Choosing the Right Watercolor Paper
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One of the questions that I get asked the most about my painting process is what type of paper do I use, and there's an easy answer and a not-so-easy answer to that!
Let's start with the easy answer:
For swatches or experimental paintings, I use Canson XL Watercolor Paper. It's one of the most budget friendly papers out there, and for the price, the quality can't be beat. It has a cold-pressed texture to it on one side, and a smoother texture on the other side, which is great for pointed pen calligraphy practice or drawing with fineliners. It also works well with water-based markers/brush pens, and colors blend very nicely. Canson XL does tend to soak up water very quickly, which is fine for wet-on-dry paintings; however, it does not work well for wet-on-wet techniques, which is what I tend to do the most (i.e., galaxy paintings), which is why I reserve Canson XL for swatches and for when I'm trying out something new.
For regular paintings, I use Bee Paper 100% Cotton Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper (140lb/300gsm). It's my go-to paper, and I love it so much that when I was asked to be a brand ambassador, I jumped at the opportunity to support a product that I already love. The quality is excellent, and the price is reasonable. However, in the fall of 2019, the company was purchased by Royal & Langnickel, so sadly, my ambassadorship ended abruptly, and it's become quite difficult to find stores that carry it or have it in stock. Hopefully, with the public announcement of R&L's acquisition at the end of 2019 means that we'll see Bee Paper products back in stores soon!
For commissions, I use Arches Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper (140lb/300gsm) or L'Aquarelle Canson Heritage (Cold Pressed 140lb/300gsm). They're both excellent quality papers, but the price point (of both) is difficult to stomach. At over $2 PER SHEET of 9x12 paper, I can't justify using it for anything other than commissions.
So as you can see, even with my 3 favorite papers, there are some significant drawbacks!
Now for the not-so-easy answer:
As my stash of Bee Paper has been dwindling, I've been on the search for a quality replacement--something that does not carry the price tag of Arches, but is better than Canson XL for wet-on-wet painting. I've read numerous reviews, watched videos where artists test out different papers...and all I've learned is that it's impossible to know unless you try it yourself.
What works for one artist doesn't necessarily work for another, and if someone raves about a particular paper, you're sure to find someone who hates it for equally valid reasons! The techniques and the brushes you use, the movement of your brushstrokes, the amount of water you put on the paper, the amount of paint you put on the paper, the number of layers of paint, whether you combine different media in your work, the drying time, the aesthetic you're going for--all these things (and more) factor into whether a particular paper will work for your artwork.
I found myself spending an exorbitant amount of money on different types of paper--just to try them out. Some companies offered samples (2-4 sheets of their paper), but even then, I found myself adding up how much I had spent on samples, and it added up fast! I even searched for retailers who sold sample packs of paper and found one, but the only papers included in their sample packs were the really nice, expensive papers, and of course, they also came with a really nice, expensive price tag.
So after all that research and time and money...I came to the conclusion that artists, especially those who are beginning their watercolor journey or are still learning, need a better way to sample different types of paper to find the ones that work for them. Some papers will work better with different media and techniques, and some are better suited for practice, others for masterpieces! This led me to creating two different sample packs of paper for you: a student grade pack and an artist grade pack, which will allow you to try out different types of paper to suit your needs!
The chance to sample papers before purchasing a full pack of paper would definitely have saved me a lot of time and money, so hopefully, these sample packs will help you on your artistic journey!