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 ! 

3 comments :

  1. Great post Sarah, I now have an explanation for my difficulty with Fabriano Artistico, I used the wrong side -doh! Looking forward to your next blog post on this.

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  2. Amazing instruction Sarah! Very easy to see the differences in each paper as you describe and demonstrate them. Awaiting Part II. Thanks so much for posting this info.

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  3. Wait a minute... 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.
    Are you saying that if the watermark is in reverse (or backwards) that is the right side of the paper?

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