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Today's blog post is a continuation of my series on the go-to watercolor supplies that I use. Last week I talked about my favorite paints here! This week I would like to introduce you to my favorite paper and palettes.
As a watercolor enthusiast there are so many types of paper to choose from, with the three main ones being rough, cold-pressed, and hot-pressed. At it's most fundamental, the difference lies in texture and absorbency, with rough being...well...rough, cold-pressed being textured but not as rough, and hot-pressed being smooth paper. That's my idiot's guide to watercolor paper, but of course there is so much more to know about these three types. As always though, I think the best way to approach supplies is through your own experimentation. I am a fan of working with cold-pressed paper (which is probably the most commonly used type) so I will introduce you to some of my favorite brands that offer cold-pressed papers, in addition to other types of paper:
Being one of the most universally loved watercolor paper brands I think it's an excellent pick. Arches paper is sold in all three types of paper, plus paper sold by the roll, sold by the sheet, and in various weights (or thicknesses of paper). My preferred way to buy this paper, given the luxurious higher price, is by the block, and by the sheet if I need to work larger, which is rare.
With a block of watercolor paper, all pages are glued together on the edges, in order to prevent buckling (or waviness) and the need for you to stretch your watercolor paper, which let's face it, is time consuming. But for smaller blocks especially (think 8x10, 9x12 and under), this glue allows you to paint without this process beautifully, holding your paper to the block, until you complete the painting and it dries. Once dried, you can remove the paper easily by running a credit card or bone-folder around the edges to free the sheet from the block. Here is a Youtube video (by Meow Meow Kapow) which helped me the very time to perform this process. Just for the record, larger blocks are also sold, but they sometimes will buckle regardless of being in a block, and in this case you may want to purchase sheets and stretch them instead.
I love the quality of Arches paper, I really feel like you can do no wrong with this paper. The only con is that the price is high, but overall...it is excellent and many people work with Arches.
Observations: Top-of-the-line quality, handmade-paper, higher price, comes in every variety and thickness you could need (excellent range of products), brand is reputable and has been around since *1492*....(yes, 1492!!!).
Another brand that I love even more is called Fabriano Artistico (also pictured above!). When picking out watercolor paper it's important not only to check out reputable brands, but it's a good idea to investigate the materials that the paper is produced with. Just as with Arches, this particular paper is also made with 100% cotton. Why 100% cotton instead of the regular wood-pulp manufactered paper? Well, it's because cotton is more durable, absorbent, and in general will perform 100 times better with watercolor than wood-pulp papers. It allows for more lifting, blending of pigments, and anything you would like to throw at it. Wood-pulp papers are generally not as desirable for watercolor because their properties limit your ability to perform watercolor techniques effectively, and in general don't turn out as vibrant either. If you are going to invest in excellent paints, don't let your paper be a second thought! The biggest rookie mistake I made (which I think most people make), is not investing in high quality cotton paper, which in turn dampens their initial experiences with watercolor, frustrating them...until they quit. :( (noooooo)
Fabriano Artistico as a brand is very similar in quality to Arches, and is a much beloved source of paper for me. I would say that my Fabriano cold-pressed paper is comparable to Arches, with a few exceptions. First, the surface of the paper is a little less coarse, which is satisfying. It is still cold-pressed, yet feels smoother to the touch. It is also offered in white and off-white, with white being my preferred choice (but I love that you can can choose!).
Observations: High quality 100 percent cotton paper, similar price-point to Arches, slightly less coarse cold-pressed paper than Arches, offered in white and off-white varieties, very popular as well!
If you need paper that is great quality, but less of a punch to your wallet, Bee 100 percent cotton paper is also excellent. I added this to the list because this is my go-to brand to buy rolled paper, since I feel it is a nice compromise between quality and price for a roll. Where Arches rolls might be more expensive, this paper offers great quality paper for a much better price. You might feel better about buying from a brand like Bee when initially starting, because one can mess up more often and with less guilt about the money spent.
Observations: Great quality paper, excellent price for a roll of paper, great compromise between quality and price, offers many other types of paper including drawing and mixed-media papers.
4. Etchr Lab Watercolor Sketchbooks
The truth is when starting out, you really probably don't need a watercolor sketchbook, but these watercolor sketchbooks are just so satisfying that I had to share. Anyone who likes working in a sketchbook will be delighted by Etchr Lab's 100 percent cotton, cold-pressed watercolor paper sketchbooks. I found this recommendation by watching Youtube videos and had to buy it to test it out, and it turned out to be an absolute freaking delight.
The description states that this is a mixed media sketchbook, but I have found that it performs with watercolor beautifully, so long as you work with a reasonable amount of water (since it is a lighter weight, un-stretched paper, it will buckle a little). But for a sketchbook, it's perfect. Some of my favorite little pieces have come out of this sketchbook, so much so that I had to resort to cutting them out of the sketchbook (I know...I am a bad bad person). When you receive this sketchbook in the mail, is it packaged beautifully and with alot of thought, and contains a pocket in the back as per usual of sketchbooks, and a ribbon for marking your last page. The cover is white fabric and customizable to your artistic liking.
All I can say about this sketchbook is that I love it, there is just something that draws me into using it, and I am more likely to experiment in this than on any of the other loose or blocked papers I have listed above. The product itself for me hits all the sweets spots for a sketchbook, with earthy, material satisfaction.
For palettes, for recommendation isn't so much a specific brand, as it is a specific TYPE, and that type is: ceramic.
Often you will see palettes made of plastic, since they are cheap to produce and have become ubiquitous throughout the art market. Watercolor will often bead on these palettes as used right out of the box (see below, right).
Can you see the difference? It's remarkable, isn't it? Below I have mixed the exact same colors on both types of palettes. In my opinion it's more difficult with beading to truly see the color you have mixed, because it pools together, and it's also difficult to see how much water you truly have on your palette as it pulls together in a bead over the surface.
Now I have read that there are things you can do to remedy this, like scratching your palette up, but why damage your new plastic palette just for that? Instead, I would recommend buying a ceramic one, which are sold for not too much more in price. Often on online marketplaces like Etsy for example, there are many ceramic artisans who create beautiful, stunning ceramic palettes. Some of them will even customize them for you to your specifications if you need a certain color, or number of wells, or a finger hole, or a travel ceramic palette, you name it! You can also go the cheap route like I did, and buy ceramic plates from Target. They work just as well!
And one final palette that I would like to share with you, is probably my most prized one, because of where it originates from:
This is my magnetic, wooden, clip-on travel palette that I bought off Etsy from a wood-crafter in Ukraine. The store is currently closed due to the war, but I have seen some other sellers offer something similar. The idea is that it is a mini palette (with a decent number of wells I might add) that can easily clip onto your sketchbook for plein-air painting outside. It closes shut with inlaid magnets, and has my name on it! One reason I love the function of this is that I can fill it with very nice Mijello paints and have a decent variety to choose from without having to carry lots of paint around. I plan on trying to do more outdoor painting sessions, and any way I can reduce the amount I carry, is a blessing. The mixing area isn't very big, so I carry an extra small ceramic palette and it works well, but this circular one is good when I'm choosing to mix more directly on the page.
And that is it for this post! Next time, I will cover all of the other watercolor accessory supplies that I love and use frequently, including one very important one: brushes. Stay tuned! :)
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