Watercolor: Picking Your Paper

Watercolor: Picking Your Paper
by Rebecca Anne Grant

It is true that the art supplies you choose determine the quality of your masterpiece. There are many reasons to make sure you pick just the right paper for your work, especially if you want to be a serious watercolorist.

Most artists use white watercolor paper. If you want your paintings to have an unusual background, watercolor paper comes in tan, gray, blue, and even pink. The reason that white is the most popular is because it provides the best background for the reflection of light through the paint.

If you want to paint for the sole purpose of selling your paintings, then you want the professional quality watercolor paper only. This paper is made of 100 percent cotton rag, an acid-free content. It won’t allow your paintings to turn yellow with age. This high-quality handmade paper has a shabby edge that makes it look handmade.

If you are painting as a hobby, you still want your paintings to withstand the test of time. Buying the cheapest paper available won’t give you that preservation. Watercolor paper with straight edges is machine-made and cheaper to buy than the 100 percent cotton rag paper, but that doesn’t mean it is the best thing for your work. If you must buy the straight-edged watercolor paper, don’t buy the cheapest, even if it looks appealing.

Watercolor paper comes in different weights. The key is to remember that the higher the weight is the better the quality, the higher the price, and the better the painting will be. The most common weights used by watercolor artists are:

90-pound paper is a thin paper made for introducing students to watercolor for the first time. It is poor in quality and tends to wrinkle when it gets wet. It does not hold together when changes are made.

140-pound paper is the better choice for beginners because it does not wrinkle when it is stretched before the actual painting process takes place. It holds up to the many changes made by those who are new to painting. It dries quickly to allow students to take it home after a class.

300-pound paper does not require stretching before use. It is very thick; this makes the paint take a long time to dry. It is also very expensive, costing double the price of 140-pound paper. It is not recommended for those who are in a hurry or those who are limited on drying time. This paper is strictly for the professional watercolorist, due to the fact that it is a very expensive board-like paper that allows the professional artist to have the confidence that it will look as good as the day it was painted, throughout the years to come.

Watercolor paper can be bought in sheets, pads, blocks, and even rolls. Sheets are bought individually in different sizes depending on the size of your desired project. Pads are several sheets grouped together and bound with glue or a wire in a spiral notebook form. You tear out individual sheets when you need them. Blocks have many sheets that are glued on all four sides allowing the artist to paint the top sheet without it wrinkling and then using a dull knife to remove it. Rolls are usually bought in order to paint mural paintings that cover walls. They come in rolls that are 10 yards long and as much as 56 inches wide.

Watercolor paper can be bought in different textures. The texture you will need depends on the kind of painting you are doing. There are three different textures to choose from, and they are:

Rough: Rough has the roughest surface of the three textures. It is a good texture to use if you are painting oceans, water scenes, or very detailed tree barks.

Cold Press: Cold press paper is the texture preferred by most watercolor artists. It is only slightly rough, allowing different techniques to be used to create a unique painting with a wider variety of options.

Hot Press: Hot press paper is a good choice if you are going to draw details in your painting. Children’s book illustrators like the smoothness of this paper because it allows them to use pen & ink easily for a more dramatic result in shading, giving them a better overall picture for a book. Watercolor artists who want soft blended colors find this to be a difficult task to achieve with this type of paper.

Whether you are a beginner or a want-to-be professional, you will have to decide exactly how important your paintings are going to be, to both yourself and others. Once you do that, you will know exactly which paper to choose.