Cheap paper for watercolor practice?
July 10, 2012 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Are there any no-hassle, cheap alternatives to watercolor paper? I want to practice a lot without spending a lot.

I'd like to practice watercolor painting regularly (every day, ideally), but I'm reluctant to pay a lot for watercolor paper.

I'm even more reluctant to go through the process of stretching my own paper. (Lack of hassle is much more important than cost. I want to just be able to grab my supplies and start painting.)

Are there any cheap alternatives to watercolor paper that won't leave me sad and disappointed at the results?

If not, what watercolor paper do you recommend for someone who wants to practice a lot?
posted by kristi to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Mat board. Framing shops should have cutouts to sell/give to you.
The surface is usually acid free, and watercolor on any light colored board should work.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:46 AM on July 10, 2012

Have you tried purchasing other people's paper? People buy too much of something and then don't know what to do with it all and will sell it for cheap. I would check out yard sales, but ebay has some too.
posted by Yellow at 11:06 AM on July 10, 2012

I always try to buy locally as much as possible, but when it comes to canvas and paper, it's really hard to beat Dick Blick. Their house brand student watercolor papers are very inexpensive. Sure, they're not as nice as gallery-grade, but they're practice sheets. Bienfang also makes an "Aquademic" line of papers; I think Blick carries those as well, at a modest bump in price.
posted by xedrik at 11:06 AM on July 10, 2012

With good paper, you can scrub it clean and go again.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:09 AM on July 10, 2012

If you get the kind of watercolor paper that comes in a block, you don't have to stretch it before painting, just let it dry on the block and then cut the sheet off. I find it easier to deal with that way.
posted by therewithal at 11:19 AM on July 10, 2012

You could buy a cheap pad of watercolor paper for around ten dollars at an art supply or craft store and turn it into a block by clamping it and painting the edges with craft glue or padding compound.
posted by milk white peacock at 11:22 AM on July 10, 2012

Aquabee Super Deluxe sketchbooks are what we used in art school for watercolor sketching. One side of the sheet has a cold press texture, the other has hot press texture. Very much sturdy enough for watercolors and not expensive at all.
posted by agentmitten at 11:23 AM on July 10, 2012

I only ever buy watercolour blocks now. Ugh, the stretching.

I find the Strathmore blocks pretty reasonably priced for watercolour paper, as are these Fluid-Easy blocks.
posted by sawdustbear at 11:23 AM on July 10, 2012

I've had good luck with Aquabee Superdeluxe sketchbooks for watercolor. It'll buckle if you're doing heavy washes, but for sketches, it's fantastic. They come in a nice range of sizes as well.

As for avoiding stretching your own paper, look for watercolor blocks such as (at the high end) Arches Watercolor Blocks. It's basically a sketchbook that's gummed on all four sides, so you work on the top sheet and it has the whole rest of the block to keep it flat and stretched. When you're done, you cut the top sheet off. There's also cheaper blocks, such as these Strathmore ones that would be more suitable for practice.
posted by duien at 11:31 AM on July 10, 2012

The Strathmore Visual Journals series of sketchbooks (the Mixed Media type) is surprisingly hardy. I have filled it with full-page watercolors with very little buckling, and no bleed to the other side of the page.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 1:24 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do most of my practice on cheap visual diaries much like overeducated_alligator. Just watch for the seriously cheap ones, they can sometimes suck up colour like toilet paper. Very frustrating.

Anyhow, I wonder if it's possibe to gum the edges and use it like a block? Maybe it's time to run some experiments.
posted by Jilder at 1:29 PM on July 10, 2012

Oh! Also, depending on the texture you need, I sometimes practice on cardboard, the type you sometimes get folded into stockings and whatnot. When I was working in a boutique used to get shirts packaged in bulk with a sheet of that in the folded into them to keep them tidy for shipping, and it's really useful to practice my sometimes-sloppy brush control and colour blending. It takes a lot more moisture before it buckles. I still have a freaking huge stack of the stuff that's just been invaluable. So think a bit sideways, depending on what you feel like practising.

What else...for a while there I had no money and would paint on anything. Cardboard boxes can be good - actually, some packing boxes have a really lovely colour that does interesting things when you wash it. As far as card goes, anything without a high gloss will take colour. The inside of some cereal boxes can be good too. The print on the reverse will prevent anything stretching out.
posted by Jilder at 1:36 PM on July 10, 2012

Aquaboard is great stuff. You can paint on it, then wash it off and paint it again.

I've also picked up some of the sketchbooks with 150 pound paper. Doesn't take tons of punishment, but for practice it's perfectly fine.
posted by bunderful at 7:44 PM on July 10, 2012

And for a completely different surface, there's Yupo. Can be reused, and is fun to experiment with.
posted by bunderful at 7:46 PM on July 10, 2012

If you can find a art materials dealer that sells papers made in Thailand or India, they are charming to work on and very inexpensive. They do have a very rough surface, but they are sealed to accept water color and won't buckle, and have a charming deckle edge that adds to the handmade look. The rough paper surface is designed to make your mark skip and add light to the surface area of the painting.

If you work on lighter weight papers, use less water. Water color does not require large wet washes. Lighter weight papers will be less expensive. If you work very wet you will have to work on the Indian rough papers, the heavier papers, or stretch.
posted by effluvia at 11:16 PM on July 10, 2012

These are all terrific answers - thank you!

I'm especially excited about the inexpensive sketchbooks (surely I can afford 15 cents a page for the smaller ones) - and Jilder, the cardboard suggestion is great! I don't know why I assumed painting on cardboard wouldn't "work." I've got to get more into a try-it-and-see-if-it-works mindset.

Thank you all for these great ideas!
posted by kristi at 5:42 PM on July 11, 2012

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