Artboards are my top choice when painting in watercolour. Since 2010, I’ve done all of my work on Arches Watercolour Boards and couldn’t be happier. Arches is a beautiful cotton paper that’s been made in France for over 500 years. By mounting the paper onto archival Canson conservation board, they’ve created a durable surface that resists warping and buckling when wet. Also, because each board is rigid and lightweight, they are ideal for location work outdoors.
These boards measure 16 x 20 inches, so unless I’m painting something that large, I’ll chop it up into numerous smaller sized boards. Canson must have realized that most people trim them down, and came up with the bright idea of selling us precut 8 x 10 and 9 x 12 artboards. They call this new lineup Canson Plein Air Artboards. They don’t come with Arches paper (for now) but depending on your medium, you have a choice of different Canson made papers with a range of textures. I purchased the 9 x 12 inch Mix Media boards which have a slight texture...smooth, but not as fine grained as Hot Press paper.
While thus far I’ve only completed two paintings using Mix Media boards, it’s already clear that I can achieve results comparable to Arches. A side by side look shows a difference between the whites of the paper; Arches is a warm natural white, while Mix Media is neutral. Not a problem if you’re working in monochrome, but something to consider when painting with colour.
I apply my paint in very thin transparent layers and both Arches and Mix Media absorb pigments identically in this regard. If you’re the type of painter who really soaks their paper and scrubs vigorously, you might want to run some tests to see how much abrasion the surface of Mix Media can handle before embarking on a finished piece. I suspect it’s only sized on the surface, unlike Arches which is sized to the core.
The last noteworthy thing to mention is price. I feel that these spiffy new Canson Plein Air Artboards offer good value. When I cut down the over-sized Arches boards, I always end up with small pieces of scrap, while 9 x 12 seems to be the perfect size for many subjects, so there’s no excess. And unlike flimsy student quality papers where they’ve swapped out the cotton for sawdust, these Plein Air boards are acid free and just as sturdy as the premium Arches brand. This is definitely a product to look for the next time you’re visiting the art shop.