Thursday, 3 November 2011

Tim’s Top Tips; The Paradox of watercolour paper

Not so long ago I turned up to run a watercolour workshop only to see the organiser handing out sheets of decorator's lining paper. Assuming that this was a cheap way to protect the table surface I carried on… To my surprise, students started to carry out the exercises on the said paper! I queried this with the organiser as I always send out a suggested materials list prior to the day. “Oh, it’s only a workshop” she replied, “ members don’t want to waste money on good paper  just doing exercises” I think those words encompass the paradox of watercolour painting. If I were teaching Badminton  and suggested that people practise with Disinfectant bottles and corks stuffed with feathers, some may say that they weren’t developing their full potential due to inferior tools. Yet people are happy to work on rubbish papers, saving the ‘expensive’ paper for that special painting. And guess what? That ‘expensive’ paper becomes precious , nerves set in and the resultant work is often a failure. Nothing does more to inhibit creativity than having this mindset. Some of the best student paintings I've seen have been produced on the free samples given away at art shows!
So there we have the paradox..  amateurs should always work on the best paper they can afford, even for practise, when you become really good at watercolour, you can produce good work on inferior paper (though you probably won’t want to’)
So which papers? Bockingford  is quite a serviceable cheap paper, I prefer the rough. St Cuthberts mill make the best version of this. Strangely, WH Smiths Bockingford doesn’t paint nearly so well.
Langton is another Bockingford type paper but varies in quality, I’ve seen some sheets paint worse than blotting paper.
Fabriano is now a basket case. they used to produce some wonderful surfaces, I loved their Artistico for watercolour. Then I found it didn’t paint as it used to, something that’s been confirmed by fellow artists. Other papers have also been changed beyond recognitian.
Saunders Waterford is another strange paper, in one class three students produced watercolours which were as dull as ditchwater.. they were painting on Saunders but on the ‘wrong’ side, Since then I have seen this happen many times, but only on Saunders, other papers seem to work quite well on both sides. The main problem students have is identifying the ‘right’ side of paper. There is no standardisation, but generally, if the makers name is impressed, that is the back, the front often has the makers name standing proud like Braille.  If you cut sheets up always put a  pencil ‘B’ on the back as once you lose the makers name, it’s difficult to tell which is the back as one student found. They ordered 1/4 sheets from a supplier and asked for the front to be marked. The paper arriced with the back marked as the front.. more dull paintings!
I like to use Sennelier rough when demonstrating. This is mainly because I paint at a really steep, suicidal angle, and the more absorbent surface is controllable at this angle. It also paints very well on the back. It’s a very white paper, other cotton rags can look quite yellow when held near it. Interestingly, Saunders are now bringing out a whiter versin of their product. So which is the best paper? It can vary from artist to artist and from style to style. Barry Herniman loves Leonardo paper made by Hannemule, a surface I have yet to try. Trevor Chamberlain loves the old pre-war David Cox paper, sadly no longer available and he jealously guards his last few remaining sheets. The late David Weston was a big fan of Two Rivers.
For me and quite a number of other professional artists, the best paper in the world is Arches. Paint sits on the surface and dries much brighter than other papers. It has a wonderful smell and feel and gives a satisfying ‘clunk’ when you flick it with your fingers. 
And finally, the worst paper award has got to go to Crimson & Blake paper sold exclusively by The Works, which is only marginally better than Izal toilet paper to paint on…
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1 comment:

  1. Very interesting read Tim...I agree with you wholeheartedly re. the mistake of using so called practice's so wrong and it's when people are practising that they need the help of a decent paper to encourage them. I'm glad to hear someone else saying it as forcefully as I do! But people still persist in "using up" their cheap papers. False economy!