Friday, 9 September 2016

My Thoughts on Watercolour Paper

I get asked at every single workshop about the paper paints and brushes I use so thought I would do a blog about paper.


Paper weight varies but you should be painting on no less than 300gsm (140lb). A lot of artists will suggest you stretch this weight but I never one time I didn't have enough boards to prepare the paper on and was always running out so I got used to painting without stretching and neither do I tape down. I might use bulldog clips to hold the paper to my board but I want to be able to move the paper around and gently tease it back into shape if it does start to buckle.

You can of course buy a heavier paper and most manufacturers make 640gsm (300lb) which you do not need to stretch no matter how much water you use. Some also make a 200lb paper so lots of choice out there.


There are 3 basic types of texture: Hot Pressed (or smooth); Cold Pressed (or NOT meaning not hot pressed) and Rough (described as extra rough in some  makes).

Hot Pressed (HP) has a  really smooth surface and used for those wanting to create lots of detail, paint dries quickly on the surface and there is not as much granulation. Often used by botanical artists as they are looking for a very smooth finish, sometimes with many layers with no granulation and of course want to create lots of detail.

Cold Pressed (CP) paper a good all round texture, provides some granulation and the paint doesn't dry too quickly. Probably the most popular surface and often used by beginners.

Rough (or extra rough paper). My favourite... harder to create lots of details and more unpredictable but good for expressive mark making, granulation and unexpected things happening on the paper. Allows for moving the paint around as drying time is longer ....the paint sits in the valleys of the paper so you can work with it for longer.

Surface is really a matter of personal preference and you need to choose a paper which best suits the way you paint and will best allow you to get the sort of look you want. For the style I have which is a looser interpretative way of painting rough paper is ideal and I now find it very difficult to paint on a smoother surface as hard edges are constantly appearing where I don't want them and they are much harder to get rid of than to create!

As for which product to use, different manufacturers produce different surfaces and all have good qualities and again this is personal preference. I use Bockingford extra rough 140lb or Saunders Waterford Rough 140lb for all my demos and workshops. For my own work I tend to use Saunders though though I will also use Bockingford as well. Both papers are produced by St Cuthbert's Mill in England and both have very good lifting properties. Bockingford is a excellent paper at a really good price point and Saunders though more expensive is a 100% cotton paper and less expensive than many of other papers of this type. The other plus point about these two papers is that they have a very similar surface on both sides.... some papers have different surfaces so a rough and smooth which is no good for me as I often work on both sides.

The one thing I would say is that paper is the most important thing for you to get right when you are painting. Inferior paper which is not designed for watercolour painting is a waste of money and using it for practice is false economy.  It will neither teach you how to paint on proper paper nor help you in your struggles to paint in watercolour. So you need at least 140lb with the texture of your choice and you need to do all your practicing on the same paper. Every paper needs getting used to, so while I know it can be expensive (I buy in bulk and I also use the backs of practice sheets, demos or failed painting), you need to learn how the particular paper handles the paint.  That is why practicing on poor paper is a waste of time... it might teach you how to paint on that particular paper but will not prepare you for the time you wish to paint on good paper. Good paper is a joy to work with and gives you a finish you simply won't get with inferior papers.

To conclude, this is my point of view only and  I must add that not all (though most) artists agree with the view that paper is the single most important component,  some choose brushes and others, artists quality paint. However this is the opinion which I have formed from seeing what happens when not only I, but also my students use cartridge paper, and other cheap papers which are not fit for purpose (one reason I don't tend to buy sketch books for painting and make my own (generally using full imperial sheets of Bockingford), watercolour painting can be enough of a struggle without having to fight the paper too!!

Some places sell trial packs usually quarter imperial size with a selection of papers with different textures and makes for you to try. These are a really good idea as you can then decide which suits you best. Some manufacturers will also send out free trial packs with a selection of their own brand (St Cuthbert's Mill will do this).  Admittedly the paper size is only small but again it will give you an idea of what to buy.

I hope that takes away some of the mystery over choosing the right paper and I will add my thoughts on paint and brushes at a later date....any questions, please ask in the comments below, thanks


  1. Great post Judith. I use hot pressed paper about 80% of the time. I love the way the paint sits on top of the paper and is more vivid when dry.

    1. Thanks Jean... I do think texture choice is a matter of personal preference though with the way you paint it's a surprise to learn you use mostly hot pressed.....

  2. I am an Arches fan , but all the above points I agree with apart from the brand .
    Practice as you say on inferior paper is a waste of time
    Great post Judith
    Happy Painting Bev

    1. I remember we had the discussion at Patchings Bev.....I have actually done some of my best paintings on Arches but I still find it more difficult to handle... maybe I need more practice with it!!

  3. Some good advice thre, Judith. I was wondering which paper to get for your visit next week (14th March) - now I know!


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