Watercolor Paper - A Simple Guide

Jul 20, 2022

The surface that we paint on plays a vital role in our painting process. So today, I'm going to show you what kind of paper I use, tell you why I use it, and offer you some tips on how you can get the most out of every sheet of paper.


The surface that we choose when we paint makes a big difference, and there are so many options and variables when it comes to paper. You have cold press, hot press, and handmade, and maybe you’re not sure what’s right for you. 


My first tip is to always use paper that is 100% cotton. If it's a wood-based paper or only a percentage of cotton, it's not going to handle washes the same way. It's more likely to buckle and become a headache as you paint. 


Secondly, texture matters. Hot press is a very smooth surface. Cold press has a little bit more texture and rough is even more texture. I like to use rough textured paper because I like to see the texture of the paper come through onto my painting. If you're painting something more detailed - something elaborate and precise - you might want to use hot press paper. 


Finally, once you determine the type of paper you like, order large sheets and tear them to the size you want. I use Saunders Waterford. This paper is 140 pounds and has a rough texture. Before I paint, I split my paper in half or in quarters. 


Some people think that you shouldn't touch your paper because they don't want to transfer grease from their hands to their paper. I'm not really concerned with that. The way I paint is not a super tight rendering of something that's very detailed. I'm creating more of an impression of a scene, so I'm not too worried about leaving a little smudge. So, I fold my paper once if I want to paint a half sheet (15x22 inches) and twice if I want a quarter sheet (15x11 inches). 


With most high quality papers, you can paint on both sides. You can use the back for a value study or some type of brushwork exercise if you’d like. Paper’s not cheap, so this is a good way to make sure that you’re getting the most out of every sheet.


I hope these tips help you to make the right decisions about the paper you use for your watercolor paintings. 


As always, if there's something you're struggling with, or if there's a topic that you would like me to make a video about, leave that in a comment below. I would love to hear from you!


Until next time, keep working, keep moving forward, and keep learning as an artist!

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