Watercolor paper - artist gift recommendations?
August 29, 2005 9:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for high quality watercolor paper for my girlfriend as part of a birthday gift. - bonus if it works well with acrylics - Recommendations for good watercolor paints also appreciated.

She has mentioned before that "the good stuff" is really thick, expensive, and doesn't get all wavy when saturated. I want to give her a stack big enough that she won't be miserly about using it. I recall her mentioning some lesser papers need to be stretched to stay flat, and I think she will be more likely to start working with watercolor again if she can avoid this step.

Feel free to chime in with other creative additions to the package that would motivate you as an artist. She's a great illustrator, has boxes of supplies, is equally at home with crayon / pencil / acrylics / markers. I want to give her something special for a little inspiration to get back into the paints. Budget is a couple hundred dollars, but i could be persuaded to go more if you have something completely over the top to suggest.
posted by freq to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This is what you want. (I just linked to the cheapest one I could find in a 30 second search.)

Get the cold press block. It's good quality paper and because it's a block, no stretching required.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:35 AM on August 29, 2005

Also, pay attention to sizes.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:36 AM on August 29, 2005

CunningLinguist beat me to it. Arches is good paper - if you're doing this in person, ask the clerk. As for paints, winsor & newton are usually the way to go. Why not get her a couple of nice brushes while you're at it? Good brushes are a great and wonderful thing. Look for real sables, she will be thrilled.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:11 AM on August 29, 2005

Arches is the best. But VERY expensive. I can't bring myself to buy it even when it's 50% off.
posted by orange swan at 10:45 AM on August 29, 2005

Holbein watercolors are the kind of paint that makes the recipient say "wow". There are cheaper brands that are quite nice, but Holbein is pretty top notch If you buy any, don't get a set though.. look at what colors she has in acrylics, and try to make your own custom set, with a few alternatives thrown in.

Daniel Smith is a nice place to deal with, they sell a lot of "house branded" stuff that is pretty good.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 5:24 PM on August 29, 2005

If she prefers to use watercolours on unstretched paper and wants heavy paper then get her paper that is at least 200lbs - 300lbs is the highest available, at the higher weights they don't need to be stretched and less likely to buckle when working with them, anything under 200lbs will more than likely buckle even if it is in block form.

I'd get her a variety, some cold pressed, some hot pressed and some rough. Some handmade, some machine made - from 100% rag or 100% cotton or a combination of cotton and flax all in sheet form (22"x30") since they all behave differently when used (some types are great for detailed work, others are great for colour washes) and it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Fabriano makes a paper called Fabriano Artistico that comes in a 300lbs weight that will stand up other mediums besides watercolour and there is a paper maded called Kandi Rag that will work too - I've never used Kandi myself but they claim it can be gesso'ed and use as an alternative to canvas, so should be able to stand up to heavy working. [here's a link to some of the kinds of watercolour papers available that I've referred to in pdf format]

Have you thought of other papers like japanese washi, banana or papyrus or does she just do watercolour painting? It might be a fun way to get her thinking creatively in other ways. If she enjoys getting tactile while she works she might like oil slicks (or paintstiks as some call them) which are oil paint in a crayon form, kinda like pastels but much softer. On the watercolour theme I would look at watercolour pencils, they're essentially watercolour paint in pencil form and can be used dry or wet. Then there are the old standby's - masking fluid, sponges and sable brushes.

Hope this helps.
posted by squeak at 9:21 PM on August 29, 2005

Arches is definitely the standard in w/c paper, because it’s so resistant to abuse and works wonderfully with virtually all the classic w/c techniques; absolutely the best choice for the beginner (and any of you others who are resisting allowing yourself to use paper of this quality, consider yourselves to be shooting your own feet every moment you put it off!). The other brands are all a bit more specialized, in my opinion. And the blocks ARE seductive. But they absolutely don’t solve the buckling problem, they only ensure that the buckled-when-wet painting dries flat. Unfortunately the quality of the binding glue in the Arches blocks has deteriorated lately, so that the top sheet tends to pull loose if it get wetted and dried repeatedly in the course of a single painting; less of an issue if she’s a dry, neat painter...and if that’s the case, 140lb paper of any type will be OK. If she’s unsure of what paper she’ll eventually prefer, and only knows that the buckling thing is what she wants to avoid, I’d suggest one or two of these 300lb sample packs.
They sell other very interesting sample packs as well, so check ‘em all out. You can also get full-sheet samplers from Daniel Smith, as I recall.

So long as she can deal with the relatively small 15x11 sheet size, these are a great way to test a lot of different papers while potentially making some lovely art. And since they’re all 300lb., they’ll all buckle very minimally. Add a roll of 1-inch 3M drafting tape to secure them to a nice piece of 17x13, 1/4-in. plexiglass (or something equally stiff and water-resistant), and they’ll dry flat, too.

ANY watercolor paper can be gessoed, btw, but doesn’t need to be to be used with acrylic paints, especially if thinned to act like non-resolveable watercolors. If used very thick like impasto oils, probably better to gesso the paper first, but otherwise, not needed.

As far as paint goes, I’d go for a gift certificate over guessing at the pigments she’ll really want, unless she really just needs a starting palette of basics. Both Holbien and DSmith are drool-worthy brands, but so are MaimeriBlu, W&Newton, Old Holland, Schminke, Sennelier... You can’t really go wrong with any of these, since they are all “Artist-,” not “Student-,” quality brands.

A few real sable brushes are a must, esp. if she’s a detail type, but they’ll blow your budget in a HURRY. Once again, Cheap Joe’s has some excellent deals, especially in their house brands. If she’s into tiny perfectionist brush-strokes, tho, a couple of W&N Series 7 rounds will make her eyes pop:)

MY opinion, tho, is that paints and brushes are matters of such personal preference that I’d NOT want to guess at what to get; let her pick ‘em.

If you want to research this stuff yourself as a total surprise, by all means check out this
watercolor technical site; it’s totally overwhelming, but dig deep and you’ll find some very well-considered advice on palettes and brushes... and everything else watercolor related.
Have fun!
posted by dpcoffin at 2:06 AM on August 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

Sorry ‘bout that last link; try this.
posted by dpcoffin at 2:10 AM on August 30, 2005

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