Notebook, 1993-

MATERIALS & METHODS - Painting - Aqueous Paints - Transparent Watercolor

The Pigments - The Binder - Diluents - Supports & Grounds - Equipment - Care and Display

Transparent Watercolor

Supports and Grounds

Papers - All artists' paper should be made of pure linen or linen and cotton rags, free from wood pulp, chemical agents, and resin fillers. The best watercolor papers are handmade by European firms of ancient descent.

Wood-pulp paper, which is paper in its most common form, becomes brittle and brownish with age, as evidenced by newspaper [p. 148] and newsprint pads. But age-deterioration is not produced by the wood pulp per se; it is the chemicals, particularly acids, that are the cause; witness the Oriental papers which are of wood or vegetable fiber origin. Modern wood-pulp papers are made that are sufficiently permanent for art, book, and many other uses; the paper should be certified as being free from stand acid effects. The chemists designate neutral paper as pH 6.5 to pH 7, at which reading a paper will be permanent. Conservators now frequently save decrepit works on paper by a process of de-acidification. But most artists are still limited to 100 percent pure rag paper. Perhaps in the near future standards will be adopted so that the consumer can identify good, permanent paper, other than that of 100 percent rag content. This would be an important improvement, especially in the case of such items as sketchbooks, which for the past 135 years or so have been made of nonpermanent wood-pulp paper that embrittles and turns brown within a few years--under one's own eyes, one might say. For the present, 100 percent rag paper is the artists' only option for sketchbook paper that will remain in good condition over the years.

The standard method of painting on the thinner grades of watercolor [most widely used] is to stretch the paper on a drawing board by first wetting it in a tub of water, then blotting off the surplus water and adhering it to the board with the regular brown gummed-paper tape that is sold for sealing parcels. A strip of this tape along each edge will hold the paper securely; as it dries it stretches perfectly flat and will take wetting by watercolor paints and washes without the resultant curling, buckling, and wrinkling that a loose sheet would display. Gummed tape is an improvement introduced about the 1920s; before that, white paste was used, applied about 1/2 inch in all around the edges; the gummed strips are simply more convenient. Some experience with any particular kind of paper will indicate how wet it should be; the stretching of a paper soaked too heavily may tear it at the corners, and if insufficiently wet it may wrinkle.

Most watercolor paper is sold in the "imperial" size, the sheets measuring about 22 by 30 inches. High-grade watercolor paper is also sold in blocks [pads], but not in very large sizes. Watercolor paper is priced according to its weight, which is indicated by pound numbers that refer to the weight of a ream [500 sheets]. The lightest is called 72 pound, the next lightweight kind is 140 pound, [p. 149] twice as heavy and twice as expensive. The very heavy papers designated 300 to 400 pound are really superb; they do not require stretching [they could almost be called cardboard; it is possible to paint on the paper holding it in one's lap]. They withstand much more drastic treatment than the lightweight varieties do; scraping and other manipulations that would ruin these can be done on 140-pound paper. Their prices are high, but a professional painter can consider this a normal expense if only an occasional watercolor is sold.

Most of the best watercolor paper is imported from Europe; few mass-produced American papers approach their quality. In recent years, however, individual craftsmen have set up facilities to produce handmade paper in small-scale limited production. The texture of watercolor paper varies a little with each maker; the most popular finishes in creative painting are the coarser ones, known as rough [R], or not-pressed [NP], and the least coarse as hot-pressed [HP]. The smoother kinds are co d-pressed [CP] and are occasionally used in techniques other than normal watercolor, but their principal use is for pen drawing and other techniques. [pp. 148-150]

[Mayer, Ralph. The Painter's Craft. An Introduction to Artist's Methods and Materials. Revised and updated by Steven Sheehan, Director of the Ralph Mayer Center, Yale University School of Art. New York: Penquin Group. 1948. 1991.]

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The most common support for watercolor is paper. However, watercolor has been used on silk and other thin fabrics, gessoed surfaces, parchments, and ivory. Usually no ground is required for paper, ivory, or parchment. The surface should be free of grease or oily material; it may be wiped down with a dilute solution of ammonia water in order to remove any oily deposit that might prevent the watercolor from penetrating.

Papers should be made of linen rag or cotton fiber. Cheaper substitutes made of wood pulp do not behave as well. Naturally since watercolor is a glazing technique, any darkening of the paper will lower the tone of the painting. The paper must be well sized by the maker, or it will be too absorbent to work upon with ease. Papers are sold by the sheet, priced according to the weight of a ream. Weights commonly range from 70 pounds to 300 pounds. Most papers are produced in three surfaces: hot pressed (smooth), cold pressed (medium), or rough. Some of the best-known brands are Fabriano papers from Italy, Arches papers made in France, Whatman and Royal Water Color Society (R.W.S.) papers from England. A watermark, showing the manufacturerÍs name, is visible when the paper is held to the light.

Papers that are not of extremely heavy weight will wrinkle and pucker when they are painted upon with watercolors. Most painters prefer to stretch the paper to prevent this. First, the paper is moistened liberally with clear water, either by soaking it a few minutes in a tub or by wetting both sides with a sponge. It stretches after it has been wet, and when it has had a few minutes to expand, it is spread out on a drawing board. Its edges are then taped down by means of gummed brown-paper tape of the sort that is used on packages. As the paper dries, it becomes smooth and tight as a drum. If the paper is wet too long so that it stretches too much, it may tear when it contracts as it dries. The correct amount of moisture varies with the weight of the different papers. With experience the artist learns how much time a particular paper needs for soaking and expanding before it is finally fastened down to dry. Some artists use special stretching frames, which are made for this purpose. They consist of two frames, one of which fits snugly inside the other. The wet paper is clamped between them while it dries tight, no glue or tape being required. For rapid work which does not require precise handling, blocks of watercolor paper may be satisfactory. These usually consist of two dozen sheets of paper, held together at the edges by glue and light fiber. Such paper requires no stretching or backing board, but it will buckle more than stretched paper will if the painter works over it a long time.

[Kay, Reed. The Painter's Guide to Studio Methods and Materials. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983. pp. 132-133]



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