Have you ever noticed that some watercolors by the same artist have a different look or impact? While there are many possible variables there is one element that can have a profound impact on the effect. All else being equal, that is the same quality paint and brushes, the choice of paper can really change the dynamic. Most painters paint upon either cold press or rough watercolor paper. A few adventurous souls work on hot press and/or plate surface paper. What is the difference? Basically, one is more absorbent than the other. Hot press and especially plate surface or finish paper is slick. The moisture and the paint have a tendency to crawl and creep across the paper rather than blooming or blossoming across the paper in the usual expected way. A slick surface brings on a whole new series of effect. Some of it can be quite magical while for some painters the whole thing becomes a nightmare.
My first encounter with the idea of painting watercolor on a less absorbent paper surface came about while learning to paint with egg tempera. While the gesso ground for traditional egg tempera is absorbent to a degree; it can be modified by the degree of polish one produces on the surface during the layering of the gesso. By the way this is NOT the canned gesso you buy in most art supply stores. Traditional gesso is a mixture of hide glue and and ground chalk with or without pigment and requires a rigid support to prevent cracking. Very often beginning painters develop their painting skills on plate finish papers using watercolor washes. After a few maddening hours, if the student is willing, they began to see some intriguing results.
I would encourage any watercolor painter to work with hot press and plate finish papers and boards for the effect that can be achieved. Yes, it is different. I’m going to share a few examples of watercolor on hot press boards. I keep a decent supply of the paper in my studio for those times when I want to get a different feel to a subject. Often the color is brighter and more vibrant. The reason is that the color dries mainly on the surface and has less tendency to sink into the sheet. One word of caution. Since the paint is on the surface it can easily be disturbed and create mud. Melting Off , 16″ x 7″ (40.64 x 17.78 cm ) Watercolor on High Surface/ Plate Finish paper board. From the Collection of Sonat, Inc.
The palette was simple combination of vermilion, thalo blue with some gamboge and a dose of black India ink in the foreground, with much of the tree line poured onto the dampened surface and allowed to blend and puddle.
Compare that with the following effect on a traditional sheet of watercolor paper with a coldpress surface.
March, 18.5″ x 32.5″ (48 x 38 cm) Watercolor on 140lb. D’Arches paper. Private Collection
While the palettes are similar the dark passages are softer, the blending is more subtle, creating a quieter image. The basic message is that the paper surface can contribute to making a big difference in the presentation and the feeling in a work.
The Quarry, 10.5″ x 21.25″ (27 x 54 cm) Strathmore hot press rag illustration board. Artist Collection
The mood and the palette are different. But note the sharp edges in defining the rocks on the edge of the waterline. If you look carefully you can see hints of Gamboge in the upper edges of the treeline and in the limestone rock of the quarry’s edge. The colors in this work are Thalo Blue, Gamboge and Winsor red blended in with blue to create the darker passages.
Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques?
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol I by Dr. Don Rankin: BUY DIRECT at http://www.createspace.com/3657628
ON LINE WATERCOLOR COURSES: Join Don and learn more about watercolor glazing techniques at your own pace in your own home. Level I covers the basic techniques for developing wonderful glazing effects. The course is designed using simple exercises to acquaint you with the underlying principles of watercolor glazing. It also directs you in the better choices of color selection and the proper sequence of application. You can stop the video, do an exercise, master it and continue or review as you wish.
Level II is a full (real time) demo in the artist’s studio. The only editing is the omission of the drying time between some of the washes. See the progression from beginning to end.
2017 recipient of Marquis Who’s Who Lifetime Achiever Award in Art and Education