Selecting Sheets, Blocks, or Pads
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, though I usually tear the paper as described in the “Dividing your paper for smaller paintings” section later in the chapter. If you end up framing the painting, a mat 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 remove it with something dull (a plastic knife or credit card works great) when you’re finished to reveal the next clean sheet.
You can also buy rolls of paper, which are usually 44 to 56 inches wide by 10 yards long, if you want to paint a mural.
Getting to the weight of the matter
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 price. (See the upcoming “Stretching before you paint” section for info on stretching.)
300-pound paper is like a board. It doesn’t require stretching, costs double 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 which weight you choose depends on what you want to accomplish. For the projects in this book, I recommend 140-pound cold-press, 100 percent cotton rag acid-free paper in any brand.
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.