Watercolour Paper


Watercolour paper is one of my 'stable' art supplies.  I ALWAYS have it on hand.  I ALWAYS buy good quality and I usually buy it in bulk.  It never ceases to amaze me how often people are prepared to compromise on the price of key materials they create their art from.  I wonder if it is because they don't value their work enough, that they don't want to 'waste' 'good' materials on their work.   That's one of the fabulous things about good quality watercolour paper – it is NEVER ruined.  You can paint it, sew it, dye it, cover it, back it, bind it, & always recycle & reuse it!!  You can even run it under the water and wash off your work!

I always start out a piece as though THIS Mona_Lisa PIECE is going to be my 'MONA LISA' – as I have said repeatedly – I don't believe that Leonardo knew when he started the 'Greatest Smirk on Earth' – what a significant piece it was going to be.  He was working away at his craft, commission by commission, piece by piece and his labour bore fruit.  Because of this – I always work on good paper as the basis of my artwork & hand made journals – the paper you use can make or break your project.

I don't know about you, but when I am looking to use a material that I am not familiar with, there always either seems to be too much information (ever tried to buy adhesive when you are not really sure what will work for what you want to bond???) or not enough to even know where to begin (do you have a Dremel or an ipod without a teenage friend to help you?).  

Generally there are 3 commercial surface qualities of watercolour papers available – Cold Pressed, Hot Pressed & Rough Textured.  It looks and feels a bit like blotting paper but the significant difference is that watercolor paper has a coating of size on both sides which lets paint soak in, but not spread uncontrollably, as it would on blotting paper. Of course if you are buying hand made paper, or making your own, there are more variables in texture available.  Good quality brands are usually 100% cotton & are colloquially known as 'rag'.  FOR MYSELF – my fav. brand that I highly recommend is the Italian made Fabriano Artistico.  (possibly a little bias there – I love all things Italian!) 
Papermaking at Fabriano began in 1283 when paper production flourished with the use of linen rags for pulp. The remaining examples of paper that exist from this time indicate the advanced state of papermaking at the mills. This period saw the development of three major innovations by Fabriano which are still a part of papermaking today. The hydraulic hammer pile for pulverizing the rags replaced the mortar which had been in use since the birth of paper in China. Gelatin glue sizing appeared as a means to conserve paper, to increase its strength and to render it apt for writing with inks. The most important innovation was the identification of papers using watermarks. The watermark became the means by which it was possible to recognize the papermaker's name, when the paper was produced, and later, to indicate the different qualities of paper produced.
Due to it's significant role in the development of paper as we know it, the town of Fabriano is home to the world's most comprehensive paper making & watermark museum Muse o'della Carta 
Watercolour paper is manufactured in various ways and in many cases, is still a largely handmade process. Because of this, sizes, weights, qualities and finishes do vary – sometimes within the same brands. There are other good brands like: Aquarelle Arches; Winsor & Newton &

Cold Pressed Paper: 
has a medium texture to it's surface, & this varies a little depending on the manufacturer. Many painters prefer this paper as it has a little 'tooth' (roughness) about it & it's uneveness adds to the character of the subject matter.

Hot Pressed Paper:
this paper is the smoothest of all surfaces (and what Misty recommends for her style of collage).  It is quite literally rolled between hot rollers to even out the wrinkles (much like ironing a cotton shirt).  This is the best paper to use for Watercolor_paper_watercolor_paper_types projects where you are going to stamp, as it is a nice even surface to work on.

Rough Grain Paper:  This is my favourite paper to create hand made books & journals out of.  As it has a pretty textured surface so it's not good for stamping on.  Good watercolor paper absorbs water/paint/glue/medium without warping, leaving your finished page free from distortion.

reduces the absorbency in the sheet of paper.  Without it the paint would be immediately absorbed into the paper.  Internally sizing is added to the paper pulp at the beginning of production and reduces the absorbency throughout the sheet.  Surface, tub or exterior sizing is applied after the paper has been made and dried and only controls absorbency of the surface of the sheet.  If you are using any weight 356lb or lower, I would probably give it a wash of watered down gesso to strengthen it a little.
Weight/thickness: of watercolor paper is indicated by its weight, measured either in grams per square metre (gsm) or pounds per ream (lb).  The standard weights generally availabe in the marketplace are:
  • 190 gsm (90 lb) I use this for inserts & between mica
  • 300 gsm (140 lb) I use this for folded tags, additions to scrapbook pages, etc
  • 356 gsm (260 lb) This is my core supply for pages for books, sketches, some pastel work and watercolours.  I also I use this to make small books & ATC's that I am going to add a label to the back of (it is a bit thicker than 'Bassille' coloured board or thin chipboard)  356gsm paper is flexible, sews well, doesn't break away where it is sewn & I love it to make all of my hand made journals from (whether the signatures are hand or machine stitched)   It retails at about $8AUD per 560mm x 760mm approx (22" x 30" sheet ) – I use a long steel ruler and a cleared table to tear the sheet to size, however BEFORE I the sheets I ALWAYS make a scale drawing on a scrap of paper to minimize waste.  I will often design the size of my journals around how many 'pages' I can get out of a sheet.  When you do it this way, you will be surprised how economical it is to create your own art books made from the VERY best of materials. (as at Oct 08) 
  • 638 gsm (300 lb)  I use this for elements within journals, handmade books & cards (they will stand up themselves), also for 4 x 4 pages & ATC's that I am not going to back.  638gsm is quite a rigid paper (that is interchangable with a cardboard), tends to 'break' where it is creased and I have found from experience that it's surface tends to be more brittle. The great thing about it is that it sews really well.  I LOVE sewing it to a leather or fabric spine to create a 'soft cover' journal with sewn signatures.  It retails for abour $18 per sheet (as at Oct .08)
As with any product, paper differs from manufacturer to manufacturer, but for myself I only use Fabriano Artistico.  The main reason is because it is so hardy.  There are definitely cheaper alternatives available, however, I figure that if a round robin journal is going to travel around the world, in & out of various mail services, I want it to be a hardy product.  Also, if I am going to spend hours & hours creating something, I want it to be on a product that will preserve well.  I have never had a piece rip away as I bind it into a journal signature or have had it 'break' into cracked layers as I use a bone folder on it to prepare it for binding.  I have torn it into the smallest little tags & pieces & each piece is lovely, no matter how small. 

One of my favourite things about this product is the colour.  Though it is called Traditional White it has a lovely 'warm white' look about it & it is a perfect background for anything.  The sheets are made from 100% cotton, are double-sized, & acid-free. Although I mostly use the cold pressed, it is available in rough grain & hot press surfaces.  Each sheet has two natural and two tear deckled edges.  I buy it in the huge big sheets (22in x 30in) & although that's a bit unwieldy to manage at first, I find it better value & I always keep even the small scraps of left overs & turn them into little tags or dangly things to hang off or add to journals.  I love to have a torn looking 'decal' edge to anything that I am using watercolour paper for, so I don't like to generally use the pads, however I do take them travelling.  The Fabriano story is absolutely fascinating – keep reading on below, if you'd like to know more about it.

The cradle of papermaking in the western world is found in the city of Fabriano, adjacent to the Tuscan vallies of central Italy.  For more than seven centuries, paper making mills at Fabriano have been famous the world over for its production of the finest art & writing papers combine innovation & tradition.

Artists & writers such as Giambattista Bodoni, Albrecht Dürer, Michelangelo, Raphael & Francisco Goya have praised Fabriano papers for their unequaled quality. Works from these artists that exist today are a testament to the enduring quality of Fabriano paper.  Today, Fabriano is the only papermaker that continues to employ both traditional & hi-tech production methods in its dedication to high quality artist paper.

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