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Materials - Watercolour Paper

I have found over the years that there are so many different papers to choose from, it can be hard at times to know what to use. So I wanted to share with you what papers I use and the reasons behind choosing them.

A view of my palletes and painting box
My materials

Watercolour Paper- Cotton vs wood pulp

Paper is such an important part of the artistic process and the results you wish to achieve. There are so many different paper types, weights and textures, it can be overwhelming what to use. Many artists, myself included began painting using a wood pulp watercolour paper, which I used happily at the start of my artistry. Over time my work grew and progressed, I began to use 100% cotton paper, the results I found were very different.

The main difference that I found between papers was just how absorbent cotton paper is. The paint really gets drawn into the paper in a way that just doesn't happen with wood pulp, whereby the paint will sit on the surface and only absorbs a little. I think any artist who begins to use cotton paper will realise that it is very durable and can accept multiple washes, particularly good if you are glazing watercolour. Once you master how to use the cotton paper, the rewards far outweigh the limitations of wood pulp paper. Cost can be a big factor for all artists, but I think the investment in good paper will pay you back both in what you can achieve, and the longevity of a painting itself.

I have used Daler Rowney " The Langton " for years, and find that it is a very good cotton paper. I find that the sizing on the paper is just right, and it can accept multiple washes without any problems. I also use heavyweight cartridge paper and mixed media paper for watercolour, both can give very pleasing results but act very differently which is a healthy challenge.

An example of just one of the watercolour papers that I use.
The Langton watercolour paper

This is a loose pad of wood pulp watercolour paper
Winsor Newton watercolour paper

Blocks vs Stretched paper

This is a very personal choice in my mind and a choice that isn't always easy. It is the norm to soak and stretch your watercolour paper prior to any painting, and I have used this method for many years. The availability of watercolour blocks onto the market in recent years has in some respects opened a new chapter for artists. These blocks are not only easy to use, but have a continuing supply of stretched watercolour paper, ready to paint on. These do however have their limitations as does stretching sheet paper. I think it does come down to a personal choice, there is no right or wrong, and only experimenting with different papers will you find your own choice.

I remember a few years ago I had spent a good deal of money on a supply of several half imperial sheets of premium watercolour paper. I soaked the paper, applied to my board for stretching, which I had done hundreds of times. After it had dried, I began to paint onto it and to my horror, the sizing had almost disappeared. The whole pile of paper had to be thrown away as it was now useless. Something had seriously gone wrong in the production process and it was the first time that this had happened. The problem with watercolour paper is that you don't know if the sizing is ok until you paint onto it, so you must trust that the product you have is of good quality.

Paper Texture explained

Watercolour paper comes in three primary textures, Rough, NOT, and Hot pressed. Rough being the most textured, Hot pressed being the least textured. I tend to paint the majority of my work on NOT paper, which is a happy middle ground between rough and Hot pressed. It has some texture which is good for uneven edges, but it is also excellent for more detailed studies. Again, it is the artists personal choice and you will find what you prefer. I can quite happily use all textures and adapt my technique to fit, as all can bring there own quality.


A big contributing factor with any material is cost, and all of us have this in mind. You can easily spend hundreds on expensive paper, and that is fine if you are happy to do so. I would never only use expensive paper though for the simple reason I feel there is no need to. Building up sketches and paintings for your portfolio can easily be done on paper that didn't cost the earth to buy. I think always buy the best that you can afford, but also to keep in mind what and who you are painting for. If you are selling work then yes, the best paper you can buy is a must as your collectors will deserve to have the best paper that you can buy. If however you are a hobby artist, there is nothing wrong with buying paper that isn't so expensive. You can still paint a masterpiece on cheaper paper and you can still be happy with your results.

My conclusion...

Paper is such an important part of the artistic process, and how you choose your paper is of equal importance. You may well try many different makes and texture before you reach a comfortable material to use. But once you have found it, confidence in the product will allow you to concentrate on painting itself.

To close.....

And so there you have it, a brief write up about watercolour paper and how I feel about the material that I use. This is a discussion I am sure all of us could talk about for a long time, but I hope you have found this interesting. If you would like to make a comment or if you have a question, please feel free to comment below. Best wishes.

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