Oil Painting For Dummies
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There are many characteristics of watercolor paper to consider when you're shopping for paper for your watercolor painting. Two important characteristics are weight and texture.

Paper weight

One characteristic of all paper, including paper meant for watercolor paintings, is its weight. The manufacturer weighs a ream of 500 sheets of paper in its uncut state and gives it a number to indicate the paper's weight. Weight indicates the quality (and usually the price) of the paper.

Typical weights for watercolor paper are:

  • 90-pound paper is a student grade and is rather thin. It buckles when wet and can't endure much scrubbing for changes.
  • 140-pound paper is probably the most popular choice. It's fairly stout, can be stretched to avoid buckling when wet, dries quickly, and is medium-priced.
  • 300-pound paper is like a board. It doesn't require stretching, costs twice what 140-pound paper costs, and takes longer to dry.
You can judge the other weights available in comparison with these weights.

Each paper weight has its advantages, and the weight you choose depends on what you want to accomplish. Beginners can get a good start with 140-pound cold-press, 100 percent cotton rag, acid-free paper in any brand. (For more on cold press and hot press, see the next section.)

In addition to the various weights of paper, you can use watercolor board, which is paper adhered to illustration board. It doesn't buckle when wet and is available in 20-x-30-inch pieces or by the case.

Touching on texture

Texture describes the surface finish on paper. The type of paper you choose gives you different effects with the paint. You may want a smooth paper for lots of detail or a textured surface to make sparkling reflections on water. You can choose from three main surface textures:
  • Hot press: This texture is even and smooth and makes a nice surface for prints and drawings. The paper has a slicker finish that you can use to create some interesting results. It's more difficult to make soft transitions when using this paper, so you may have more hard edges than you want.
  • Cold press: This slightly bumpy texture is the most popular texture for watercolorists. The texture allows paint to settle into the texture pockets or sit on top and skip over the pockets, creating some different painting technique options.
  • Rough: Rough texture has an even bumpier surface than cold press. This surface is good for exaggerated rough texture techniques.

Sheets, Blocks, or Pads

When you're buying paper for your watercolor creation, you don't want to skimp on paper quality. Cheap paper can't take the abuse required of watercolor. Good watercolor paper is made of 100 percent cotton rag, acid-free content. (Acid-free is important because it ensures your paper won't turn yellow.) It lasts a very long time — it's been found in Egyptian tombs in good condition!

A ratty edge, called a deckle, is a sign of high-quality, handmade paper. Straight, even edges indicate machine-made paper. Handmade papers are really nice, but you can also find some nice machine-made papers. Just go with whatever you prefer or can afford.

Watercolor paper is typically white, whether that's bright white or natural white. White provides the most reflected light though transparent color. You can get colored paper in tan, blue, gray, and pink that makes for an interesting background color.

Individual sheets are a popular way to buy watercolor paper. Sheets of paper come in different sizes:

  • Full sheet is 22 x 30 inches.
  • Elephant is 29 x 41 inches.
  • Double elephant is 40 x 60 inches.
In addition to sheets, you can purchase paper in convenient pads and blocks:
  • A pad is several sheets bound with a wire spiral or glue at one end. You can paint while the paper is still attached to the pad, or you can tear off one sheet at a time to use. The edge usually tears out pretty neatly. Paper in wire-bound pads usually has a perforated edge, so the tear-out is clean. You can use scissors to cut the paper to the size you need. If you end up framing the painting, a matte usually covers the edges, so how they look doesn't matter that much.
  • A block contains a number of sheets and is glued on all four sides. You paint on the top sheet and then remove it with something dull (a plastic knife or credit card works great) when you're finished to reveal the next clean sheet.
If you want to paint a mural, you can also buy rolls of paper, which are usually 44 to 56 inches wide by 10 yards long.

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