FOUR GREAT QUALITIES THAT A BEGINNER LEARNS WHEN CHOOSING WATERCOLOUR PAPER
Whilst travelling in Vietnam, I would make it my mission to explore the neighbourhood of where we were staying. In one of these neighbourhood walks, I came upon a little obscure,colourful but depilated building with bars on it’s doors. It peaked my interest and I was immediately taken by it so I walked in.
There, in this little room filled with children’s school art materials I had an overwhelming sense that I had found a little treasure pot. As I walked around, my eyes fell upon some paints near the counter.
At the time I had no clue about anything to do with watercolour even less on how to use it but the person behind the counter said “you paint?” “good, this” and showed me a small white case.
It turned out to be a small Koi Water Color sketch box ( which I still have to this day, see below). I held it in my hand, took a look at the colours and immediately felt I couldn’t leave the shop without it.
The same person behind the counter gave me some paper (unfortunately, it was light tan and not very heavy watercolour paper) and I went on my way.
As I walked out of the store, holding that Watercolour Winsor and Newton case everything felt just right! I had an overwhelming sense of Joy!
No sooner had I arrived where I was staying I set my painting area and away I went painting and experimenting with the watercolour paints. Once again, I didn’t know you needed a heavy weight paper to withstand the water so you can imagine the result on my first attempt …soaked paper with dirty colour all over. Let’s just say, my first watercolour pieces definitely reflected the beginner in me.
Painting with this paper was frustrating but luckily I kept at it! About a month after some more travelling and reading about watercolour and its properties, I bought better quality paper.
Watercolor is a colored pigment in a water soluble binder. This quality allows watercolor paint to dissolve when you add water and so the pigment easily spreads with a brush.
What a difference, watercolour paper made!! I began to see what watercolour could do with the right kind of paper.
Knowing about the qualities to look at in watercolour paper would have saved me a heap of time when I first started. With this in mind I thought it would be great to share four basic aspects that I found useful when choosing watercolour papers.
Hopefully, this will make some sense so you can make a better decision when choosing your paper!
There are two grades of watercolour paper artists’ quality and students’ quality.
- Artists’ quality: this type of paper is acid-free (it will not become yellow or brittle, sometimes known as archival paper) and designed to last.
- Students’ quality: This paper doesn’t perform well and don’t expect your painting to stand up to the test of time.
There are 3 textures to choose from with watercolor papers:
This type of paper has a smooth surface. (I remember it by thinking of an iron flattening a piece of paper, which makes the surface smooth)
- least absorbent of the paper textures
- good for painting detailed subjects such as botanical paintings
This type of paper has a textured surface.
- has great absorbency
- painting looks a bit more vibrant after drying.
- good for painting detailed work but not as intricate due to the textured surface.
This type of paper has the most textured surface.
- has the greater absorbency as the pigment settles in its rough texture
- good for producing a textured result, not for very fine details.
There are 3 weight classes for watercolour paper. The weight tells you how thick the paper is.
- Light – 90lb / 190gsm
- Medium – 140lb / 300 gsm
- Heavy – 300lb / 640 gsm
In comparison, the weight of computer paper is about 24lb (extremely thin!)
I can use 190gsm paper when using gouache but with watercolour the minimum I would go with is 300gsm (medium weight).
It’s also a good idea to prepare your paper before painting. This is called stretching your paper. Stretching is the act of pre-soaking or wetting down the paper and then allowing it to dry or blotting it dry before painting. Another way of stretching is to tape down the paper on all four sides to a board. Some watercolorists do both.
If you love working with very wet watercolour then a heavy weight paper would be a good choice. However, the price will also reflect the paper weight. The higher the weight of the paper the higher the cost. But, if you’re able to give a heavy weight paper a try, give it a go and see how it feels.
You can buy watercolour paper in the formats below:
Most watercolour paper pads are students’ grade paper so if you want to be archival make sure you check the fine print on the cover, it should say acid-free or archival paper.
Pads can come either wire bound so you can flip the page when you are done painting on it. or
Taped on one side so you can tear off one sheet at a time.
Watercolour pads are good for practising and painting outside.
Watercolour paper that comes in blocks are most often Professional Grade Papers.
Blocks allow you to paint without taping down your paper. Because they are glued down on multiple sides (at least 2, usually 4). To release a sheet ( once you’ve finished painting) you can insert a credit card or some flat object into the opening at the top of a watercolour block and run around the edge.
The really good thing about sheets or rolls of watercolour paper is that you can cut them down to the size you want your paper to be.
It’s also (most of the time) good quality paper at a higher weight and alot more economical. The only disadvantage is that you’ll need to make time to cut the papers down to the size you want.
One other quality that I appreciate about sheets is that it comes with a deckled edge that looks like it has a beautiful natural tear.
There are lots of different types of watercolour paper available to watercolorists. What I found is that the paper you end up with really boils down to two things.
- Trying out a variety of watercolour papers (varying in weight, texture and even colour ) to see what suits the type of work you do.
- The watercolour paper you end up using is up to personal preference. Remember, that one size doesn’t fit all.
“One size doesn’t fit all”
If you can, let me know what your favourite watercolour paper is and why. I always like to experiment and try out new watercolor paper.