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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Watercolor paper--what works?

Over the past few years I've been lamenting the lack of a good, friendly watercolor paper for beginners. The old Bienfang Watchung paper was so user-friendly. It was hard enough to allow corrections, very white, and affordable. Unfortunately, it wasn't acid-free or pH neutral, so my beginning paintings have all discolored. And, of course, the paper is no longer available. Two other excellent, reasonably priced papers have also gone by the wayside: Grumbacher Capri and Arches Archette. Both were a little more expensive than Watchung, but had the look of a more professional grade of paper.

The good news is that most student papers are now pH neutral or acid-free, so they won't discolor or soften over time. The bad news is that they make streaky watercolor washes and soak up the paint so even relatively non-staining colors can't be lifted. More experienced painters use them without problems, but they're frustrating for beginners. My students have a hard time with Strathmore pads, Winsor & Newton Cotman and Canson Montval papers. I've always liked Montval, but it's too smooth for beginners, who need a paper with more tooth that will hold water on the surface longer. When Watchung, Capri and Archette disappeared, I switched to Bockingford, which was also relatively smooth but still made good washes. Guess what. Bockingford is gone, or at least no longer imported into the U.S.

If student artists stick with 140# or higher papers they can paint on both sides and cut the cost in half. I've noticed a trend toward my students working smaller now that paper prices have escalated and that's too bad. There isn't anything wrong with doing small paintings, but the freedom and spontaneity of working with watercolor on half sheet or larger size papers is missing on a small format.

Here's my short list of favorite papers (140# or 300# cold press):
Arches--tough and scrubbable, off-white
Winsor & Newton--whiter than Arches, a little less tough, but a lovely paper
Fabriano Uno--a little off-white, less rough and tough, but a nice paper
Langton by Daler-Rowney--good paper, a little less expensive, but not easy to find
Whatman--long a favorite of many watercolor painters in the U.K. and U.S.; a good paper

There are many more papers available, but I haven't tried them all--too many papers, too little time. Here are some comments I've heard from students and other artists about other papers.
Twinrocker handmade papers--elegant, expensive
Yupo--synthetic "paper" fun to work on but can be frustrating
Fredrix watercolor canvas--gaining in popularity. Why use expensive watercolors on canvas instead of acryics?
Claybord textured panels--haven't tried them yet
Kilimanjaro--problems with washes
Crescent Watercolor Board--smoother than my favorites, like the backing support
Crescent or Bainbridge Illustration Board--only in CP or rough, medium-weight or heavy

What are your favorites? Good or bad experiences with paper? I'm still looking for a reasonably priced 140# cold press paper for beginners.

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Blogger Michelle Himes said...

I prefer Arches 140 lb. cold press for most of my work. Several years ago I got a pack with bad sizing, but for the most part it has been a terrific paper. I also have a small stash of Fabriano Uno 300 lb. hot press that I occasionally use (and love) for flowers.

7:53 AM  
Anonymous pat davis said...

I use W&N CP 140# almost exclusively, not because it's the best, but because my LAS bought a whole bunch on special and I get it relatively cheaply.

I do like it with two caveats: first, it won't take a lot of scrubbing; second, I don't soak it and stretch it because it changes the surface tooh, and I don't like the 'feel' of the changes surface.

6:04 PM  
Blogger PG said...

Arches 140 cold press for me too. Can't stand Fabriano (just me! I know other artists who love it...). I rarely uses anything else, because I've got so used to this one and it does exactly what I want it to.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bockingford actually is still available in the US....Art Purveyors sells it (they have it drop-shipped from Inveresk, the importer).

Google Art Purveyors, a very user-friendly art supply source, in my experience...

5:22 PM  
Anonymous Nita said...

Thanks for the tip. Art Purveyors looks like a good company. They do have Bockingford paper, but not in the blocks, which my students seem to like.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Satine said...

I appreciate your advice. I'm still looking for engraved raised Watercolor paper... maybe I'm not wording it right... but my first very good watercolor was something I did at age 16, and it was on a relief-paper of grapes. The paper was smooth, white, and raised for the grapes, but I had to fill it in...

2:49 PM  
Blogger Nita said...

I wonder if you're thinking of "embossed paper"? You might try googling that and see what you can find.

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I use and like Arches 140 lb cold press. It is available locally and I feel I can depend on its characteristics. However, my new favorite is Saunders Waterford 200#CP, which I buy through Cheap Joe's catalogue when it's on sale. It comes 10 full sheets/pk or in blocks. It is not as white as some papers; but that seems to make little difference for my use. It stands up to lots of glazing, scrubbing and there is less buckling when working wet than with 140 lb papers. I especially like it for portraits. I am currently experimenting with 140# CP Fabriano Artistico Extra White, which has a new sizing throughout. So far, I find it easier to use than other soft Fabriano papers I've tried. It's also available at local art stores in my area.

6:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Nita, I just purchased 300#HP paper in several brands. Several of my books and DVDs have suggested its use for more detailed work. Arches soaks up paint like a blotter--needs to be repainted the next AM. Fabriano Artistico and Saunders 260# HP hold color beautifully; but, I have a hard time "tickling" for softened or "lost" edges on all of them--causes horrible backruns. I've been doing that technique for years wi 140#CP and am suddenly frustrated by the same technique on 300#HP. Is there something more to know when working on 300# HP? Thanks!

6:22 PM  
Blogger Nita said...

I'm still partial to Arches, whether 140# or 300#. I've found Waterford to be too soft and Anonymous has had a different experience with it. As for the 300# soaking up the color, many papers do this and the only solution is to use more paint and less water. You might cut one of your sheets into smaller pieces and experiment with different ways of applying the paints. Try Winsor & Newton's "Prepared Size" medium, which puts another layer of size on the paper. Or add a drop of gum arabic to your mixtures to make them more intense.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous John Mabry said...

Waterford, W & N and Arches #140 CP are favorites that handle masking and lifting fairly well, altho the latter is always a dice roll. Seems Arches sizing is somewhat changeable. Saunders Waterford, even though not as bright as many creates a "soft" image that is very pleasant for landscapes and offers a reasonable "hardness" for easier lifting. As for soaking, prior to stretching, BE CAREFUL OF BATHTUBS! Bathtubs often have a bit of soap or shampoo detergent left clinging to the surface, so it's important to at least rinse well before filling! The result can be a virtual "sizing removal" on Arches paper especially, but I've noticed that shorter-term, five minutes or less, to be the maximum length without effect. Beyond that, the sizing is affected and the paper, no matter the brand, becomes a bit like blotter paper with all sorts of dull surprises in store for the entire painting process. Better to soak the paper with a sponge or water spray and not risk getting detergents, oil or soap-scum on it, then stretch it. Perhaps a sheet of aluminum or plasticized formica that can be wiped before laying the sheet down on it, would be a good prelude to the soak and stretch process. These steps can prevent a "bad" painting experience with disastrous results.

5:57 PM  
Anonymous MatthewT said...

I am a tattoer and i paint flash art to sell at tattoo conventions, i find that Arches 140 cp is suitable for the job makes the paint absorbe faster. Thanks

2:12 AM  
Anonymous Darleene M of Beaverton said...

I am always looking for good paper and inexpensive to paint on, Arches for quality was my favorite but I found something called Pro Art 7.99 it comes in a block of 15 sheets 9x12, 140# (300) grm and I love it..sorta like arches.I wish I would have bought more..I am going to check out the internet to see if it comes in larger sizes...Can anyone give me ideas how to paint on Yppo...I am working on a painting now and the only thing I can think is to finger paint (lol)..I am a beginner.Darleene M.

2:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I read your web article on watercoloring. I was wondering if you might
have some partial Capri blocks that you would sell?


Carl Aldana cac938@yahoo.com

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bought some Artches 140# paper and it seems to have no sizing. I put a brush with some water on it, as I would do for a wash and then used some thinned non staining paint and it soaked right in. What can I do? I took one piece and put some fabric starch on it, lightly and at least I could paint on it. Now I am trying a very thinned down gesso. It has me very frustrated. Any suggestions

8:01 PM  
Blogger Nita said...

If you think the product is defective, you should return it. I haven't experienced the problems you're having, but perhaps someone else has a suggestion to help you.

9:21 AM  
Anonymous Chris Open said...

I see this is an old blog post, but I read it end to end and decided to add my comments too. Thanks for sharing your experience.

I love Fabriano Artistico NOT 140#, but I've found that the surface sizing can be a huge problem with some batches, both sheets and blocks. I recently returned 20 sheets to an online retailer who agreed that there was a problem with the sizing. Their supplier also agreed, and a sample was returned to Italy for analysis.
Despite this, a few months later I ordered another batch, but am getting the same problem. Like one of the previous posts, I am experimenting with wetting the paper and letting it dry before using it, to see if the wetting can dissolve some of the surface sizing. I've had mixed results so far. The danger is that too much sizing gets dissolved...
In my search for an alternative paper, I found:

W&N Artists - lovely, relatively smooth for NOT, but the back surface is completely different and I wouldn't use it.

The Langton - lovely, a nice white, relatively smooth for NOT, good on both sides, good value for money, available in sheets and spiral pads.

Arches is nice, but quite absorbent and not easy to soften edges.

Saunders is nice too, though quite creamy.

Bockingford is quite nice, but it feels a bit cheap during the painting process, though when dry the result looks ok.

All comments refer to 140lb NOT.

12:55 PM  

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