Techniques and Tips

Painting with Watercolor—on Aquabord

Painting with Watercolor—on Aquabord

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Painting with Watercolor—on Aquaboard by Ali Cavanaugh

Using a fresco technique and placing solitary figures against white space, Ali Cavanaugh puts the focus on bright light and dramatic gesture.

.Profile of Neve (watercolor, 12×12) by Ali Cavanaugh



1. I started by sketching my figure very lightly with a 4H graphite pencil. Then I dampened the entire Aquabord with plain water. Using a No. 0 round brush and a combination of lemon yellow and cadmium red, I redefined my lines with lightly pigmented water, establishing my most basic contours.



2. I continued with a combination of lemon yellow, yellow ochre, cadmium red, burnt sienna, burnt umber and, in places, a touch of indigo. Still using my size 0 round brush, I layered thin sections of value, gently building depth to the form of the figure. Note: I re-dampened the board before applying each color layer—not with a lot of water, but with just enough to get the pigment on the board hydrated so it would blend with the next layer.



3. Once the form of the figure started to take shape, I began to develop brighter tones in the areas of reflected light. I primarily used cadmium red and cadmium yellow and applied these with my No. 0 brush.



4. At this point I’d established my basic structure, so I went in with my Nos. .02 and .03 brushes to redefine the delicate details in the eyelashes and ears. There are several colors that I used for this stage: Van Dyck brown, indigo, perylene maroon and burnt umber.



5. After the completion of the detailed features of the face, I moved into the dark depths in the strands of hair. The size 1 brush works well for the application of individual hair strands, for which I used Van Dyck brown and burnt umber pigment.



6. To bring Profile of Neve (watercolor, 12×12) to completion, I combed over every detail, adding soft layers to blend all parts together for continuity and harmony. I added some cadmium red and a touch of phthalo yellow-green on the strap over her shoulder. I also continued with thin layers of Van Dyck brown and burnt umber over her skin tones in the shadowed areas. My final touch: Using Payne’s gray with my .03 brush, I defined the tiny reflective details of the silver earring.

Ali Cavanaugh’s work is included in private collections throughout the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Singapore, Portugal, Switzerland and Australia. Visit her website at

Read Cavanaugh’s feature article “Unspoken Language,” by Tamera Lenz Muente in the March 2011 issue of Magazine.

Free preview
Click here to watch a free video preview of “Chinese Watercolor Techniques with Lian Quan Zhen.”


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Watch the video: Karlyn Holman presents How to Prepare your Canvass for Watercolor (June 2022).


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