How do you choose a watercolor paper best suited to you?
Choose the Best Watercolor Paper: A Guide
A work of watercolor art needs to be more, much more, than the piece of paper it is created on!
I remember when I was a kid, and had no idea that there could be any different type of paper other than the normal, A4 sized printer paper, I often used to try my hands on painting with water color. As anyone that has experience with watercolor will know – the results were extremely bad. The paper curled up, the colors collected into mini- puddles (it’s called ‘cockling’ of paper) – in short, it was a mess!
As a student of watercolor painting, you must be very aware by now that there are so many types of water color papers available in the market – at so many different price points – that a beginner may well feel very confused.
While there are a number of ways to suggest the suitability of water color papers – it will come down to the most basic principle – the best paper is one that can give you the results you want. Different types of water color papers react differently to colors and water – and the resulting artwork is different in each case.
Therefore, it is important to understand how paper reacts to water to find out what is a suitable water color paper for your purpose.
A Water Color Paper is Not Really Paper!
Watercolor is quite different from other painting styles – say oil painting – in that the painting surface used is almost always paper.
However, watercolor paper is no ordinary paper. It is more of a blend – prepared by mixing paper fibers with cotton fibers. This blending with cotton gives the paper a unique texture and elasticity.
Indeed, there are pricey, hand-made varieties of watercolor paper that are NOT paper at all – they are instead made from textile fibers, usually cotton, hemp or linen. Though significantly expensive, it is often used by more accomplished watercolor painters to create some unique pieces – and is very durable.
A different type of water color paper is also hand-made by mixing paper fiber and cotton, and molding and pressing.
Still another variety of water color papers is machine made with a mixture of paper and cotton, and pressed using machines.
Watercolor Paper Surfaces
Depending on how the paper is made and its components, the resulting surface may be of three the different types – classified according to the surface textures:
Prepared by passing the paper sheets under heated rollers, which results into a very smooth surface.
When you apply a brush stroke, the bristles are able to reach the complete surface, with the result that you get an even, smooth wash.
Is made identically as the hot pressed paper – except it is NOT passed through hot rollers, it is passed through cold rollers – hence the name.
The rough surface means that the bristles cannot reach every part of the surface, and you get an uneven finish, giving a rougher effect.
Usually made by hand, and has a noticeably abraded surface, which is great for creating special effects with water color paints.
With a significantly rough, uneven surface, you can get some interesting effects – such as splotches and uneven spots.
Weight of Paper
One common way to assess the type of paper is by weight, in units expressed in pounds or GSM. It is measured as the unit weight of one ream (500 sheets) per square meter. For example, usually the lightest water color paper used is 90 pounds, while the heavier varieties may go up to 300, or even 400 pounds. The most widely used weight is 140 pounds.
The lighter varieties may need stretching before painting.
Again, the weight of paper chosen will depend on the desired end result of the painting – for the same paper texture, the lighter papers will absorb more water, with the result that the color will bleed more and produce diffused outlines. Conversely, the heavier papers will bleed less, and produce well defined lines.
It is important to note that the weights are not indicative of the quality – they just indicate the thickness of the paper. A 300 pound paper cannot be called better than a 160 pound paper – it all depends on what results you want out of your painting project.
Loose or Bound
You can either buy water color papers in loose sheets, or what is more popular, in form of drawing books. In form of loose sheets, or in the form of drawing books, you can buy water color paper in different sizes as per your requirement.
Loose or bound – you may select any format depending on your convenience. Loose paper will definitely need some form of support or an easel (if you are going outdoors to paint). The bound versions come with a thick bottom that is quite handy as a support, plus you get to keep all your paintings together as a sort of record.
Tinted Watercolor Paper
While white is the de rigueur color for artists, you can get some great creative payoffs by experimenting with tinted water color papers. Tinted papers are the usual papers in light shades of different colors – yellow, blue or gray.
I remember watching a video where I saw the artist painting the exact same landscape on two different tints of water color papers – the result was strikingly different in terms of atmosphere and effects conveyed. Try this – you will have fun!
More Ways to Buy Watercolor Paper
You can buy water color paper in several other ways other than weight or texture.
For example, you can buy watercolor block – which is essentially a pile of paper sheets that is held together by glue applied on all the sides – except at one corner. This creates a thick board you can paint on, and the paper will not roll or buckle. When you are done with the painting, you just peel of the top sheet, and you are ready to go again!
If you are particularly fond of painting and creating masterpieces on the go, you can try water color pads in different sizes and paper varieties.