Paper is a complicated thing.
I remember having a conversation with my Mother about it. She was popping down to her local art shoppe and wanted to know what type of paper to get for the purposes of creating a watercolour painting. After the forty five minute lecture I gave her about why each type of paper is different and lovely in its own way and gave her a short list of manufacturers that I like she interrupted my monologue with the statement ‘I really only wanted the name of a type to buy.’
To keep things brief, here are four things that you need to know about paper, especially when thinking about watercolour or water based media (ink, gouache, etc).
- Paper comes in different textures.
Rough, Not or CP which stands for Cold Press (meaning not so rough but not so smooth) and HP which stands for Hot Press (meaning really lovely and smooth). Not or Cold Press is a great place to start. Smooth enough to take most drawing media (a mapping nib will sometimes catch on this, but then you might be into that sort of thing) and textured enough for some interesting dry-brush and scrubby painterly mark making.
- It comes in different formats.
Spiral pads have a metal thingy on one edge holding the wodge of paper together. Perfect bound pads have glue running down one edge and you can rip the sheet off quickly and easily (my preferred type). Watercolour blocks have a waxy-rubbery glue running around all four edges with a little gap on one side or a corner. These are designed for watercolourists on the go. You don’t need to stretch this paper as the manufacturer has done this for you. You do need to learn how to carefully remove the top sheet without ripping it. I recommend using a clean and old credit card which you can gently slide into the little gap in the glue and run it around the edges.
The manufacturers spray a little bit of glue-like-substance onto the paper for you. This helps to keep the colours vibrant, it keeps the pigment on the surface of the paper and stops it from being completely absorbed into the core of the paper. Most manufacturers use a animal based gelatin for their sizing on their more expensive papers. If you are vegan, stick with Bockingford.
‘What do those numbers mean?’ ‘What does 90 gsm mean?’ The weight number on the front of the pad/block/on the web listing relates to how heavy it is. The bigger the number the thicker the paper. The thicker the paper the less likely it is to cockle and bow when you get it wet with paint/ink/water. Bigger number equals thicker paper equals better but also more expensive.
So, here it is, the short list of types of paper that I recommend (the short list that my Mum really wanted instead of the short lecture). I have used all of these papers regularly I recommend them for watercolour paint or similar water-based techniques (think gouache, ink, etc…)
Goldline watercolour pad. £18.10 (as of Nov 2017). Chunky, forgiving, takes paint well. Thick enough not to cockle immediately when wet. This is an excellent pad for the money.
My budget is a bit bigger but let’s not go mad on spending money
Bockingford Cold Press Spiral Pad, £8.70 as of Nov 2017.
Dependable, wonderful, not hideously expensive, has an interesting texture, takes paint very well….I love Bockingford and St Cuthbert’s Mill generally anyway. I may be biased but I have used most of the papers made by most of the major paper manufacturers and I still keep coming back to this one time and again.
I’m ready to treat myself/It is Christmas and someone else wants to treat me
Saunders Waterford Watercolour Block, high white £31 as of Nov 2017.
The major problem with recommending a paper like this is that once you have tried it, going back to other papers can be a heartbreaking experience.
Also, if you go to the St Cuthbert’s Mill webpage they give you a break down of all of the different high end papers that they make.
This is their paper-block variety. I can attest to the fact that a block of this paper lasted me through a very wet painting trip through the Lake District.
All of the prices have come from the Jackson’s Art website and I recommend that you buy your online paper from them. I am not affiliated with them in anyway.
You can find more info about St Cuthbert’s Mill on their webpage. I am not affiliated with them in any way, I just love their paper. You can also find out more information about them by visiting their facebook page or looking at their twitter feed