I remember the day I discovered Ampersand clay boards, it was in an Art Supply store in Miami. That was 25 years ago. I was 5 years into icon painting; specifically traditional byzantine style icons in egg tempera. I realized quite quickly, if I was going to enjoy icon painting I would have to give up the ‘ Art ‘ of preparing the boards for icon painting in a traditional way. The process may be rewarding work but applying gesso to a solid wood board requires a certain mind set.
The gesso alone takes precision to prepare, then sanding. My first attempts included boards for icon painting that warped, gesso that cracked, and hours of frustration to achieve a perfect surface. The board preparation is a prayer form, one that would take me years to master. In the end, Ampersand Clay Boards and icon painting was a marriage, .
NOT Gesso Boards / Ampersand Clay Boards
As with most iconographers the practice and discipline of painting icons will call you up short, show you who you are. Patient surrender though time and effort is a dimension that icon painting will illuminate for anyone taking up this discipline. One gesso curled off, it was a bad ratio of glue to bole, had nothing to do with the gesso but the recipe. I had finished preparing the board and it looked fantastic so I used it. With time the board changed a bit every day. First a crack, then a chip, on it went until I had to regretfully admit the image and gesso was leaving the surface. God or no God, the icon is a memory now.
I was mortified many times creating boards for icon painting that were not sufficiently hard and bubble up when I began to paint. Those broads were beautifully sanded. How was I to know, working and experimenting alone in my studio that the quality of gesso and the application is an art form all of its own. I was teaching myself something that seemed simple.
As you can imagine, I had many quite fine and successful attempts, yet others were a total disaster. In part, I was to blame for changing the materials. I would purchases new products to see what would work better and experiment as if I was a chef in a restaurant. The time I spent learning, materials wasted and the frustration of wanting to paint instead, were solved with my first purchase of Ampersand Clay Boards for icon painting
I Love to Paint
I love to paint and have not the patience to make every board from scratch, I want to pray and paint, mix earth pigment while I think about God. I purchased a stack of perfect white boards, the surface was absorbent and lovely for Egg Tempera. Early on, in 1997 Ampersand did not have the cradled version. My wonderful husband cleverly solved that detail by attaching 1” inch solid wood frames to the clay boards. To this day we mount our own Ampersand clay boards because the quality of wood that Ampersand uses for the cradle is not the finest. However they are reasonably inexpensive and look fine with paint around the edge.
I Wanted to Paint Big Icons.
Most solid wood you find in a carpenters supply warehouse will only be 12 to 16 inches wide and you can expect to pay top dollar. The iconograghers 1,500 years ago had forests of tress to choose from and big ones. Strong carpenters dedicated themselves to cut, shave, sand and finally age beautiful boards that were 30 inches wide or more. They were prepared as an altar table for the iconographers. Thanks to Ampersand, today their clay recipe on Masonite press board is perfect for egg tempera icon painting.
Ampersand was a Solution, boards for icon painting
When Ampersand Clay Boards and icon painting came together I was in heaven, what a delight. I called the company to see how large is the largest they could make and gleefully I heard them say, for a special order they could make panels 4 foot wide. I was already beyond happy with 36 inches.
I have given many workshops in 20 years and have never had any problems with how the egg emulsion attaches the clay surface. It is absorbent and steadfast with time. Good luck scrubbing off an image after 2 years. The students seem to do quite well with the inexpensive un-orthodox board and clay surface to begin their journey with icon painting, me too. Thank you,
Ampersand Clay Boards and icon painting.