As an irony, the offer is overwhelming but still, it happens quite often not to find suitable materials, especially online, when we choose based on specifications, and not based on the eye or the hand. Without ever having had a thing for brands, I do prefer quality, as it shows in the way painting flows. An inappropriate paper can make watercolour become a mess, and the other way around.
Watercolor paper has at least 300gr, so it doesn’t move excessively when it’s wet. The more wet the technique (wet on wet, or just large surfaces of water) the highest number when it comes to its grammage. 300gr is a good choice. If it still proves to be too thin, we will – about this technique in another article. The next choice refers to the texture of the paper. Cold pressed refers to a heavier structure, while hot pressed refers to a thinner structure. Even after this first classification, we will find choices related to the surface of the paper – rough grain, fine grain, grain satine.
I would encourage everybody to try as many types of paper as possible and make your own choices as there are, of course, no rules, but only recommendations. Here is my own selection, based on personal trials. I recommend a cold pressed paper for beginners, because it’s easy to work with. For intermediates and advanced I’d go to a cold pressed paper, grain satine that allows also to work dry when necessary.
The grammage refers to the weight of a square meter of paper, while the thickness is that of a single sheet of paper, measured in microns.
- Canson Aquarelle, cold pressed paper, fine grain – this is the paper I recommend to my beginner students. It is a very permissive paper, so it doesn’t mind the grease on the fingers, the pencil and the eraser. It can, in some limits, also be cleaned in case of unwanted watercolour drops.
- Hahnemuhle Britannia, hot pressed paper, grain satine – this is very suitable for intermediates and advanced. It is very delicate because of its satine surface, and is has to be handled carefully as is quickly gets stains from the grease on the fingers. It doesn’t really handle well the eraser. I use the kneaded eraser, which is more gentle. Britannia supports well the charge with water, and is suitable for layering, like for instance to obtain dark colours. It dries fast and keeps the colours vibrant. It’s what you could call “a patient paper”, but still, not recommended to beginners. The price is very good, that is a major advantage. The Hahnemuhle family has also other types of very good quality paper, such as the student types (Harmony or Expression) or the manual 100% cotton types, for artists (Cezanne or Leonardo).
- Arches, cold pressed with grain satine – this is a very special paper, made in a traditional method. The very elaborated fabrication process also comes with an exceptional result, for the right prices. Arches has a very natural texture, it moves evenly when wet, and offers a unique experience in working with colours. These keep their transparency and, together with the very nice warm white colour of the paper, turn the painting process into a very special one. Arches allows scratches and eraser due to its gelatine surface. Also, it is available in higher grammage, such as 640gr or 850gr. Arche remains a sensitive paper, not suitable for beginners.