Watercolor Basics

I started teaching watercolor painting classes this past week and it has brought back some basics…

Just like anything in life, in order to have a solid painting, you need to have a solid foundation. To start, there are 3 basic types of paper: hot press, cold press, and rough. When I first started, I only used 300lb rough paper (which we will talk about the weight in a minute) as I felt more in control over my painting as the wet paint didn’t run as freely with the textured paper. However, with rough, it’s harder to get straight clean lines. Over time I transitioned to a 140lb hot press paper, which is better for clean edges and fine detail due to its smooth nature and ability to handle scrubbing, scraping or any other techniques you throw its way. It looks very delicate but it’s pretty tough and my personal favorite. The third paper is cold press, which has more texture than hot press paper but less than rough paper. It is also more absorbent than hot press which might be desirable for an artist as the wet paint won’t pool as easily.

Sometimes in art, there can be the misconception that you get paper, paint, and brushes and start painting but that’s not the case. Just like the foundation of a house, what materials you use matter greatly on the outcome of your finished product. Before you dive into that painting I encourage you to sample the 3 different papers as you might be surprised at how differently they respond to your painting techniques.

As promised, let’s talk about the importance of the weight of the paper. Paper has 4 different weights; 90lb, 140lb, 300lb, and 400lb. I have not tried the 90lb or 400lb, 90lb is way too thin for my liking, and you will run into a lot of issues, such as buckling and possibly ripping the paper if it’s too wet. Personally, I would save the time and pass on this weight unless you are looking to experiment, which in that case it may not hurt to try all 4 weights for yourself. I do have my students try different papers and brushes to see how everything reacts. 140lb is one of my favorites, as is 300lb. 140lb you still have to be careful of buckling or warping, but it’s not as bad as 90lb. Make sure you tape and/or staple it, and size it as well. These tricks will help but even then you’re going to have to be watchful to make sure your paints aren’t pooling up. It will dry flat but can be tricky or challenging, 140lb can take more scrubbing or scrapping than 90lb. 300lb is an awesome paper, you really don’t have to worry about taping it or stapling it. It won’t buckle, paint won’t pool, it takes a beating well and is very pleasant to paint on. I’m going to give the 400lb weight a try. I never had the need to after using 300lb but now I’m curious to see if it can possibly be better. 

Play around and see what you like! I’m curious to see if you find your experiment has led you to a new paper. Have fun!


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