The Importance of paper

08-29 August Bales

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.

What’s in a sketch ?

Lower Brockhampton

How much should I put in a sketch?

What is the difference between a sketch and a painting?

These are two questions I have been asked recently. The answer is not so easy as it will be different for each individual.

The first question you need to ask yourself is “What kind of sketch do I want?” There are times when you might be going out with the clear intention of spending a given amount of time in which to sketch and to do nothing else, in which case you may decide to devote most of your energy on one piece of work, or you may prefer to do a number of smaller sketches, maybe even combining them on the same page or piece of paper.

Other times, as in the case of ‘Lower Brockhampton Manor House’ , it may be that the chance to sketch has to fit into a number of other things you want to do, or you may be on holiday, visiting a number of locations during the course of the day, in which case the type of sketch which is best suited will be one which tries to capture the flavour of the place and how you see it, rather than trying to paint an exact copy of what is in front of you, with every stick and stone included. This sketch will become part of your armoury if you decide to paint a more detailed version at a later date.

A sketch can be something which stands alone and needs nothing more, or it may be used as part of your reference for a later project. It doesn’t matter which – it will depend entirely on you.

You’re the boss!

Happy sketching.

For those in peril in the heatwave

07-27 Old Barns

Having spent the morning on non-painterly activities, it was lovely to get outside this afternoon to try a small watercolour.

Given the current temperatures in the high 20s centigrade (almost 80f) I chose somewhere not too far distant and kept equipment to a minimum.

I have painted this barn before but usually from the otherside which is more open. Today, I noticed some cattle at the far end of the field, but the heat seemed to outweigh their inquisitiveness, so I wasn’t worried.

Having worked ouside in the heat before I had already decided to keep the painting small (6×8 ins), but there are other things to bear in mind in such conditions – firstly, be sensible about yourself and don’t stand out under the sun for too long without protection. Use sunblock, wear a hat, keep well hydrated and so on.

If you are working in watercolours you need to keep your paper protected too. Too much direct sun could harm the sizing. Also if the sun is shining directly onto the surface you run the risk of a blinding glare bouncing back into your eyes. Also it will be difficult to judge your colours and tones, so wear a wide brimmed hat to throw shadow onto the paper (it makes you look more like an artist too!), use a parasol, stand under a tree or find some shade. Remember the light, and therefore shadows, will move and so may you have to.

Expect to work wetter than usual. Even if you habitually dampen your paper, in today’s conditions you may find the paper dries before you can introduce any pigment to it. Indeed you may have to make your washes wetter as it has been known for them to dry on the palette before you can get it anywhere near the paper! Mix up enough to be sure it will cover the area you intend it to without it drying into streaky lines. Unfortunately this tends to be trial and error but it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it.

Try and keep the painting moving forward seamlessly and now more than ever don’t obsess about minor details before you have the paper covered. Oh, and remember to take plenty of water with you both for painting and drinking. You don’t want it to evaporate before you are finished.

I was nearing the end when I heard a cough just behind me. Glancing back over my shoulder, I realised the cattle had sneaked up from the lower part of the field and had somehow managed to corral me.

I smiled and held the painting up for them to see. Usually if you are polite they don’t take much notice, but their leader seemed a little irritated. Keeping my materials to a minimum meant they were either in my hands or over my shoulder so I was able to take a few tentative steps towards the gate. The ringleader moved in, closely followed by a couple of friends. I kept talking quietly. I was being manoeuvred and not given much time to look where I was treading. The rest of the herd closed up behind. I had the impression I was being escorted to the exit with the firm message not to come back any time soon.

It must have been the heat!

Happy painting.