Watercolour paper comes in different qualities such as the weight and texture. Weight is usually given in pounds per ream or grams per square metre such as 140lb/300gsm, and the textures are Hot Pressed (HP), a smooth surface, Cold Pressed (CP or sometimes NOT) which has a slightly textured surface, or ROUGH with a more prominent textured surface.
For the serious painter, equally important is whether the paper is 100% Rag/Cotton or a wood-free bleached chemical pulp. They may both be acid free and archival, but I would suggest they have a different feel to them when painting and may behave in a different manner.
When we start painting in watercolour, we often feel it is not worth spending a lot of money on materials when we don’t really understand what we are doing – much better to wait until we get the hang of it and then decide whether to upgrade or not.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work like that, and it can take a lifetime to start to ‘get the hang of it’. However it is a sound idea to use the best materials you can afford to produce the best you can achieve for the level at which you are working.
When you first start it is only natural to follow the advice of the ‘How To…’ books or your tutor, and often they will suggest a good all round middle-of-the-road not too expensive paper, which is fine. But how do you know if this paper will help you to achieve your best work if you never try another one?
Although there may only be three main surfaces of paper, they are not all consistent across all manufacturers. This is not surprising as papers are made in the UK, France, Italy, Germany and the US to name a few, and each mill will have their own recipes often arrived at after centuries of experience while at the same time complying with various environmental standards.
Every artist will have their favourite (which may change over time as the artist becomes more knowledgeable, changes working methods or because the manufacturing changes slightly or even because a certain paper is no longer available).
Try and overcome your fear of the new, or if you are feeling you are not making quite the progress you feel you should be, why not try investing in a sheet of a different paper?
A 22 x 30″ sheet of paper will be a lot cheaper than a pad or a block and you can cut it up into as many sizes as you want. If you like it, it may be the start of a whole new experience. If it is not for you, simply try another and compare results, or return to your original. At least then you will be painting with a better understanding of your materials and the confidence that the one you have chosen is the best suited to the style of your work.
‘August Bales’ 15 x 30 cms above was painted on a piece of Arches Aquarelle 140lb CP/NOT, the last sheet on a block which I used a few years ago and which I forgot I had. I enjoyed using it for this little painting.