Why did no one tell me about quality cotton watercolor paper?

In the realm of artistic exploration, one often finds themselves questioning the myriad facets of their craft. My own artistic voyage has been marked by countless “whys” and discoveries. Allow me to provide a brief glimpse into this odyssey that spans from 2002 to the present.

A Delayed Encounter with Traditional Mediums

Until 2020, my artistic endeavors primarily revolved around digital painting. A persistent and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction prevented me from venturing into the realm of traditional mediums such as colored pencils. My ignorance of watercolor paper was, regrettably, profound. In 2020, my foray into colored pencils marked a turning point. Eventually, I transitioned to watercolors in 2021, guided by a mixed media paper that had served me well for colored pencils. This paper seemed to suffice for watercolors, but little did I know better lay ahead.

A Brush with Wisdom

In the past month, my artistic partner, equally adept in his craft, implored me to transition from wood pulp paper to genuine cotton paper. Despite his earlier counsel, I was initially dismissive. Yet, my curiosity and experimental spirit prevailed, bolstered by the newfound ability to use wax pastels without any adverse reactions. This marked another triumph in my artistic journey.

The Epiphany: Cotton Paper Unveiled

With hindsight, I ask myself, “Why did he not insist upon this change sooner?” The realization hit me like a bolt from the blue: every piece I had created on wood pulp paper had been a battle against the paper’s limitations. Self-doubt crept in, for I questioned my abilities as I watched others seemingly effortlessly manipulate watercolors.

The introduction of fine art HP 300 lb cotton paper was nothing short of transformative. Layers melded seamlessly, akin to butter on a skillet (a reminder: avoid butter near your paper). The texture and final surface surpassed my experiences with wood pulp paper. Yes, I might have been late to the party, but this newfound love for painting is a testament to the profound impact of using quality materials.

Paper Weights

Now, let’s demystify paper weights. Papers are available in 90 lb, 140 lb, and 300 lb variants. The weight denotes thickness and durability; 90 lb is thin and lightweight, while 300 lb is robust and heavy-duty. Thicker paper is more durable, but it also absorbs paint and water differently.

Paper Textures

Understanding HP/CP (Hot Press / Cold Press / Rough) paper is equally vital. Hot press paper boasts a smooth surface, ideal for intricate work and fine art reproduction. Cold press paper offers a slightly textured surface, ideal for watercolors as it holds paint effectively. Rough paper, with its pronounced texture, is excellent for achieving an impressionistic look, suitable for abstract paintings and sketching.

The Quest for the Perfect Paper

For my style and preferences, extensive experimentation revealed that 300 lb HP cotton paper is the optimal choice, given my propensity for detailed work and use of various mediums. I have a long-standing affinity for Canson Archival Plein Air Mixed Media Board, which has served me well over the years but is now reserved for mixed media projects.

While many favor 140 lb paper, it doesn’t align with my artistic demands. However, securing 300 lb HP cotton paper proved challenging, as it’s the less common choice among watercolorists. Admittedly, I can be quite unforgiving with paper due to my condition.

The transition to 300 lb hot press paper wasn’t without its challenges. Accidents happened, resulting in dents and imperfections that would have been inconsequential on my previous paper. Yet, the sturdiness and quality of this paper outweighed any initial difficulties.

Trials and Tribulations

During my quest, I experimented with various papers and assessed their suitability for my style and mediums. Stonehenge 140 lb HP didn’t meet my watercolor expectations, possibly due to its weight. Hahnemuhle 140 lb Rough proved enjoyable in an art journal format. Fabriano Artistico Watercolor Paper 300 Lb Hot Press earned my appreciation, although it fell slightly short of being a favorite. Arches 140 lb HP was commendable but not substantial enough for my liking, whereas Arches 300 lb HP stands as a top choice for its beauty and performance. Saunders Waterford 300 lb HP, while harder to procure, emerged as another prized selection.

Below are the papers that I tried and what I liked and did not like about them. Again, this is just my personal opinion based on my own style of art, the amount and types of mediums that I use as well the the texture of papers that I like to work on.

A Universal Conclusion

In conclusion, the ideal choice of paper hinges on your specific needs, surface preferences, and thickness requirements. If you’re less accident-prone than I am, 140 lb paper might suffice. However, I implore you to embrace one constant: always opt for cotton paper in your watercolor endeavors. My journey is a testament to the undeniable importance of this choice, as I unwittingly struggled with wood pulp paper before recognizing the pivotal role played by the paper’s composition.