Saturday, 19 April 2014

Choosing watercolour paper for botanical drawing and painting - part 2

In the first blog post connected to this subject, I gave you a general overview of watercolour paper, and specific facts about the paper that can be used for botanical drawing and painting.

As I mentioned before, there were several painting techniques which I thought would be good to test on different hot-pressed papers (left to right):

* applying a wash and then lifting off a small area with a clean moist brush
* blending two colours together and applying a small area of wash on top
* applying a wash and softening the edge with a clean moist brush
* fine brush strokes applied

The colours used were W&N permanent rose and new gamboge

Each of these techniques helped me to gain answers to several questions:

*  How easy it to lift paint from the paper ? This is important to know, particularly if we use this technique to create highlights or softer areas of watercolour.  One thing to bear in mind is that some watercolours are more staining than others, so therefore may be harder to lift off completely.  

Back to the paper - different makes of paper can behave differently.  What can this be due to ?  During the manufacturing process watercolour paper is treated with what is called a 'size'.  This size is a form of protection for the paper and can be applied just to the surface or both internally and externally.  It provides a coating that is invisible and the size may be made of a variety of ingredients.  For example, Saunders Waterford paper is coated externally with a gelatine based size.

Due to the different forms (ingredients and thickness of coating) of size, each paper's surface could behave differently dependant on what painting technique is used.  This means that some hot-pressed papers may be tougher than others and cope with more activity on their surface.  Lifting an area of watercolour wash may well disturb the size and mean that the watercolour soaks more into the paper core, especially if the size is soft or if there is several attempts to lift colour. An ideal situation when using this technique is to ensure that the paper surface is not broken up in anyway.

* Is it easy to blend two colours together?  Particularly useful to know for those artists who use wet into wet techniques or tend to blend their colours on the paper.  Even though the room conditions can dictate how quickly a wash dries, the paper will also be a factor, in terms of whether the paint soaks into the paper or not.

* Can soft edges to washes be achieved, as well as fine detail ?  The information in the last point above also applies to how much you can soften the edge of an area of wash. If the paint dries too quickly it will be harder to achieve this.  In regard to fine detail, this is down to how textured the paper surface is and also how much activity has already taken place on the paper.

As mentioned before, hot-pressed paper is meant to be extremely smooth.  It generally is, although the surface texture may vary in different makes.  The paper is made smooth by being pressed through hot rollers during the manufacturing process.  If there is some texture it is likely that soft woollen felts have been used on the rollers, thereby giving a slight texture to the surface.  

Now for the results.  These are purely based on my own opinions linked to the way that I paint.  Other artists may achieve different results according to their painting style and techniques.

Langton - produced by Daler Rowney
Wood pulp and cotton fibres
* A very subtle texture to the surface
* Lifting off colour, blending, softening and fine lines all achieved well
* A nice colour to the paper
* A good all round paper, particularly suitable as a starter paper for beginners, affordable too

Additional information
Daler Rowney also produce a Langton Prestige HP paper.  It is 100% cotton.  I have not personally tried it, but some of my more experienced students have found the surface quite difficult to work on.

Fabriano 5 / Classico produced by Fabriano
50% cotton
* Good for fine lines
* A very smooth paper
* Seemed quite a white paper
* Less positive for lifting off colour, blending, softening as paint is not so easy to manipulate
* Likely to be good for those techniques that involve less water and very good for fine detail

Arches produced by Canson
100% cotton
Natural gelatine size
* A creamy colour
* Very good for all techniques that I used in the trial, although lifting off of colour was not as easy as with the Langton or Fabriano Artistico
* I used this paper for many years before I changed to Fabriano Artistico.  One thing I did find in the past, was that erasing was not easy on the paper surface

Fabriano Artistico extra white and traditional white produced by Fabriano
100% cotton
Internally and externally sized
* Comes in two colour options - traditional white is very creamy, but good for a lot of subjects especially those of an autumnal and/or warm nature
* Extremely good for all techniques and has a very smooth surface
* This paper takes a certain amount of erasing
* I have found this to be an excellent paper for a variety of other approaches - graphite line drawing and tonal work, pen and ink and wash and mixed media 

Additional information
Presently, I mostly use the latter paper in the 300lb weight, but have also used the lighter weight 140lb.  In the past when I had used another make of paper in both weights, the surfaces felt quite different from each other, even though they were both hot-pressed. In the case of Fabriano Artistico the surfaces of both weights of paper seem very similar.  

Bockingford produced by St. Cuthbert's Mill
100% woodfree bleached chemical pulp (click here for definition)
Internally sized
* A nice coloured paper
* It has a slight surface texture
* Very good for all techniques and will cope with some erasing
* I'm really liking this paper at the moment, and I am now recommending it to my students as a good starter paper

Additional information
St. Cuthberts Mill had previously been producing paper for the Daler Rowney Langton pads (for 15 years). This is no longer the case.  I have been in contact with Daler Rowney as there had been some difficulty in getting hold of the Langton HP paper described above.  They have reassured me that it is still available but declined to say where it is being produced.

I find the Bockingford HP a superior paper to the current Langford and I use a 12 sheet spiral pad per term for my demo pieces in class.

Other papers
The other paper that I would have liked to have tried for this trial is Saunders Waterford, which is also produced by St. Cuthberts Mill.  This was the first hot-pressed paper that I ever used, and I remember being quite nervous of the smooth surface after using cold-pressed paper for a long time for a looser style of painting.

Saunders Waterford HP is 100% cotton, gelatine surface sized and internally sized.  It has a very slight texture to it due to being produced using natural woollen felts in the manufacturing process.

Useful links

St. Cuthberts Mill - How we make paper:

Daler Rowney - Watercolour surfaces:

I hope you have found the last two posts about paper useful.

I am having a little break from botanical subjects and am now working on a painting of an Oleander moth on vellum.  So I expect news of that will appear on the blog soon.

A Happy Easter to you all.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Choosing watercolour paper for botanical drawing and painting - part 1

How do you choose the right paper for botanical drawing and painting ? 

The most obvious answer is to try them all - but this can be a huge expense, unless of course you try different watercolour papers over many years, as I have.  A few weeks ago I gave my students the opportunity to try 6 different hot-pressed watercolour papers.

Firstly, we covered a few facts about watercolour paper in general:

● The highest quality papers are made of 100% cotton fibre (rag paper).
● They have good durability, can handle a lot of working and last an extremely long time.
● Other papers are made of cellulose or wood pulp or a mixture of these with cotton.
● Not always as durable as the rag paper.
● Cheaper papers of the kind found in discount shops, will not necessarily be acid free and will therefore yellow and deteriorate over time.

Types of paper
● Cold pressed or NOT - this has a medium surface texture and a slight ‘tooth’.  The surface holds colour well and it is a very popular texture for both amateur and professional artists.
● Rough or Extra rough - has a more pronounced texture.  Great for looser styles of painting and creates wonderful textures as the paint settles into the surface.
● Hot pressed - extremely smooth, although some makes of hot pressed paper will vary in texture.  This is the best paper for botanical art and more controlled styles of painting and pen and ink work.  The paper is made smooth by passing it through heated rollers in the manufacturing process.
Weights of paper
● Watercolour papers come in different weights, which refers to the weight of a ream of paper.
● The greater the weight of the paper, the more moisture the paper can take without it buckling or cockling.
● The most commonly used is 300 g/m (per square metre) or 140lb.
Colour of paper
The colour of watercolour paper from different brands and within individual brands can vary.  Some brands of watercolour paper will provide a natural white and an extra white paper.
Right or wrong side
Yes, believe it or not there is a right and a wrong side to hot-pressed watercolour paper.  For most HP papers I use either side as to me there is not a huge difference.
One paper where this does seem to make a difference is Fabriano Artistico HP paper.  If you buy you watercolour paper in sheets the watermark, which is often the brand name of paper is visible and is often located next to the deckle edge.  If this is viewed back to front, ie in reverse, this is the right side of the paper to use in regard to Fabriano Artistico. 
But what if you do not buy it in sheets, but in a block or pad, where there is no watermark ?  If you look closely at either side, and perhaps get a magnifying glass out, you will see that one side has a grid like pattern to the surface of the paper - this is the wrong side.  I hope in the photo above you can see this pattern.
The second part to my student's paper trial session included trying different painting techniques on each sample of paper, to see how receptive the paper was.  These were my examples:
As a guide I decided the best painting techniques to try were (left to right):
* applying a wash and then lifting off a small area with a clean moist brush
* blending two colours together and applying a small area of wash on top
* applying a wash and softening the edge with a clean moist brush
* fine brush strokes applied
Each of these techniques helped me to gain answers to several questions, which I will answer in part 2, following soon !