Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Testing Watercolor Paper Using Templates from Sadie Saves the Day

Watercolor paper test using Sade's template. The paper in question is Strathmore 500 series hot press.
I've learned that watercolor paper is the most important component in watercolor painting. Every paper from every brand—including different product lines within that brand—is quite different. There's no one standard even for how rough a surface is; one brand's cold press is another's hot press.

Getting a good paper is not as simple as just buying the most expensive paper. Some artists prefer the lesser water absorption of cellulose papers even at the cost of not being able to layer, and some artists prefer the enormous stability of cotton rag papers for expressive wet-in-wet techniques.

The only way to figure out if a watercolor paper works for you is to test that paper yourself for the qualities that you need. I found a great video by Sade of Sadie Saves the Day that shows how to use her watercolor paper test template.

I added a couple more regions for myself to test how inks lie on the paper, since I often use watercolors with ink. I also use Viridian (PG18) for granulation tests, as I don't yet have Lunar Black (PBk11).

Testing out your paper for other water media separately as well also comes to mind—for instance, Inktense, watercolor pencils, watercolor crayons, gouache, and casein will all react differently than watercolor paints, and different techniques are more or less relevant to each medium type.

I'll note that Strathmore watercolor paper, even the 500 series, has noticeably different surface qualities depending on which side of the paper you use (one side will feel more velvety and smooth than the other, even for cold press levels of roughness). I tested each side accordingly, which yielded a lot of information below.

Strathmore 500 series cold press, rougher side, 140 lb / 300 gsm
Strathmore's 500 series cold press is a cotton rag paper with a weight of 300 gsm. For me, the rougher side is much easier to work on in terms of more subtle effects like softening. Very close examination shows that detail marks—and ink lines—fuzz out at the sides, which is expected for cold press surfaces.

Strathmore 500 series cold press, smoother side, 140 lb / 300 gsm
The same cold press paper has a smoother side, which is closer to hot press without quite crossing that boundary. Softening effects are more difficult to achieve, and while detail strokes are better preserved, this side is also a bit less forgiving than the rougher side. That backrun test has very, very slight indications of backruns—as opposed to the rougher side having none at all!

Strathmore 500 series hot press, rougher side, 140 lb / 300 gsm
The Strathmore 500 series hot press paper also has two noticeably different sides. This is the "rougher" side, which is a bit smoother than the smooth side of the cold press version. And like hot press generally is, its slickness is more difficult to work on compared to the very forgiving cold press surface. Backruns happen easily, and surprisingly even very staining paints (I use a phthalo blue here) will lift very well!

Strathmore 500 series hot press, smoother side, 140 lb / 300 gsm
And this same hot press has a far smoother side as well. It's different and reacts more like how I'd expect hot press to work.

Not all watercolor papers have different sides; for instance, Pentalic AquaJournals have pages that are the same (as far as I can tell) on either side, which is a nice, predictable quality.

I highly recommend checking out Sade's video and checking out her corresponding blog post with the template and directions.

Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.