Paper: artists’ 5 top questions answered


Hot press or cold press? 300 gm? Cotton? So many weights, types, brands …. There’s loads to learn about paper!

Did you know that the wrong paper can make your watercolors dull, can make your waterproof ink not waterproof, can affect your pencil smudginess, your pen’s performance, and so much more?

Selecting paper and sketchbooks can be overwhelming. We have loads of questions too — so we gathered up the smartest paper experts we could find to give us some answers in an event called Q&Art Live: Paper.

We discussed how paper is made and why it matters, common problems, how to select the right materials, and much more.  Above you’ll find a recording of the entire Q&Art Live! Paper, sponsored by Winsor & Newton. 

Below  are some of the major questions and answers from the event, edited by our friend, David Pyle.

Our Top-5 Questions (and answers) about Paper!

Here’s our hit-parade of questions that came out of our recent Q+Art about paper – and the answers that can help enhance your art-making and creative process:

Q) How do I know which papers are less likely to cockle and buckle when I’m using watercolor?

A) Watercolor papers are ‘sized’ with a compound to manage water and color absorption, so they’ll be more resistant to cockling. Also, paper that’s labeled as “mould-made” means that it’s made on a slow-moving mould machine that allows the fibers to interlock more randomly…and THAT mitigates cockling!

Q) What does it mean if the paper is labeled as “archival” (and why should I care)?

A) First, why you should care… If you’d like your work to be around for your family…or for collectors, you’ll want to strongly consider working on paper that’s going to last. Acid is the evil enemy of paper, causing the fiber linkages to “unzip” and to fall apart. Start with paper made from cotton, a long-strong fiber that will resist degradation, even if there’s acid present. Also, you can look for papers labelled as “acid-free.” That’s not a guarantee of long-term aging…but it helps.

Q) I want to work with fine detail with ink or watercolor … what paper should I choose?

A) Go with a smooth surface that’s going to give you great line integrity, like ‘hot-press’ for watercolor. Or Bristol for ink. There are vellum and plate bristols available…vellum will have some slight tooth. Plate is super-smooth.

Q) I want to work loosely and expressively with watercolor … what paper should I choose?

A) “Rough” watercolor paper surfaces have pronounced tooth and topography. That’s not so great for fine detail, but it adds drama when working loosely, with broad expressive strokes of color. “Cold-press” is a happy medium (between “rough” and “hot-press”), allowing for moderate detail work while also bringing some character and texture to washes and broad strokes.

Q) How do I know that I’ll get my money’s worth?

A) Trust yourself! Trust your fingers! Trust your creative sensibilities! Paper can bring a level of personality and character to your working process. If you find a paper that feels interesting (speaks to you!), try it. There are no guarantees that you’ll make a museum-quality image. But, if you find the surface interesting, there IS a guarantee that you’ll be engaged and learn something from that sheet – and THAT will show up in your art-making!
2 mins

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