A support is the surface on which you paint.
For oil or acrylic painting, an artist uses gessoed Masonite, canvas or other firm, non-porous surfaces.
Watercolor requires a porous surface to absorb the paint, and paper is the main support used for watercolor painting.
What Is Watercolor Paper?
Splash water on an average piece of paper and it immediately buckles and wrinkles. Standard cellulose based paper is not suitable for watercolors. That type of paper is too thin and fragile to withstand the water, and the fiber content is not archival. Quality paper is made of 100 percent rag, and the chemicals used in the production process help to preserve the fiber.
How Thick Is Watercolor Paper?
Watercolor paper comes in a variety of thicknesses ranging from 80 lb, 90 lb, 140 lb, 260 lb and 300 lb. This thicker paper remains flat, or it can be stretched to stay level when wet paint is applied.
The thinnest papers are really too thin to be of much value unless they are stretched. The 80 lb paper is suitable for practicing brush strokes, experimenting with colors, making color charts and rough drafts. It’s always nice to have some throwaway paper that you won’t feel guilty crumpling up and tossing in the wastebasket, but it won’t give the look of good quality paper.
Paper in the 140 lb and 260 lb range is suitable for most watercolorists. If you’ve received a pricy commission and want to impress your client, shell out the big bucks for the 300 lb paper. Most artists, however, do just fine with the mid-range paper. It should be stretched to maintain its flat profile. This makes applying juicy washes more manageable, and it helps paint to dry consistently without darker areas of pigment that have puddled in low spots.
What Is Texture On Watercolor Paper?
Texture is important to a watercolorist. This texture can range from almost non-existent to slightly grainy, or the paper can have definite ridges and valleys. Surface texture is known as ‘tooth’ in the art world. The amount of tooth an artist uses depends upon the style, technique and even subject matter he chooses.
Watercolor Paper is divided into three categories based on the texture of the surface. These categories are known as rough, hot pressed and cold pressed. Since these surfaces are quite different and have diverse characteristics, it’s important for an artist to be familiar with how each type of paper reacts to the medium.
Rough paper is the most textured type of watercolor paper. The tooth is prominent and makes a big impact on the way an artist applies his paint and how his resulting work appears. The ridges and furrows are quite definite. Paint will pool in the tiny indentations and leave the ridges much lighter in color. Drawn lightly across the paper, dry brush strokes apply the bulk of the paint on the ridges while leaving tiny white spots where the paint does not flow into the furrows.
This type of paper is not really appropriate for fine detail work. The unevenness of the paper makes it hard to lay in fine, hair-like lines or paint perfectly edged shapes. However, if you use loose, unstructured strokes and rely on fortuitous happenstance, rough textured paper could be just the kind of paper that’s right for you.
Hot Pressed Paper
Hot Pressed paper is smooth and almost texture-free. The surface is perfect for fine detail work and uniform color application. When using this paper, the artist must take care not to contaminate the surface. If he plans to apply a uniform wash, any oils on his fingers may transfer to the paper and cause the wash to appear blotchy when dry.
Beginners may find this paper hard to use. The slick, hard surface is less absorbent than other papers, and paint tends to slide around. Glazing is a real challenge, as the wet glaze loosens the underlying coats of paint and turns the current glaze into mud. Successful glazing on hot pressed paper requires a quick and delicate touch.
Cold Pressed Paper
This paper is the most commonly used watercolor support. It is sometimes called NOT, referring to the fact that it is not hot pressed. The tooth of cold pressed paper lies between rough and hot pressed, and it is a good all-around support. Cold pressed paper works well for detail and contains enough texture to add a bit of painterly quality to the painting.
A novice painter should choose paper with a medium tooth. Watercolor is not the easiest painting medium to master, so a forgiving paper is a little helping hand to keep the learning curve at a lower incline.
What Size And Format Paper Should I Use?
Watercolor Paper is available in four formats. The four formats are rolls, loose sheets, pads and blocks. The type of painting you do, the location where you paint and the frugality of your nature all play a part in answering this question.
For high-production or creating large mural-sized paintings, watercolor paper is sold in rolls. This paper is generally 10 yards long and varies from 44-1/2 inches to 51 inches wide. This format is more economical, but the preparation will be more labor intensive. Cutting individual sheets and stretching them before painting takes time, but the cost savings may be worth the effort.
Loose Sheet Paper
Sheets of watercolor paper generally come in two sizes. Half sheet paper is 16 inches x 20 inches and full sheet paper is 22 inches by 30 inches and is typically available at art supply stores.
Watercolor Pad Paper
Pads are available in many sizes and are either spiral bound or bound with adhesive along one edge. They are easy to store, carry and the variety of sizes make them popular for students and professionals alike. Since thin paper needs to be stretched before use, these pads are often used for sketching or dry brush techniques.
This format of paper is more costly per unit than other styles, but it is very convenient to use. Sheets of paper are mounted together with adhesive to form a solid block. The paper is left intact on the block for painting and is removed after the work is complete. This makes it handy for tucking in a briefcase or backpack to use in a classroom or when painting en plein air. Blocks are available in numerous sizes. They range from 4-1/4 inches x 6 inches to 18 inches x 24 inches, and you can buy them in all the weights and textures as loose sheets.
Watercolor Paper Brands
There is a wide range of quality in watercolor paper. As a beginner, you should stick with brands recommended by your instructor. Other artists whose work is similar to your own style or taste are also people whose opinions you should consider. If you prefer detail and precision, asking a slap-dash artist who flings paint may not be a wise idea. He is apt to tell you that Rough watercolor paper is by far the best, when in fact you should be using Cold Press or even Hot Press paper.
While you are in your earliest stages of learning how to manipulate your brush, create even washes, color mixing and other technicalities, you can use student grade paper for these practice sessions. Once you’ve become adept at the basics and begin painting in earnest, use a professional grade paper. You don’t need to buy the most expensive paper on the market, and you should continue to use your student paper for sketching and practice.
The following brands are the best-known manufacturers of Watercolor Paper. They are readily available in stores and on-line art supply websites. Many companies produce a number of lines available in different textures, weights, sizes and formats. The cost of similar papers by different manufacturers can vary greatly. Although price can be a telling factor to the quality of the product, it is not necessarily an indicator of the appropriateness for an artist’s particular project. Because each artist has specialized requirements for their support, it’s difficult to generalize about any one brand of paper.
Arches Watercolor Paper
The Arches company has been producing watercolor paper in Lorraine, France since 1492. Their mould made paper is 100 percent cotton fiber and the sheets are acid-free, pH-neutral and gelatin-sized. If you can afford it, this is a very fine quality support.
Bockingford Watercolor Paper
Bockingford is a student grade paper that is available in 140 lb weight with a cold press surface. This paper is made of wood pulp instead of rag and does not stand up to vigorous scrubbing. It is reasonably priced and useful for the beginning student or artist who works with pen and ink, watercolor wash or a technique in which the paper is not abused.
Canson Watercolor Paper
An old and respected French company, Canson began producing watercolor paper in 1557. It has both cellulose and cotton based papers in a variety of styles and forms. They manufacture a unique watercolor block, which has paper that is rough on one side and cold pressed on the other.
Cotman Watercolor Paper
This paper is produced for Winsor & Newton and is a mould-made, acid-free paper that is suitable for students. It is listed as acid free, but is not listed as archival. The manufacturer states that it is a wood-free paper, but they do not state the fiber content of their product.
Daler-Rowney Watercolor Paper
In 1783, Daler-Rowney began producing artist’s paints near London, England. After World War II, the company expanded into painting surfaces for all disciplines and developed their watercolor paper. Their Langton Prestige line is 100 percent cotton, made with a cylinder mould and is acid-free.
Fabriano Watercolor Paper
Artists have been painting with Fabriano watercolor paper since 1282. This manufacturer has several lines of paper available, and all Fabriano papers are good quality. The Artistico line is less costly, while the Fabriano Uno line is more expensive and Fabriano Esportatzione is the ultimate in expense and yummy goodness.
Strathmore Watercolor Paper
Strathmore paper has been produced in the United States since 1899 and has four lines of paper. Stephen Quiller Watercolor paper is 100 percent cotton and is pH neutral. Strathmore Aquarius II Watercolor paper combines of cotton and synthetic fibers. It is a lightweight, 80 lb paper that is suitable for pen and ink or dry brush. Strathmore Gemini Watercolor Paper is cold press, 100 percent cotton and is available in 140 lb or 300 lb weights.
Strathmore Imperial 500 Series Watercolor Paper is archival quality, 100% cotton fiber and acid-free. The 140 lb paper is available in cold press, hot press or rough surface.
This is just a sample of the paper manufacturers that produce watercolor paper. There is always another paper to test, just as there are always new paints, tools and toys for the artist.
Non-Standard Watercolor Supports
Other non-standard supports may be of interest as you travel down your path to a life in art. Yupo is a synthetic, water-resistant paper that is not for the faint-hearted. It makes great textural paintings and causes some raised blood pressure as the paint slides about the surface until it dries through evaporation.
Illustration board can be used for dry brush painting or pen and ink work. This rigid surface does not allow scrubbing or manipulation, but the smooth surface is great for detail technique.
There are also gesso-like absorbent grounds that can be applied to non-porous surfaces. This coating creates a paper-like surface that works well with watercolor paint for unusual support applications.
Watercolor Paper, with its various weights, textures and composition can be a complex subject. The more you learn, the more you want to pursue your quest for the perfect paper. Don’t worry about that now. There will be time later for testing, comparing and agonizing.
For now, just buy a reasonably priced pad of paper that you won’t feel guilty wasting. Take recommendations from instructors, other artists and get yourself a small quantity of good paper to go with your inexpensive pad. You will waste paper, so you may as well get used to it. It’s the cost of your education and practice is what you need. Get busy and paint.
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Watercolor – Where to Start
Watercolor Paint Brands
Watercolor Supports (This Article)
Watercolor Paint Brushes
Watercolor Basic Painting Techniques
Advanced Watercolor Painting Techniques
Watercolor Painting Accessories
Watercolor Painting Tips and Tricks
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