Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Watercolor 101 | Paper

Paper is your foundation for painting and as with your paints and brushes,
great materials are a must. Most watercolor papers are mouldmade papers
manufactured from pure cotton rag,which is a naturally binding,
archival and absorbent material that makes a great sheet of paper.
Watercolor paper is finished with gelatin sizing which further binds the cotton fibers
together and helps to stiffen the paper so that when you paint with water,
the sizing moderates the absorption and the paper doesn't
fall apart while you are working. Arches is my favorite brand of watercolor paper.
 I love it. It's like butter! That said, there are so many great makers of paper
as well as some very fine boutique handmade papers too.
Try different papers and find what works for you.
There are three basic surface finishes:
Hot press paper has a very fine, smooth finish and cold press paper has
a textured surface, sometimes referred to as the grain or tooth.
Rough is a very grainy paper with a lot of tooth. The choice is yours.
What does the weight mean? For the purpose of painting, you need only know
that the higher the weight, the thicker and more substantial the paper will be.
Paper is measured in pounds per ream or grams per meter.
A typical ream of paper is about 500 sheets of paper and sometimes more,
so the weight actually refers to the how much the entire ream weighs.
Watercolor paper comes in several weights, the most common being: 90, 140, 300 Lb.
A 300 Lb. paper is considered a heavy weight paper and
it is very resilient to water saturation, holding its shape well.
It is ideal for larger work, however it is also very costly per sheet.
I prefer to use large individual sheets of paper which I order in bulk.
I also use watercolor paper blocks from time to time,
the blocks come in a variety of weights, finishes and sizes.
A block is a stack of pre-cut paper sheets, gummed or bound on the edge with tape,
which holds the sheets together and prevents the paper from cockling as you work.
After you are finished working and your painting is dry,
peel the paper from the block,and voila!
A fresh new sheet of paper is underneath.
Cockled paper occurs from saturating paper with water and paint.
Sometimes the paper dries unevenly causing everything from slight warping
to a very puckered and buckled paper surface. It is not a flaw.
It is simply a part of working with the medium and I think it has a certain charm.
However, too much cockling can be distracting from the painting itself and
 you can avoid much of it by using a high quality, heavy weight, properly sized
watercolor paper or stretching your paper before painting.
Personally, I prefer to use a heavy weight paper and
avoid the extra work and preparation.
Let me know if you have any question!

Here are a few places to shop for watercolor paper:
Next time 101 is all about washes.


Carol said...

Very informative! I have a preference for Arches bright white 140 cp.

Looking forward to more photos of Cowboy :)

Anonymous said...

Great Post! Thanks again!! Do you by any chance keep a watercolour journal and if you do, which one would be your favorite one? I have had sevral and have had to stick with a moleskin because I think their paper is very good and its th only one i can get... any other good ones that you might know of in the market? Take care and thanks for creating this space to discuss... I am learning a lot from all the 101's both the posts, the comments and the answers to the comments!
And do you pin your paper to some king of support untill its dry, or do you move it freely the desk? If so... is the only trick to keeping it clean being VERY CAREFUL? I hope this doesn't sound too silly but always ready for personal tricks!

thank you,


holly aka golly said...

Carol: Thank you, I use 140 Lb. quite often and 300 Lb too. Cowboy pictures will be coming soon. I think he has grown a little bit!

P: I don't keep a watercolor journal. I sometimes keep a little sketchbook, but I don't work in it regularly. The paper is not watercolor paper, it's drawing paper.
I don't stretch my watercolor paper before painting but I've put a link to several ways of doing it in the post (click on stretching) just in case anyone wants to give it a try. I just leave my paintings in various stages on a clean, flat surface until they are dry.

Kathleen Maunder said...

Hi Holly - Do you have a preference for hot pressed or cold pressed paper?

I tend to work on 140 lb. (occasionally 300 lb) cold pressed Arches or Saunders. I love the cp texture but am sometimes finding it to be a problem when I convert my paintings to prints. Kathleen

holly aka golly said...

Kathleen: I work mostly with hot pressed these days, though I love both hot and cold pressed paper. It depends on what I'm painting and what seems to work best. I've been painting very detailed and tight, small paintings for the last few years and hot pressed seems to work better for me. Lately, I've been feeling like I need to loosen up a little bit and cold pressed will really enhance a looser style of painting because the paint naturally collects and pools in the grain of the paper.
Regarding reproduction prints, I have some experience with reproduction prints. When you scan a cold pressed paper, you will pick up the texture and tooth of the watercolor paper in your scan and depending on what type of paper you are printing on, that paper may also have visible grain too. Some images may work better than others and if you are familiar with photoshop you can make some corrections and changes. You may also try painting on hot pressed and printing on a toothier paper or the reverse, painting on cold pressed and printing on a smooth printing paper so that you don't have competing textures.

Kathleen Maunder said...

It seems like some cp papers cause more problems for me than others. I did my latest painting on Fabriano paper which I don't usually use and my scan has picked up a honeycomb pattern that wasn't visible to my eye. I've also run into difficulty when I paint on handmade papers like Saint-Armand. In this case the paper texture is taking over the scanned image and I can't seem to get rid of it in Photoshop. I finally have taken a photo of the painting and am working from that. I tend to paint in a detailed way too. Despite the soft spot I have for cp paper, I think I'll try my next painting on hot-pressed paper. Then, as you say, I can print on a more textured paper.

Thanks, Holly. It was very nice of you to respond in such a detailed way.

Mrs. Katie said...

Awesome. I am just starting out experimenting with water color, and need all the tips I can get!

holly aka golly said...

Kathleen: My pleasure.

Mrs. Katie: Have fun getting started!

Valerianna said...

Arches is my fave, too. I use hot press. Never stretch - I'm with you, too much work, but that link to stretching was pretty funny with the comments at the end of each method.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for answering!
The stretching tips were very intresting. I did not even imagine they were possible. I have also found your tips and the comments on printing very useful!

Sometimes when I am almost done with the watercolour, I get scared that I might give it a big blot and go on inventing mascaras and things to not ruin it at the last moment. I guess its bc I have to hand them in, because photoshop would be a miracle!

I am very happy with all this new information.
All the best,

emma said...

Loving these! Came to ask a few questions but they have all been asked and answered ever so nicely. Thank you & your drawings are beautiful...

holly aka golly said...

Valerianna: I love the warning about resisting the urge to eat paste on that paper stretching link!

Palma: The "big blot" as you put it happens to me all the time! Most of these paintings become colorful confetti in my shredder, however you can always try to (1) leave it alone, it is what it is. (2) turn that little accident into something. (3) while still wet, try to "lift" it off with a clean, blunt, waters soaked brush and a cotton rag for blotting. Sometimes you can erase those little mistakes if you act fast!

Emma: Glad this has been helpful!

Anonymous said...

Hi Holly and Everybody!
May I add another source for paper?
It is New York Central Art Supply


and they have simply the best and most comprehensive offering of papers anywhere. Get their free paper catalog: it's a wonderful reference tool.

Also, they offer small standard sample packs of papers as well as custom packs, selected by you. These are for a small fee, but they allow you to test the feel and heft of a wide variety before you purchase.

Thought you'd like to know.

holly aka golly said...

I love NY central! Thanks for reminding me and adding the link to their website!

Kelly Lahl said...

These are great posts, and I just voted for your fabric design. Good luck! Wondering; do you use a tear bar to tear down the 300lb. paper?

holly aka golly said...

Kelly: I think the 300 LB paper is too thick to tear and I've wasted paper trying. I tend to cut it down and I know, I know, I know, I started as printmaker and tearing your paper is preferred, cutting is anathema. If you want to keep a deckled edge, order paper in the size you wish your final painting to be. Most larger mouldmade papers will have deckles on two, if not all four sides and boutique handmade papers will always have a deckled edge on all four sides.

artist said...

Thanks Holly,
Your information on papers and all of the responses. I too love Arches.

On tearing versus cutting. I use my mat cutter to get a clean edge for 300lb paper, with 140lb I fold first and then tear.

I have a friend that draws a line on her 300lb paper and takes a brush with clean water and brushes on that line several times and then tears. It looks like a deckle edge when she's done.

lamina@do a bit said...

THank you holly for all this wonderful information and responses to everyones questions... it is all so helpful! You should right a little how to book :)

holly aka golly said...

artist: Those are great tips for tearing and creating a deckle! I'm sadly a very lazy girl at this point in time and I'll have to give it a try! :) I love that everyone is sharing their own practices and preferences. It's really great information and just goes to show you, there are so many ways to do things.

lamina: You are too kind! I just hope you and everyone following this series will have fun experimenting and painting and creating one's own work rituals and techniques. Truly, there are no set instructions or rules to follow and if there are, they are made to be broken!