Seriously?

The good news is that my watercolor techniques are improving — somewhat. Doing daily “watercolor warm-ups” is helpful. Practicing each day leads to progress. Painting every day makes a huge difference.

There’s something else that makes a huge difference, I’ve learned, and this is where the bad news comes in. For the best results in watercolor, we really need to use the best watercolor paper, and folks, that is not cheap.

I’ve watched a lot of watercolor tutorials recently, and despite a lot of practice, and even though I see some improvement from my efforts, I just wasn’t getting the same results I saw other artists achieve. Yesterday, during one video, the artist talked about the paper she used. Saunders Waterford. Great for the demo projects she was working on, right? Well, according to her, yes, but then — attentive art student that I am — I rushed over to Amazon to see about placing an order.

Here’s what I found:

Saunders

Seriously, folks? $109.35 for 20 sheets of watercolor paper? Well, at least they offer free shipping! No, I did not purchase Saunders Waterford paper in any shape, size, or form.

I’m now on a mission to learn as much about watercolor paper as possible. I know the basics. I know about cold press and hot press, but what I don’t really know is about the sizing used for the paper and how that affects the all important dispersal properties for paint.

Watercolor is definitely a frustrating medium because of the variables involved, not the least of which I now see is the paper. In the past, I naively thought one watercolor paper was more or less as good as another with some being a bit better than others, of course, but overall any of them good enough for a beginner to use, and I’m deliberately letting this sentence ramble on to illustrate the way my mind often rambles on about things I’m learning in art. In other words, my thoughts go here and there, and sometimes it’s difficult for me to get anywhere! To put it another way, I’m often unsure, confused, and quite mistaken about things.

Watercolor paper now being a case in point.

I’ve seen some artists and bloggers advocate for cheap papers, even suggesting paper from Dollar General. Seriously? I hear many mentions of Fabriano, and at $43.00 for a 20-sheet pad (Amazon’s pricing) it’s definitely a bargain next to Saunders. Still, too rich for my poor blood.

Arteza? Strathmore? Canson? How about Zenacolor? US Art Supply? Master’s Touch? What about Bellofy? I’d never heard of that one until today. And then there’s Arches. When I first began learning watercolors back in 2016, that was the brand that seemed to be most popular. It’s still more costly than I’d like, but…

Okay, so here’s the question. Obviously papers from places like Dollar General and the children’s art section of Walmart aren’t going to be top-notch, high-quality watercolor paper that will provide the proper flow and dispersal for paints. Even those from Canson and Strathmore — slightly higher in price — are only slightly better in quality. At least this is my experience.

But where is the line drawn? How much must we expect to pay for reasonably good quality watercolor paper that will allow us to develop our skills and end up with reasonably good results?

Choosing the right paper appears to be a concern for many artists, especially art students who — like me — are struggling to learn. As I started researching, I found lots of information:

How to Choose the Right Watercolor Paper – Ken Bromley

How to Choose Watercolor Paper – Will Kemp Art School

How to Pick the Perfect Watercolor Paper for Painting – Antonella Avogadro

Understanding the Different Grades of Watercolor Paper – Artist’s Network

How to Choose the Right Watercolor Paper: Weight, Texture, and Color Explained – Empty Easel

I could go on and on. There are many more websites offering much more information, but… seriously! Maybe having too much information is as bad as not having enough. Is it any wonder I’m confused and unsure about what’s really best for me and my needs?

I know I don’t need to pay $109.00 for watercolor paper. I know I don’t want to pay $40.00 or more. For now, I’ll keep practicing with my Strathmore and Canson papers, and once in a while I’ll take out my Arches for special projects.

Rather than reading everything I find online, I think it might be more helpful to get ideas from other artists. I know many of you are watercolorists. What are your personal recommendations for beginning watercolor artists? All advice will be appreciated… seriously!

29 Comments

  1. A watercolor block is always more expensive than buying single sheets and I never have purchased one. The cost I am sure is in the extra work of glueing the sides and the packaging. I always buy by the sheets. Waterford is a good paper though right up there with Arches, maybe it cost tad more than Arches. I tend to buy several brands just for the excitement of working on different surfaces. Good luck with finding what works for you while you learn.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. OK, here’s where I get confused. I have Canson XL Watercolor paper. It’s 140-lb cold pressed. Canson Heritage is also 140-lb. cold pressed. So why is one better than the other? Or, at the very least, why is one “different” from the other? As a novice, I’m told basically to look for 140-lb. cold pressed watercolor paper, and it seems that almost any brand fits those requirements, so naturally it’s very confusing to then learn that even though these different papers are “the same”, they’re also vastly different. With the “Heritage” I think I might know the answer, but that’s only because I’m currently researching the topic. Is it “different” or “better” because of the sizing used? This is something I don’t recall ever being mentioned or explained in any of the beginner’s watercolor books or tutorials I’ve looked at. And this is a source of frustration, really. If a class, tutorial, book says “Purchase 140-lb. cold pressed paper” I should be able to do that and use it successfully, shouldn’t I? Shouldn’t these instructors maybe be a little more specific about why one paper would be preferable over another? Right now I’m changing some of my approach to watercolor, and at the moment my less expensive paper seems to be working all right for me, so maybe experience and practice time is another factor to consider. Watercolor definitely can be challenging, can’t it!

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      2. This is my take on the subject. Since there are so many brands out there of course you will get different results or actions. I think that it all comes down to is experiencing the different types because one person might swear only by Arches or by Fabriano. I can’t seem to decide for myself because it depends on the subject or my mood that day. I personally love the variety because I love to always be on my artist toes and I like a challenge. Some people who I know and who are quite a ways into their watercoloring, will react in an almost freaking out mode over the difference of a paper that they are not used to. If you embrace it that hinderance is quite exciting, at least that is how I approach it. I had to look up Canson XL and yes it is inexpensive and I am not sure how artist quality it is but if it is working for you no sweat, right? Though I do recommend that you practice on lets say Arches every now and then. And yes, the suggestion for 140# cold press is standard for beginners. Simply because with hotpress, the paint is harder to control and can go willy nilly on you. Rough is for an affect and it has a drag which a beginner shouldn’t have to deal with at this point. So to really answer your question…….the differences in all these papers (artist grade) is quite normal and it is up to what the artist decides which one/ones they prefer. I hope that helps. Watercolor can be challenging, though I think that challenge is really learning how to partner up with the medium and that takes time and a lot of painting. Hang in there.

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      3. Thanks for the reply. I guess part of the adventure of watercolor is in the varieties of materials available. I’m sure it can be fun and challenging for accomplished artists. As a beginner in the medium, I think I need a little stability, a way of saying “All right, I know THIS works for me,” and later on I can experiment more with different papers. At some point in time, I really want to make my own paper just for the “fun of it” (It will be fun, right?” and for the experience of saying I did it. LOL. At the present I’m going to keep doing my warm-ups on newsprint and old paintings, do my practice pieces mostly on the Canson XL, and now and then take out a sheet of my Arches for special projects. As I become more proficient, I’ll start checking out higher-quality papers, too.

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      4. Canson XL is pulp paper, Herritage is 100% cotton (if I’m not mistaken) and WHAT the paper is made if is just as important as the sizing. That said, the type of paper you buy and use depends on WHAT you are trying to achieve.
        Cotton paper is best for when you want the paint to flow and blend on the page. You will want a paper both internally and externally sized.
        Pulp/wood paper is often considered sub-par, But could be the right paper for what you want to achieve. But not the best for wet on wet techniques. And historically can’t take as many glazes as cotton paper. Its not as tough.
        Like the comment above, sheets are cheaper than pads.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Thank you so much for the explanation. Watercolor paper baffles me. I’m not good at watercolor and I’m not overly serious about it… I usually paint in oils, and I love it. So, while I want to learn and improve with watercolors, I don’t want to invest too heavily in supplies. I’m essentially looking for “reasonably good” for a novice — meaning also, “relatively inexpensive”.

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      6. I have had great practice sucess with a paper made by Fabriano. Comes in a pad (not a block) 25% cotton 60 sheets #140 cold press 9*12″. It truly is a step between rag and pulp paper. Got it at Blick. The only down side (which can be used in a positive, if you work with it) is it has a slight waffle like texture.
        But it has become a favorite. A lot of my WC friends love a 100% cotton paper made by Bee. (I have heard rumblings that it has been discontinued). Last time I purchased it at Micheals I paid $13 for 50 9*6″ sheets. I have ample paper supply right now so I’m not shopping.
        I have seen GREAT works done on XL. The key is not asking it to perform like a rag paper.

        And a tip on gouache… Think along the lines of acrylics, but its not permanent when dry. It can be reactivated with water and blended with another new color. So layering is tricky but can be done (get in, get out). Watercolors / gouache and water soluble graphite are my jams.

        If you have any other paper questions don’t hesitate to ask.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Thanks so much. I will look for the Fabriano paper. I’ve been thinking about buying a WC paper “sample pack” just so I’ll have a chance to try several types. That would definitely help me learn more about the differences from one to the other. I really do appreciate all the information you’ve shared. Thanks so much for visiting and taking time to comment!

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I never have I suppose because I pick and choose anyway, I haven’t really considered it. I would look at Cheap Joe’s and Dick Blick and compare the prices. I looked Canson Heritage and I do believe that it is not the cheapest of the papers that I buy. Now I need to go find out. I swear that there was a sheet that goes for less than $5 but perhaps the prices have gone up. Hope this helps!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Judith!

    The differences in QUALITY of watercolor paper depend on
    1.) whether it’s made of cellulose/wood fibers (okay) or 100% cotton fiber (best), and
    2.) whether it’s made on a mold (okay) or by hand (best).
    Cotton handmade paper gives you the best results by far, and costs more for good reason.

    The weight (140lb., 300 lb.) and finish (hot, cold, rough) are merely a matter of preference.

    Sheets of paper will be cheaper overall – you can divide a full sheet of quality watercolor paper
    into four 11X14″ pieces, and use both sides for painting. If a sheet costs $15, that figures out to $1.88/
    picture. That’s pretty cheap if you ask me. And you could make 7X11″ pieces for 94 cents a picture.

    Further, quality paper makes learning SOOOO much easier! No struggling with the way the paint absorbs unevenly, is blotchy, you get fewer blossoms, better blending, etc.

    Arches, Saunders Waterford, Fabriano, Indigo papers are the best, 100% cotton and most expensive. Bockingford is a cellulose mold-made paper which is pretty cheap and pretty good quality. Some brands make both student-grade cellulose paper and 100% cotton, so you’ll have to read the descriptions carefully before you buy. You should stay on top of sales at online art suppliers (eg. dickblick.com, jerrysartarama.com, and cheapjoes.com) to get the best prices.

    All that said, use whatever you’ve got – painting is better than not painting. But keep in mind, you get what you pay for! When I teach, I encourage my students to use Arches or Saunders Waterford paper to get them started on the right foot. To improve quickly and fairly easily, use good quality paper, even if you can’t tell the difference as a beginner. Painting should be fun, not frustrating. The better the paper you use, the more (and quicker) progress you’ll make!

    Have fun! Lee

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for all the helpful information! I will really look into fiber content more in the future and try to find out all I can about various papers. I’ve been learning a lot lately, so watercolor painting is beginning to be a little more fun and a lot less frustrating. I’m thinking about trying a “sampler pack” of various papers just so I’ll have a chance to play around with different types and see what (if any) differences I notice as a beginner. And as you suggested, I’m definitely going to use what I have as I’m learning, and why I purchase more watercolor paper I’ll go for the best quality I feel I can reasonably afford. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and experience with me.

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  3. Beautiful effort,seriously😊i am fond of painting with all types colours and use the cheap but best quality papers for watercolour .it’s cost only one Dollor for a packet having 24 th paper sheets.you should try for any type drawing paper may be it is not costly but your drawing will make it wonderful painting if you use the watercolour.here is not any value of drawing paper but main value is that painting made by you.if you read about Von Gogh then all things are cleared.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m practicing on lots of different types of paper now, learning to “get a feel” for how much paint to use and how much water. Experimenting is half the fun of watercolor, I suppose. 🙂 Thanks for visiting and commenting!

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      1. Only dip your brush in water after then take a colour by wet brush and paint.please try in this way.you will feel most fun in drawing🖌🖌✏✏🖌🎨

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Judith, It seems I sent you the wrong link to the Youtube on watercolor paper. Sorry!
    I gave you the correct title (Watercolor Paper: The impact of Quality by Jill Poyerd),
    but the link was wrong. I’ll try again, but if it doesn’t work this time, just go to youtube
    and search for Jill Poyerd… Lee

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree about not buying pads, buy sheets as you can tear those into the size and shape (the conventional shape or square or long panorama etc) you want and they are much cheaper. Wait until they are on offer and that’s one way of getting a sampler pack. I have done the sampler packs which gave me some idea but I now just buy 5 or 10 sheets on offer. Work out the price then per painting for 1/4 imp on both sides or 1/8imp on both sides and you are talking peanuts. Paint on every spare bit of space on a ‘failed’ painting. Yes, cellulose is worse (it’s horrible to paint on) than cotton paper. The thing is that your personal preference will depend on what you like, nobody can tell you what the paper is for you until you find out what you like and love about watercolour. I love the feel of HP and love all the joy marks it makes even though other people would say that is a failure. You don’t have to go in with Arches or Saunders snobbery along the lines of someone telling you ‘only Arches will do’. But if you never practice on Arches you will not know how to handle the paper for your special project and you are almost guaranteed a fail. Every paper is different and requires different ways of handling it, there is no rushing getting to learn about watercolour, it’s a love affair. As with colour I’d say limit yourself even if it is just a random choice (cotton though) based on price at the moment. Use the one same paper for everything, your special projects and your play sessions, so you get to know it really well, really well and then, depending on how fast you learn, move on to other papers and see if there’s one you like better. Once you have plenty of experience under your belt you can adjust the way you paint according to the paper you use.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This sounds like a very good way to approach the watercolor paper question. As I learn more about using watercolor, I’m sure I’ll eventually come to understand the differences in various papers and will be able to choose what’s best for me. Thanks for all your helpful information.

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  6. Afterthought. Are you an oil painter having a dabble in watercolour or do you think wc will be your main medium? I think answering this question will tell you how much money and time to spend where.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m definitely an oil painter who is just dabbling in watercolor as a way to “loosen up” and have fun doodling and playing. I want to learn to use watercolor and become reasonably proficient at it, but oil painting is what I love most and where most of my time and money is directed. I think practicing in all media is good for our overall “artistic health”, and watercolor has been especially good for me. There’s a post coming up soon called “What I’ve Learned From Watercolor”… it has really taught me a lot. I think it’s scheduled for later this week.

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