Tuesday, February 11, 2014

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


6 comments:

  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. : )

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    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.

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  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.

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    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.

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  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.

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

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