My favorite watercolor papers

I recently blogged about my watercolor paints and brushes in two parts — ONE / TWO

However, what good are those wonderful paints and brushes for without beautiful, high-quality paper? For daily practice work, inexpensive student quality pads like the Canson papers with the hot air balloon drawing on the cover that you can find at NBS and a Monologue Sketchbook (which I’ve also been abusing using) are great to have around but for commission work, it’s more appropriate to use paper that will allow illustrations to shine and last for a long time.

Here are some of my staples (so far) along with close-ups of samples of my illustrations using the different papers so that you can see their textures up close as well as how colors respond to them

.comparing watercolor papers

L-R and in no order of preference, these are the paper brands I keep going back to: Arches, Hahnemuhle, Khadi, and Canson. I’ve been hearing good things about Fabriano and Strathmore too but I have to wait for my shipment to arrive so I can try them out. The red, yellow, and blue paint I used for the comparison shot above are Shinhan PWC Permanent Red, Cadmium Yellow Deep, and Peacock Blue (from ArtWhale).

All of the above are acid-free and, save for Canson Montval Torchon which uses 100% cellulose, are fine artist quality papers made of natural fibers like cotton rag and bamboo in Hahnemuhle Bamboo Mixed Media Board’s case. Below are some notes:

arches watercolor paper sample work

Arches Cold-Pressed Cotton Watercolor Paper, 300 gsm (available at NBS and some Fully Booked branches though I got mine from Amazon.com)

I prefer cold-pressed to hot-pressed watercolor papers because I love the rough texture which IMHO lends an organic feel. Arches 100% cotton paper has a nicely coarse “tooth” that seems to absorb pigments easily which allows colors to remain vibrant and intense. I’m also able to paint big juicy washes and draw fine details with minimal buckling, even when I don’t stretch the paper (which I really usually don’t, being lazy). At 300 gsm, it’s also thick enough to handle re-wetting with no visible damage when I make mistakes. 😛

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Hahnemuhle matte watercolor paper

Hahnemuhle Mould-Made Watercolor Paper (Matte), 200 gsm (available at Deovir Arts)

Arnold introduced me to this paper so it was the first “fine art” paper I ever used. (I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that all of my watercolor work from years ago were done on yellow-backed illustration boards and sketch pads). Because of that, this has become my “benchmark” paper. It’s awesome for wet-on-wet painting (the paper drinks up the water & pigments without diminishing color vibrancy) and as you can see above, I can also do crisp-edged drawings on it with no problems. At 200 gsm, I avoid painting large washes though it may be possible if stretched beforehand. Mistakes are also easy to re-wet and “erase,” making it an ideal choice for beginners. It’s very economical to buy big sheets of these and tear them down to a more manageable size. The deckle edge is a nice touch and it’s inspired me to keep the torn edges when I tear it up into smaller pieces for a raw handmade look. 🙂

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Hahnemuhle mould made watercolor paper rough

Hahnemuhle Mould-Made Watercolor Paper (Rough), 300 gsm (available at Deovir Arts)

This one comes in block form and has a rougher, slightly raised and woven texture compared to the matt variant. A block is very convenient since you can immediately apply large washes with no need for stretching. I found the weave-like texture off-putting at first since I was already used to the fine-grained fibrous texture of Hahnemuhle’s matt paper but after using this for a while. I learned to like it as well. It appears that the pigments sink and “sit” in the grooves and so deep, rich colors are preserved.

khadi handmade watercolor paper circle

Khadi Handmade Paper 320 gsm, circle (above) and A5 (below) — (available at ArtWhale)

At 329 gsm, this paper handmade in India is thicker than all the other natural-fiber papers I’ve tried and because it’s made of long-fiber cotton rag (upcycled t-shirt cuttings, anyone?), it seems to be more absorbent than the other papers. The painting above was done on the circle variant (which reminds me of pita bread 😉 ) months ago using ShinHan Korean Colors but because the pigments were fully absorbed by the paper, it looks as if it was painted just yesterday. Also, as you can see almost the entire surface is covered in watercolor but at 320 gsm, the paper didn’t buckle much and actually stiffened a bit once the paint dried — possibly because the rag combined with the pigments.

The A5 variant (below) has a slightly finer grain. Since my first artwork is almost opaque, I tried to see how the paper react to a transparent wet-on-wet technique and it performed beyond my expectations. 🙂 The paper was able to soak in a lot of water and it never once buckled. Also, just look at how rich the colors stayed even after the paint dried (I used ShinHan PWC paints for the test below). The A5 size is perfect for portraits too and the deckle edges add a beautiful handmade touch.

khadi handmade watercolor paper a5

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hahnemuhle bamboo mixed media board

Hahnemuhle Bamboo Mixed Media Board 265 gsm (available at Deovir Arts)

This is an all-in-one artist-grade paper made from 90% bamboo fibers and 10% rag which can be used with watercolour, gouache, acrylics, colored pencils, chalk and oil pastel, stamp pad inks, etc. It comes in sheets at Deovir (for around P118 per 19″ x 25″ sheet) which is great value since you can cut it up into smaller pieces and it can handle almost any media. The surface is smooth and watercolor glides on it with ease. I like using this paper with the wet-on-dry watercolor technique since colors seems to maintain brilliancy that way.

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Canson Montval Torchon watercolor paper

Canson Montval Torchon Watercolor Paper, 270 gsm (available at NBS and Fully Booked)

Among relatively inexpensive student-grade papers, this is the closest I’ve found that can mimic the behavior of premium watercolor paper. Made from archival cellulose, the texture is similar to that of Hahnemuhle Bamboo’s — smooth but grainy enough to absorb paint and give paintings a “watercolory” look, meaning it won’t look like the paint is just sitting on top of the paper. At 270 gsm it’s not prone to much buckling unless you’re doing heavy-duty washes. Remember though that this isn’t fine art paper and drawings might eventually fade so make sure to use this only when you will scan and digitize your work.

I would love to know what brands and kinds of paper you like using. Please do share in the comments section. 🙂

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My watercolors, brushes, and painting tools (Part 2)

It’s time for PART 2 of this blog post from June of last year:  My watercolors, brushes, and other painting tools

Since that entry, I’ve added *just* a few more paints to my arsenal. Most of my watercolors at the time were student grade pan sets, but after practicing for months, I thought I deserved a good selection of artist grade watercolors that I can use for the commissions that were surprisingly starting to trickle in (thanks to my posting of work online). 🙂

After consulting with friends, doing lots of research on sites like Handprint and WetCanvas AND considering what I can afford, I chose the brands ShinHan PWC (Premium Watercolors) and Holbein. These two Asian brands are known for creamy, brilliant colors that are quite similar in behavior and quality. I chose tubes because I have a tendency to mix pan colors on the pans themselves and after a while, I can’t tell which is which anymore. Obviously I won’t have that problem with tubes if I squeeze out just enough for what I need at the time of painting.

ShinHan PWC Extra Fine Artists Watercolor

ShinHan PWC Extra Fine Artists Watercolors in 5ml and 15ml tubes — Permanent Red, Vandyke Brown, Ultramarine Deep, Mineral Violet, Viridian, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Permanent Magenta, and Marine Blue. (Locally available from ArtWhale)

I already have a few tubes of the ShinHan Korean Colors which I already reviewed here and here. PWC is ShinHan’s top-of-the-line paint and is made with high quality pigments and the finest grade gum arabic which produces beautifully transparent but vivid, fade-resistant colors, as you can see in the swatches above. I also love how I can mix a variety of interesting hues from just those few colors in my palette.

And here’s a comparison test I did sometime ago where you can clearly see the difference between ShinHan Korean Colors and ShinHan PWC.

In my previous blog post, I mentioned that I already had a few tubes of Holbein Watercolors but that I haven’t really used them much because of the colors I picked. Since that time I purchased a travel set containing colors from their 12-tube set in pan form. The set also includes a little flask, two synthetic hair travel brushes, sponges, and receptacles for water for easy use when painting plein air.
holbein pro compo travel kit

Holbein watercolors in the Pro-Compo Mini II Travel Kit – Burnt Sienna, Chinese White, Crimson Lake, Permanent Green #1, Prussian Blue, Viridian, Burnt Umber, Cobalt Blue, Ivory Black, Permanent Yellow Light, Vermilion, and Yellow Ochre + 5ml tubes of Compose Blue, Cobalt Turquoise Light, Lilac, Violet Grey, Lavender, Jaune Brilliant #2, Opera, Leaf Green, Permanent Violet, and Indigo. (Available from Deovir Arts though my travel kit is from an indie seller on IG)

Holbein, like ShinHan PWC, is wonderfully creamy and vibrant and re-wets easily. Just dab your wet brush onto the dry paint and the color will leap into your brush like metal files to a magnet. 😀 It also produces beautiful transparent washes and intense hues. I’m very happy with my choice of paints.

Here’s something I painted entirely with Holbein:

A photo posted by Cynthia Bauzon-Arre (@arncyn) on

(Lots more on Instagram as always.)

And now for the brushes I’ve added to my tool kit —

escoda silver brush black velvet winsor & newton brushes

From left to right: Winsor & Newton Foundation Brushes #2, 4, and 6; Silver Brush Black Velvet #8 , and Escoda Reserva #8 which I keep in a Tweed & Twine rollup tool case

brush-tests002

  • The W&N brushes are actually from my workshop kits (so if you signed up for my Watercolor Portrait Workshop on Feb.20 at Hey Kessy, you’ll be receiving a set of these!). I got a set for myself from IFEX Philippines and I’ve been using them as an alternative to my W&N Series 7 Kolinsky brushes since I don’t want to wear those out. These ones are synthetic and have a good snap to them, making them excellent for detail work! (Available at NBS & Fully Booked branches for only P185/set)
  • This Black Velvet brush is made of a blend of squirrel hair and synthetic filament and I find it very soft and absorbent. I love how the point stays in shape so I can make both fine lines and bold strokes with it. (Available locally from Craft Carrot though I got mine as a gift from a relative in the US)
  • The Escoda Reserva Kolinsky-Tajmyr Sable is my absolute favorite watercolor brush because it’s an all-in-one — it’s a travel brush so it can be collapsed. It also has terrific liquid-retaining capacity and the hair holds sharp points, making it perfect for juicy washes, bold strokes, and fine lines. Also, how gorgeous is that golden brass ferrule? (Available from ArtWhale)

See also: My watercolors, brushes, and other painting tools and My favorite watercolor papers

How about you, what are your watercolor painting must-haves? Please do share!

 

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I'm Cynthia Bauzon-Arre, a Filipino watercolor artist & graphic designer. I live in QC with my graphic novelist husband Arnold and our friendly marmalade tabby Abbas. This blog has been chronicling my life, likes, and loves since 2001. [ more ]

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