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.
how to do it
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?