Skip to main content

Tip: Old Paper

The other day I received a letter from one of my students, she was having a horrible time trying to do one of the exercises from my book "Watercolor Essentials"The problem was when she applied water and color to the paper it soaked right in.

I first asked her what brand of paper she was using, (that can make a HUGE difference). Student brands most often will not react the same as the professional grade papers (my personal preference has been 300 lb CP Arches paper and for exercises 140 lb). Student grade papers have a tendency to curl badly and blending color does not react the same way due to the surface.

I asked: how old her was the paper ?
Her reply: about 10 years old.

The problem is:  depending on how long and where the paper is stored, overtime the elements can  degrade the sizing on the surface (yes even though it is archival). Most likely you won't notice anything wrong until you apply water and color, then the big reveal happens. You start to see blotches and spots or even scratches. It's truly a shame, after you have spent good money for good paper and especially  frustrating if you have taken time to create an intricate sketch. Usually the fresher the paper, the better the results.

In my students case, the paper immediately soaked up the all water and color, acting more like a blotting paper or paper towel, making the technique ineffective. What you are looking for is the water and color to stay on the surface while your working and have the ability mingle giving that transparent watercolor look.

The exercise below can help you create a luminous washes and gives you better understanding of the feel and flow of water with color that I'm looking for.

140 lb Cold Press Arches Paper


  1. I've had this happen several times with older paper. Unfortunately, I have a lot of watercolor paper that I've purchased through the years and am not sure which paper is bad so if I start a project that is really important to me, I will buy a new piece of paper and hope that the supplier's paper isn't old. : )

    1. Hi Nancy - what you could try, (depending on what your subject) is applying a light wash to the surface, you should then be able to see any potential flaws.

      For myself when painting I like to take advantage of the sizing on the surface so an initial wash would not work so well for my style.

  2. If you do have a batch of old paper that doesn't mean you have to through it away. Try this, paint it with a white or colored gesso, let dry, then paint on it with acrylic or even watercolor, experiment and have fun, you never know what you will come up with.

    1. I have used the gesso to get past the problem and it is fun to paint on a gessoed piece of paper - a different technique but a nice challenge. I've also put matte medium on to seal the paper. Believe me, I never throw away art supplies! There's always a way to make them work.

  3. You can try to resize the paper, but the results will most likely not be the same as original fresh paper. There is a solution, called Hercon 70 that can be sprayed on your paper. It is not a hard sizing but it can help. Hercon 70 is an alkenylketene dimmer-based emulsion that is used to impart water resistance. It can be purchased from paper-making companies such as Magnolia Editions in Oakland.

    1. This product sounds interesting. I am going to try it. Thanks.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Warm & Cool Colors

Have you ever wondered about warm and cool colors and whats the difference. Warm color appear to move forward while cooler colors recede into the background. That's why when painting a landscape I prefer to use warm colors in the foreground then move to cooler colors and lighter values (meaning more water) in the background. If I was working on a floral I prefer to use warm or even a mix of color in the flower then use cooler colors in the shadows to give depth to my subject. 

Warm Colors Cadmium Yellow Pale, New Gamboge, Cadmium Yellow, Winsor Yellow Deep, Indian Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Cadmium Orange, Winsor Orange, Winsor Orange (Red Shade). Cadmium Scarlet, Scarlet Lake, Cadmium Red, Winsor Red, Rose DorĂ©, Quinacridone Red, Opera Rose, Quinacridone Magenta, Permanent Magenta, Cobalt Violet, Permanent Mauve, Winsor Violet (Dioxazine), Cobalt Blue Deep, French Ultramarine, Ultramarine, (Green Shade), Winsor Blue (Red Shade), Cerulean Blue (Red Shade), Winsor Green (Yellow Sha…

Tips: Tools to Apply Masking Fluid

Most often people will use an old brush, incredible nib or Masquepen but depending on the flow, coverage and detail you want. There are a couple of other things you can try.
Lets say you want a nice continual flow of fluid to leave detail areas white. Consider an embossing tool (used for paper, foil, clay etc) or a calligraphy pen, both feel good in your hand and hold a nice amount of fluid. The flow of masking or drawing gum can also depend on the brand you use. Personally I like Pebeo drawing gum because it's thinner and applies easily.
Examples from students
 When signing paintings with a dark backgrounds Karen Richards like to use a Calligraphy pen to her apply masking. Once the composition is created she applies a light wash, lets it dry then signs her name. She will then continue with the painting then when done remove the masking to reveal her signature.
Karen Richards
Calligraphy pen
Pebeo Drawing gum
Revealed signature --- To get basically the same results Linda likes to use an e…

Glazing (layering) in watercolor

Glazing is a term for layering or stacking color, for instance think of different sheets of colored glass or tissue paper one stacked on top of the other. You are able to see through the transparent layers to the ones below, glazing in watercolor is the same idea but instead using thin washes of transparent color. For the cleanest color mixing and purest glazes use only the most transparent color. The reason is these colors allow light to pass through and reflect off of the papers surface leaving beautiful jewel-like effects.
Here are only a few of the transparent colors you may want to consider, New Gamboge, Indian Yellow, Winsor Red, Alizarin Crimson, Carmine, Permanent Rose, Quinacridone Magenta, Winsor Violet (Dioxazine), Indanthrene Blue, French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, Antwerp Blue, Prussian Blue, Viridian, Winsor Green (Yellow Shade), Perylene Green, Hooker’s Green, Permanent Sap Green among others.
More opaque the colors have a greater coverage and are useful to tone down color…