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Painting with Carol » paper
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Painting with Carol

Techniques, tips and tricks for watercolours and acrylics

Stretching paper and backing board

February 21st, 2008 | Category: Art supplies and equipment, Painting techniques

I always use a backing board when I am painting. A backing board is a board to which you will tape the watercolour paper so it will need to be larger all the way round than the paper.

The size of the board will depend on the size of your painting - it can be made from hardboard, masonite, plywood or any such wood. When I paint I tend to use quite a lot of water, for my washes, which is a technique called wet-into-wet. Watercolour paper tends to buckle, especially if you use a light weight paper and this is why I recommend using 300 gsm (the grammage or weight of the paper is now universally measured in grams per square metre).

If you are using a light weight paper, however, you will need stretch the paper. The best way to do this is to soak the paper overnight in a bath of water, hold the paper upright to let most of the water run off, then tape or even staple to the board. The paper will shrink; but when dries it will pull tight, which will make it durable and workable.

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Choosing the right watercolour paper

February 13th, 2008 | Category: Watercolours

Watercolour papers are offered in a perplexing variety of sizes, weights, textures and prices. There are a number of good quality brands available. I mostly use Arches, however Whatman, Fabriano, Saunders Waterford and so on are all very good papers. I think you should experiment yourself, as it depends on what you are going to paint. You will find that professional-quality watercolour paper is expensive, but I think it is certainly worth it. Watercolour paper comes in a variety of surfaces so you should choose the right surface.

There are three textures available:

  • rough
  • hot-pressed
  • cold-pressed.

Rough paper has the most ‘tooth’ - ridges on the paper - and if I am painting landscapes, this is the paper I use. For instance, if I am painting water I will use the side of my brush. The paint then adheres to the elevations and will leave sparkles on the surface of the water. However, like everything it takes practice to achieve this effect.

I use hot-pressed paper if I am painting fine detailed work as it has a smooth surface.

Cold-pressed is ideal for beginners as it has enough tooth for repeated washes but it’s texture will still allow you to create sparkle in your painting. I mostly use cold-pressed paper.

Then there’s the weight of the paper. I mostly use 300 gsm; professional watercolour paper can come in different weights, as little as 70 or 90 gsm. I have found, though, that the lighter the paper the more you are likely to have trouble with it warping if you are new to painting. The weight is determined by a ream which is usually 500 sheets. A standard size sheet of paper is 22 x 30 inches.

I could write pages about paper! I haven’t even got into stretching the paper or anything like that. Sometimes the best way to learn is to try it out and if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment here.

Happy brush strokes!

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