Updated: Jun 11, 2021
When beginning to paint, inferior equipment is probably the biggest reason for beginners becoming despondent and giving up. The old analogy applies: You cannot repair an engine with a rubber spanner.
To save yourself a lot of grief, buy a set of good brushes and good-quality watercolour paper at the outset.
Watercolour paper comes in three different forms:
HP... hot pressed. This is a smooth paper with no texture to the surface. Very good for detailed work.
Then we get NOT paper (simply, Not HP paper... thus NOT). This paper has texture to its surface, formed by the slight indentations caused by the felt used in the paper making process. This is the paper most generally used by artists
The third type is called rough, for obvious reasons. The rough surface creates the opportunity for some special effects and looser styles of painting.
Paper also comes in various weights. In the metric system, this is indicated in GSM - grams per square meter. The higher the number, the thicker the paper. Many artists use lighter paper, say 300g. This weight requires “stretching", i.e. the soaking of the paper and sticking it to a board with gummed tape to prevent it from “cockling” or warping when it gets wet through the painting process. I and many other professional artists prefer the heavier paper. I use 640g, which does not require stretching and will not warp when you paint on it. One simply tapes it to your paint board with masking tape. This saves a lot of hassle and wasting of time through stretching as well as being stronger, more absorbent and thus giving you more time before the paper begins drying especially while applying washes.
So, what makes a high quality paper? Higher quality paper is made from 100% cotton, sometimes referred to as rag. Other paper may be made from wood pulp. Cotton paper is acid-free (ph neutral) and will not yellow with age. Wood pulp must be chemically treated to make it acid free, but it is a weaker paper.
Unfortunately it doesn’t end there. The market and Joe’s Stationary Shop is full of watercolour paper that just isn't up to scratch - paper that will frustrate you because of a lack of absorption qualities, poor surfaces and weak products made of inferior materials. They are often bound in blocks and you will recognize them by their low prices. Say "No, Joe"!
The best papers are usually sold in loose sheets, generally available in Imperial sheet size (559mm x 762mm). You can then cut these sheets down to the size you want. A steel ruler and Stanley knife (box cutter) and a steady hand are required. Go for the recognized brand names, such as Saunders, Fabriano and Arches. Remember: You get what you pay for. The good papers are expensive but, in my opinion, well worth it. We supply participants in our courses with a range of products at cost.
South African art shop prices are generally very high. The better ones, such as Deckle Edge, will order the good paper for you if they don’t have in stock. I import my paint, brushes and paper from Jacksons Art Suppliers in London. Even with the exchange rate, postage and tax included it still works out quite a bit cheaper than buying locally. See their website at jacksonsart.com .
I hope you find this helpful. Feel free to inbox us with any questions.