thanks again, and good painting to you and yours.

    Jim B

  14. Hi Jim – thank you so much for this. I have always enjoyed painting on MDF/masonite panels but I became interested in clayboard after watching a video by US artist Stephen Quiller who uses it. However a little research about ampersand clayboard soon revealed that it’s currently not available in the UK. Thankfully I came across your blogpost and I’ve now purchased all the ingredients and will shortly have a go at making my own panels. I’ll let you know how I get on. Kind regards Jane

  15. Hi. I was so pleased to come across your recipe for making clayboard :) I have bought all the ingredients but was just wondered whether I could confirm the process?
    Am I right in thinking it is as follows;
    1. Mix rabbit skin glue with boiling water and let cool
    2. Mix pigment into Kaolin
    3. Heat up the glue/water mixture and mix one cup of glue/water per one cup of kaolin/pigment mix??
    Any confirmation would be much appreciated.
    Many thanks for sharing your recipe.

  16. Thank you for posting this I just stumbled on to it while looking up better prices on clayboard. $1.40 and some time sounds much better then $13.00!

  17. Awesome info, thank you! I am working on sculptures, loving working on a Ampersan Claybord surfaces (yes.. they are expensive), and was wondering how in the heck to build the same medium on an air-dried clay sculpture. Perfect.

  18. I love Ampersand claybord, but the prices are crazy high. I tried to make my own but I couldn’t get the surface as smooth as the commercial kind. I am going to try your version (and maybe now I can afford to create a really large piece!). I use alcohol inks and india inks (not together, they don’t mix) on the claybord, and the colors are incredibly brilliant.
    Thank you SO MUCH for this tutorial!

  19. Hi Jim,
    Thank you for a great idea. I love the clayboards for painting oils because it really makes you have to use paint.
    can’t wait to Try… keep up the good work!

  20. Hi Jim– am really grateful for this, am in nigerian ,but can fine this rabbit glue ,what else can be used ?,also can i see u research on youtube.thanks Eddy

  21. High Jim,
    I would try gesso on the back and sides. This works on Masonite to keep it from warping when you lay several layers of gesso on the Masonite. I have also had success dry mounting 140 lb watercolor paper to Masonite. Solves the warping problem. You can work very big then.

  22. Hi Jim

    Thanks for your helpful recipe and instructions! However, I am having a problem applying the clayboard mixture onto my boards. After applying one layer, it dries and starts cracking / flaking. When I try to add additional layers, everything clumps together and comes off the board. Do you have any solutions to this? Also, what is the consistency of the mixture supposed to be before you apply it to the board? I’m currently using EPK kaolin and rabbit skin glue, though I skipped the step prepping my boards with acrylic size.

    • dear hannah,

      when i have mixed the kaolin powder into a water mixture, i get the water very hot, and then sprinkle the clay poweder in very gradually, so that all the mixture becomes a consistent, slightly syrupy mixture, and then let it sit at least overnight, so that the clay and the water are well bonded. usually the next day, or much later, i put the mixture in a double boiler, and warm it up, so that it is a rather thin, easily brushable mixture. when it’s cool, it’s usually too thick to brush on. you can either add pigment while it’s in a liquid state, or you can leave it its natural color, and it works really well, particularly if you’re doing something like egg tempera or watercolor. sometimes one or two layers should cover your support. other times you might want to use half a dozen or more, depending on how you like it to look and behave.

      as for your particular problem, it may be that your mixture does not have enough water in it, or that you use it too soon before the different elements are properly bonded, or that the surface you are painting on has some kind of material on the surface that the clay mixture finds it hard to bond with. you might try to prep it with size, or you might try sanding the surface very thoroughly to get any slick water resistant surface off the top of your panel. sanding is especially recommended.

  23. I have not perused all the comments, but I did have a question. Could you order the steps? Is it:
    1) Paint acrylic size on.
    2) Paint on rabbit skin glue
    3) Paint on clay mixture

    Thank you for your help!

    • dear erin,

      i wonder if you are using the rabbit skin glue separately from the clay and water mixture. your 123 steps leave me wondering. in fact, the rabbit skin glue needs to be mixed with the clay, allowed to sit for at least 12 hours, and then reheated in a double boiler the next day, before it’s applied to the panel. best of luck,


  24. Thank you! I recently discovered this amazing surface for my ink paintings, and I am in love with the combination. I dreaded the thought of buying large, expensive boards, but you have saved my wallet from death. Thank you sooooooo much.

  25. Hi Jim,
    Thanks, this is a really interesting post. I like to make my own things every now and then, one because of expense, but secondly because I feel like it builds my relationship and understanding with the media I’m using. I love to experiment with different surfaces and this looks like a joy to paint on. I was just wondering how long this gesso lasts if you don’t use it all?

    • From experience, the mixture starts to stink very bad if left sealed in a jar for a few days (I thought sealing it would preserve it). It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to use it once it starts stinking. As mentioned, it would probably last longer if it’s refrigerated. If you leave it out in the open and it dries out, it’s a pain to get it liquid again. I recommend just making as much as you need at a time.

  26. Jim:
    Thanks for sharing this receipe It works perfectly. I just applied my first batch and I looks amazing white on my boards. I noticed one cup of clay covers aproximetaly an area of 4′ X 8′
    Once again thanks for saving us so much money!!!!

  27. Hi Jim, really useful post, thank you. Can I ask you, does any type of plywood do the trick if you want an archival surface?

    • basically, no plywood is archival. however, if your surfaces are archival, and you prep well, there should be no interaction, and your painting will remain safe from the chemicals in the wood. as always, surface prep is essential.

  28. Pingback: Someone makes clayboard | Moon

  29. I read that you can not paint acrylic paint on RSG. As this mix of your has RSG mixed into the Clay and Chalk I was wondering if I could substitute PVA glue instead. I am wanting to use the clay board surface for faux wax paintings using acrylic based products. Please advise if you think this could work and be archival?
    Thank you

    • yes, you can paint acrylic over rabbitt skin glue. no idea why someone says you shouldn’t be able to. it seems unnecessary to prime a surface that you’re going to put wax and acrylic on, because absorption doesn’t matter with these media. it would work, tho, and as far as archival goes, pva glue is probably much less archival than rsg.

  30. Hello!! Excellent tutorial. Thank you Jim. Regarding the rabbitskin glue – I know that in the furniture-making tradition, craftspeople use hide glue which is produced from boiling down less specific animal parts than the rabbitskin variety… Bet it could be used for making the Kaolin gesso in a pinch though. Would be more likely to be available in hardware stores as well. Just a thought.

  31. Jim,
    Love your recipe but also confused, I get that you mix the glue and water and let it sit over night. It’s the next step where it gets blurry. I mix the clay and dry pigments together, do I also include a cup of water or am I adding it to the original water/glue mixture?

    • you mix the glue and water and let it sit. then you heat it and add the clay. after the clay is mixed, add the pigment and mix more. or add pigment at any time later. it’s that simple.

  32. Pingback: Maleplater – grunning II – Bildeskolen

  33. Jim,
    My wife does all her artwork on “Store Bought” clay board from ampersand on cradles and on clay coating on masonite. I can make the cradles and mount the masonite.Do you have any suggestions on applying your recipe on masonite. Thanks for the great blog.

  34. Thanks for posting this. A lot of scraperboard artists would be very interested this. Quality scraperboard is essentially clay board with a thin layer of India ink.

  35. PVA glue was mentioned in previous comments, but I would like to know if anyone has used it in making this clapboard recipe? I am a strict vegetarian and in no way will I use RSG. In terms of PVA, isn’t Elmers this type of glue, maybe with a bit higher pH? Would Elmers work? If not, who other alternatives do I have? THANK YOU!!!!

    • the basic point of clayboard is that it has an absorbency of the water-based binder in the paint that is applied to it. many binders that are available on the market today are absolutely waterproof once they dry, and do not redissolve. this is the case with acrylic binders, the pva glue, and elmer’s. they dry, and then they dry and you can’t wet them and expect them to come up. the point about animal skin glue is that it retains its ability to be redissolved after it has thoroughly dried. which also gives it the ability to absorb the binder in a water-based paint, no matter how long the ground has been dried. a number of other binders share this same quality, such as gum arabic, and possibly casein. this absorbency allows for a better bond to the ground by the water-based paint.

      gum arabic comes from a plant (elmer’s comes from milk)

      good luck with your experimentation, please let us know how it works out with your binder of choice.

  36. thanks a lot (from France) for your article !
    I looked at your art, and thanks too for those beautiful paintings, drawings and modellings ! it’s very inspiring and poetic !

  37. Hello, in my country I cannot find the materials mentioned. Can I use alcohol inks on a board with white Formica?

    • probably not. formica is a plastic, and alcohol inks tend to fade. you might be able to stain the formica, but it won’t have the same effects. i’d be interested to hear how it works for you, tho.

  38. Thank you, very much for the recipe. I m waiting for the materials to arrive tommorow, but i m still wondering if this clay primer is also ideal for airbrushing! Does it have the same result as painting on an Ampersand clayboard! From the comments above , I haven t seen any related to this recipe and airbrushing!

    • we’re not at all sure how it compares to ampersand clayboard. we shuddered at the price when we saw it at the store and decided to make our own, and that’s how all this got started. our clayboard has a unique handmade surface, not like the slick commercial product ampersand puts out, and each board handles a little differently. also, we have no idea how airbrushing will work. clayboard is quite absorbent, so it will probably suck up whatever water based media you put on it. good luck and let us know how it works out.

  39. I am thrilled to find this article I only have 10 sheets of frisk cs10 left which I LOVE. they haven’t made it in years so will try making my own. I think you might achieve a slick surface by sanding it?

    • gum arabic would probably work, but it would need to be diluted somewhat, and it would be substantially more expensive. never done it, myself.

  40. How about trying methyl cellulose instead of rabbitskin glue? (Main ingred. in wallpaper paste). No idea whether it would work, but perhaps it is a vegan alternative to the hide glue? We use it in bookbinding, btw. ttps://

    • i haven’t used wallpaper paste as a clayboard ground. i’m old fashioned, and try to avoid modern, processed plasticized products. and dow chemical is one of the manufacturers, so i have ethical problems with that. similar to your vegan ethical problems. i was reading about leonardo da vinci recently, and he was a vegetarian most of his life. he had no scruples about using animal hide glue, however, and he spent much of his life designing war machines for unscrupulous psychopaths, which raises even more ethical issues. plus, if everybody stopped using animal products, many industries would collapse, and many people would have no work. plus, the replacements would typically be made of plastic, which is horrible for the environment. so you just have to choose which form of damage you’re causing, and how far down the line it carries. you could always do a ritual of atonement, as ancient hunters would do, praying to the spirit of the animal whose corpus you are about to use. i find that helps a great deal.

      • I hear you. Complicated. Not vegan or ethically against using animal-based products myself. Also, my methyl cellulose comes from a small company in Ontario (where I live). Have not traced to source. Nothing is free of ethical questions today. We cannot Un-know what we already know. All we can do is choose our battles, respect the ones that others choose (or do not choose)and be kind to our neighbors!

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