My Favorite Watercolor Supplies and Tools Part 2: Paper

I'm back sharing more of my favorite watercolor supplies, this time talking about paper.

I think paper might be even more important than paint when it comes to painting with watercolor. High quality paper makes a huge difference. Watercolor paint needs to flow across the paper while also staying in just the areas where the paper is wet. The paint needs to absorb evenly into the paper. With the wrong paper the paint might pool in one area or spread unevenly. The edges might bleed. Lower quality paper won't be able to withstand water, layering and lifting of paint that are all part of working with watercolor. Some papers will start to disintegrate or crumble (I've also heard it described as "linting"). They'll buckle. All of those things will ruin your painting and they'll also needlessly frustrate you.

Good watercolor paper is expensive and I know how hard it is to feel that you're wasting something that costs so much (again, I believe the only wasted supplies are those that sit unused). One way around this is to cut larger sheets into small pieces and use those to practice. (Sketchbooks are another alternative -- so far I haven't found a watercolor sketchbook that I like as much as my favorite papers, but I'm still looking). During my month of finishing a painting every day, I worked mostly on scraps (and pieces that I cut purposely to be small), some of which were only 2 inches wide. 5" x 7" or 4" x 6" are great sizes to work with.

There are MANY types and brands of watercolor paper and just like paint, paper is available in professional/artist or student grade (and there is a spectrum within each designation).

The main types of paper are cold pressed, hot pressed and rough. Cold pressed has more tooth than hot pressed, which is very smooth. Rough has the most texture (I won't be discussing it here because I haven't used it myself). Watercolor paper is measured by weight. I like to use 140 lb paper. Less heavy papers don't stand up as well. The highest quality papers are made from 100% cotton fibers.

You can purchase papers as single sheets, in pads (bound on one side) or blocks (bound on four sides).  Test a variety to see what you like and don't like.

watercolor paper, watercolor blocks, art supplies, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

 I prefer working with blocks of paper.

A watercolor block helps keep your paper flat so you don't need to stretch and tape it down before painting. Unless you're using a lot of water and saturating the paper, it remains fairly flat once removed from the block.

Because the paper is bound on all four sides, a watercolor block helps keep your paper flat. You don't need to stretch and tape it down before painting. Unless you're using a lot of water and saturating the paper, it remains fairly flat once removed from the block.

Probably my favorite paper to work with is Arches Cold Pressed, 140 lb watercolor paper  (the video on their website cracked me up, but it was interesting to see the paper being made).

watercolor, art supplies, painting supplies, Arches watercolor paper, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

This paper has a definite tooth to it, is very durable and is easy to work with.

botanical watercolor, botanical painting, watercolor painting, cold pressed paper, Arches watercolor paper, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

(The beautiful design of the block's cover is often visible in my process photos as seen in this painting of coneflowers from last summer).

One thing that I've noticed is that the texture and color of watercolor varies a lot between brands. Here are a couple examples of cold pressed watercolor papers:

watercolor paper, art supplies, cold pressed watercolor paper, paper, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Arches is the rougher of the two in this photograph.

I find that the texture of cold pressed paper is useful when painting botanicals. The paint naturally reacts with the paper to give your work an added organic element.

Another paper I just started using is L'Aquarelle Canson Heritage (although I haven't listened to the sound of the paper like the artist in their video, the feel of the sheets in my hands is truly lovely, especially the hot pressed). I've tried both the cold and hot pressed paper and so far I'm really enjoying them. One of the things that I noticed is that pencil lines erase much more easily than with Arches. I don't yet have a lot of experience with it, but so far, so good. The orchid wreath I painted in January was done on the cold pressed paper:

watercolor, botanical watercolor, L'Aquarelle Canson Heritage Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper, Orchids, watercolor orchid, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

A much cheaper alternative to both of these higher-end papers is the cold pressed watercolor paper from the Strathmore 400 Series (it also comes as a block). It's considered an "intermediate" level paper. I haven't painted with it for a while, but I used it a lot when I was starting out. It's a great choice for practice (and even for finished paintings) and won't leave you frustrated by poor performance.

Hot pressed watercolor paper is much smoother than cold pressed, though, again, the texture varies from brand to brand.

watercolor paper, art supplies, hot pressed watercolor paper, paper, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The smoothest I've used is the Sennelier paper. I used it to paint this marigold painting.

botanical watercolor, botanical painting, watercolor painting, hot pressed paper, Sennelier paper, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The color seemed especially intense with this paper and I liked working with it.

I'm fairly new to hot pressed paper, so it's hard for me to give a good assessment of the different brands.

If you're used to cold pressed paper, it can take a while to figure out hot pressed. Water and paint don't react with it in the same way as they do cold pressed. With some papers it seems as if the paint and water don't want to absorb as readily. Others seem to absorb too fast. I've also found that the color tends to spread across the paper evenly evenly, giving you a more uniform color distribution. If you want a gradation, you might need to work with the paint a bit more than you're used to doing with cold pressed paper.

The smoothness of hot pressed paper, once you're used to working with it, can be lovely. (It makes scanning and digitizing your art a lot quicker, too, something that I'll be sharing in my next Skillshare class -- look for it to come out soon).

The only real way to know what will work best for you is to play with different types of paper. And don't just try a paper once and write it off. It might take a few (or more) tries to get the hang of it. Keep an open mind and see what happens. Have fun and remember that the only way to learn how to paint is by painting.

Let me know how it goes and if you have any questions you'd like me to answer, please leave them in the comments or contact me here.

Next week I'll be back talking about brushes.

Have a joy-filled and creative weekend (today it feels like spring here! The sun is shining and our snow is melting!).

Each of the paintings I shared in this post is available to purchase from my website. You can find them by following the links above or visiting my shop here.


  1. Hi Anne, I don't comment on blogs as a rule but I just really wanted to thank you for your art related blog posts, they have so much value to me as a beginner and I just love your botanicals :)

    1. Hi, Amy! Thanks so much for taking the time to leave your comment. It's wonderful to know that my art posts are helpful to you. That's why I'm writing them!

      I hope you're enjoy experimenting and playing and making your art. Wishing you all the best!

  2. Thank you for sharing your findings Anne. The colours of the marigolds on the Sennelier paper and the detailed painting is stunning! I don't think I have ever used hot pressed paper but think it is one I would like to try. Have a great weekend Anne. :)

    1. Hi, Simone. I've noticed that a lot of artists (myself included) don't like hot pressed paper when they first try it. If you decide to give it a go, keep an open mind and keep trying!

      Hope your weekend was lovely!

  3. This post reminded me of the hours I spent as a child, watching my dad paint in his studio. Thank you for the nostalgia. xo

  4. This is a very good series you're doing, Anne. Very helpful to artists, I'm sure. Dennis uses the Arches watercolor paper, too, so your photo is a familiar sight. Your botanicals are simply gorgeous! xo

    1. Thanks for your comment, Nancy, and for the sweet words about my paintings.

      I do wonder what the blog readers who aren't interested in learning about art supplies think of these posts. I know I can't please everyone, but I'm glad to know that both you and Karen are finding that parts of these posts resonate with you.


  5. First of all, i congradulate your fantastic creative art work. Yes, i agree that the paper quality is more important when it comes to water paint. My sister is a big fan of water painting. I hope she will love seeing this.


Post a Comment