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five fish painted on synthetic yupo paper Watercolor paper is a basic necessity for the watercolor artist.  It needs to be strong enough to withstand soaking and stretching, as well as abuse such as scraping and lifting paint.  The paper is normally white and is made from cellulose fibers such as hemp, jute, wood pulp, or cotton.  Acid free paper produced from cotton fiber rag is not only the most popular watercolor paper, but also the longest lasting.

Watercolor paper is processed with several finishes:  hot press, cold press, or rough.  Hot press watercolor paper has a smooth, slick surface; the paint will not soak in too much.  Cold press paper, the most popular watercolor paper, has a slightly rough texture and holds color well.  The paint can settle into or skim over the surface.  Rough watercolor paper has a rough texture and works well for "textured look" paintings.

Sizing is added to the watercolor paper so it has a consistent absorbency and feel.  Lightly sized paper absorbs more paint while heavily sized paper soaks up less paint.  The amount of sizing affects the way the paint can merge or be worked on the paper.  Sizing affects the softness of paint edges and the dullness or vibrancy of the paint.

kitchen cookbooks painted on 140 pound paper Watercolor paper is generally sold in 90, 140, or 300 lb. weights.  90 lb. paper is a thinner student grade paper.  140 lb. paper is stronger and is probably the most popular weight of watercolor paper.  It can be stretched, and it dries quickly.  300 lb. is the heaviest paper and doesn't need stretching.  It takes longer to dry.

Watercolor paper is available as individual sheets, blocks, pads, or rolls.  A full individual sheet is generally 22x30 inches.  A four side deckle edge usually is a characteristic of handmade paper; a machine made paper usually has even edges.  Blocks contain sheets of paper glued on all sides.  Blocks eliminate the need to stretch the paper.  They come in a variety of sizes.  Pads are sheets of paper joined by glue or a wire spiral on one side.  Rolls of watercolor paper are often sold in 10-yard lengths.  Watercolor paper is also available precut for greeting cards and postcards, and there is even watercolor canvas.

Watercolor artists are also experimenting with non-traditional types of paper.  Synthetic paper is challenging because the paint tends to lie on the surface of the paper.  Loose style painting works well on these "papers" as the paint moves when the brush touches them.  Rice paper has been used for centuries in Japan.  Aquabord has an acid free clay surface that allows lifting without surface damage.  Artboard, illustration board and bristol board are also used for watercolor painting.

Try painting on a variety of watercolor papers to see what effects the paint produces on them.

still-life watercolor painting on watercolor paper block

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