Yes, folks, this is my promised rant about watercolor paper. Now that I’ve been playing around with my watercolors for a few weeks, I’m remembering my frustrations and why I finally gave up watercolor painting. It’s not because of the paints or the process; it’s because of the paper.
In the past, when I was first learning about art, I read countless articles and watched many video demonstrations on the art of “watercolor paper stretching.” And I’ve tried them all.
For me, plain and simple, nothing works. At least, nothing works too well.
I do have a block of Arches watercolor paper which I purchased back in 2016 when I was first learning art and first exploring watercolor. Using it helped. But Arches is expensive, definitely not a good choice for novice watercolorists like me, and certainly not the sort of paper I want to use for watercolor warm-ups and practice sessions.
It leads to a bit of a catch-22. When you’re learning watercolor, you don’t want to use expensive paper, but, if you use cheap paper that buckles and warps, you’ll never learn watercolor.
Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but that was how I felt back in 2016, and in many ways, I still have those same feelings now in 2020.
I have learned one thing though, purely by accident. It’s an encouraging sign. What happened was that I went through my usual procedure for stretching a sheet of my Canson 140-lb. cold-pressed watercolor. I then taped it to my board — which is actually a sheet of Plexiglas. The paper did warp slightly, as it always does. But I went right ahead and started my painting process — part of my 100-day project. I worked around the warp as best I could and washed in the colors for a sky.
That was all I did. I left the painting right where it was, and went on to other art projects. The next morning I came back to the studio, did a few watercolor warm-ups on a nearby table, and then prepared to work more on my painting from the previous day. It had, over the intervening 24 hours, dried completely, and to my amazement, the warps and buckles were no longer there…well, a little warp was there, but it was barely noticeable.
Hallelujah! Does this mean that if I work slowly — very slowly — on a watercolor painting, I might be able to avoid those awful buckles? In the past I’ve been impatient. I’ve rarely ever allowed anything to dry thoroughly while working. I think I might have just learned a very valuable lesson — about painting and about patience.
Or maybe that experience was just a fluke. I don’t know yet. I am open to ideas and suggestions from other watercolorists. What methods do you use to stretch your paper? What specific watercolor paper do you use for practice?
As much as possible, I’m doing my warm-ups and practice work on newsprint or on older paintings, using up every possible inch, painting over old colors, and gradually becoming more familiar with my paints and water, and with my brushes, too. From time to time, though, I need the practice of working on actual watercolor paper, so I’m open for suggestion on what brands you recommend.
So…how do YOU avoid buckles and warps in your watercolor work?
MORE ON THIS TOPIC TOMORROW!