Watercolor Wednesday: Paper Primer

My college watercolor instructor was asked how she would rank the importance of watercolor supplies when out purchasing at the art stores.  We were all starving art students after all and wanted to know where we should focus our limited spending power.  Paper came first, then paint, and finally, brushes.

The type and quality of paper you use can dramatically affect your paintings.  A good exercise is to paint the exact same object on different surfaces to see how the paper influences the final image.  In this particular class, we were asked to paint a white object on various types of papers, translating the lights and darks we saw on the object into a monochromatic color palette.  I chose a sugar bowl and my favorite color ever: quinacridone magenta with the addition of Payne's grey for shadows.

For the ultimate in texture, try rough paper.  Paint tends to settle out on rough paper, creating a grainy effect.  Dry brush techniques are easy-peasy on rough paper as the brush can glide over the surface without getting into all the nooks and crannies.  This paper is not good for detail work but instead, is great for a more impressionistic look.

Cold Press:
Also called "not" paper, this paper has a medium-textured surface and is probably the most popular choice for watercolorists.  With cold press paper, there is a nice balance between the texture effects one can achieve as well as detail work.  This paper handles dry brush techniques in a subtle way and can handle a good deal of scrubbing and scraping.
Hot Press:
While wet, hot press paper is made with the addition of heat and pressure to make a smooth, texture-free surface. Because there are no valleys in the paper for the paint to travel into, paint tends to slide around unpredictably on hot press paper and dry in hard lines.  This paper is excellent for pen & ink illustration work as well and is probably the go-to choice for art journalists.
This stuff is not really paper at all but instead a sheet of plastic.  (The company that makes it calls it "synthetic paper.")  Because there is zero absorbency, paint just slides around like a wild animal and each stroke of the brush removes the paint you just laid down.  Essentially, with Yupo, you push the paint around until it lands in a pleasing formation.  Don't like the results?  Simply rinse it off and start again! (Some paints will stain and leave behind ghost color.)

And finally, a note about paper weight.  All types of watercolor paper come in different weights: the higher the number, the thicker the paper.  Get the heaviest paper you can afford (140 lb is a great place to start.)  Watercolor is tricky enough without having to deal with buckling and warping as well.


PoetC7 said…
As a novice just learning about watercolor painting, THIS is really great information! I've only just discovered cold press paper and, until I did, I thought all papers were the same. Thanks for this great photo comparison!
Netty said…
thank you for all the great tips. x
Maddy said…
I used up the last of my watercolor [cold press 140 lb] paper from the UK and bought some more in a local store. To my horror I found that when I painted on Latex of a particular spot, when I came to remove it, the paper tore [top layer]. I thought maybe the latex was old or too thick so I tried several times more without success. Do you have any tips about which type of paper I should be buying because obviously I've gone seriously wrong somewhere?
Michelle Remy said…
Thank you for stopping by! I am assuming that by "latex" you mean "masking fluid?" (Please chime in if that is an incorrect assumption!) Masking fluid can be tricky and varies widely in performance from brand to brand. Sometimes it does better on hot press paper because there are fewer nooks & crannies for it to get caught in. I would say to leave it only until dry and plan to remove it soon after. Most masking fluids, if left too long, become permanent. 140lb paper is definitely what you need since it holds up to scrubbing; choosing hot or cold press is up to you although, as I said, hot press is sometimes easier to use with masking fluid. In addition, that dry masking fluid should come right up with an art gum eraser, sort of like the old school rubber cement. Resists are the topic of an upcoming Watercolor Wednesday post so stay tuned...maybe more of your question will be answered then...
Maddy said…
Perfect. Yes I mean masking fluid - but I couldn't remember the proper [fancy] name. Mine's the good stuff [Windsor and Newton] but I've not used it in a wee while so I thought that might be the issue.

I think maybe I need to bite the bullet and go to a good paper supply store rather than being a cheapo at the craft store. The trouble is, once I'm in a posh stationary store I'm likely to leave completely bankrupt - I can 'resist' anything except temptation - thanks for putting me straight.