Friday, November 22, 2019

Budget Friendly Mixed Media and Watercolor Papers: Part I

As you can see from previous posts, I have been experimenting with various water- based media including watercolor, gouache, water soluble pencils, and pens and markers lately. This means I have also been trying out several types of paper to see which ones are able to handle wet media without disintegrating. Before I get into the actual brands and types of papers, however, I would like to share a little bit of information about choosing an appropriate paper for your project. This post is going to be the first of two to keep the information more concise and easier to read.

A bit about watercolor and mixed media papers

 In all of the watercolor art blogs and videos I have read and watched over the years, the most common advice given is to spend a little more money on your paper even if you use student grade watercolors. Cheap paper will ruin your work and make you rage quit more often than cheap paints, in my opinion. If you use a paper that is not for wet media, your results will never meet your expectations even if you are skilled at most media. 

First of all, if any of your media is wet (especially water-based paints), you should automatically skip drawing or sketching papers and concentrate on heavier varieties. Most papers meant for dry media will, at best, buckle and warp when wet, and many will straight up disintegrate. This is because they are made from a wood pulp that is not sized properly to absorb water. Cheaper watercolor papers are also made from pulp, but they have been treated with sizing to counteract the problems I have mentioned. 

Professional artists will agree that 100% cotton rag paper is the best surface for watercolors because it will withstand multiple washes, masking fluids, and "scrubbing" (the watercolorist's version of erasing). Pulp watercolor paper is only useful for watercolor sketches and light washing because it will pill and shred when subjected to advanced watercolor techniques. That doesn't mean you cannot use the pulp papers at all, however. Higher quality heavyweight, acid-free/archival pulp (and partial rag) papers that are sized for watercolor or mixed media can even be fine for finished pieces that you are going to sell. You just have to understand the limits of the paper surface and experiment on it before using it for any finished works. 

Affiliate Disclaimer: For full transparency, you should know that many of my links in my posts are affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when readers purchase items using my affiliate links. This helps me fund the blog domain costs, and you will not be charged extra if you buy anything using my links. 

Image of Bee Company watercolor paper texture from
Bee Company 100% cotton WC paper
Image from product listing on

Bee Company Watercolor Paper

  • Pack of 50 sheets no binding, current price: $19.00
  • 6 x 9 inch sheets, available in packs of larger sheets and 5 yard rolls
  • 100% Cotton rag 
  • 140 lb/ 300 gsm, texture slightly different on each side
  • Acid free/ archival
  • Best used with watercolor, gouache, water soluble pencils, ink, some alcohol markers, technical pens

First, the Bee paper is able to handle wet on wet washes very well. I had to really abuse it before seeing the pilling that happens when your paper starts to weaken from wet washes and/or scrubbing. I made swatches for my new set of White Nights watercolors on this paper as well as a couple of the other watercolor papers I own, and the difference that good paper makes on mere swatches is astounding. 

Image of Strathmore 500 Series mixed media board packaging from
Strathmore 500 series Mixed Media Board
Image from product description on

Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Illustration Board

  • Pack of 6 double-sided boards, not bound, Current price: $13.36
  • 8x10 inch other sizes available
  • 100% Cotton
  • Paper weight, "vellum" texture on both sides
  • Acid free/ archival
  • Handles some watercolor layering, colored pencil, gouache, alcohol markers various pens and fineliners, any dry media, acrylic paints

The Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Illustration Board is a very thick, rigid board, so you can layer various media on it without any warping or buckling. However, the surface is not as hardy as the Bee paper, and it will start pilling and rubbing off if you use a lot of wet washes. You have to let any watercolor or ink washes dry before messing around with new layers. The vellum texture is soft with a light tooth, not entirely smooth like a bristol board or card stock. The tooth will not allow infinite layering for dry media without workable fixative. 

I was able to layer colored pencil, gouache, and alcohol markers, and it handled drafting tape and masking fluid very well. Copic markers work nicely without bleeding, but Prismacolor art markers and Shinhan Touch markers make fuzzy lines. None of the markers bleed through the board to the other side, however. You can also use gesso and acrylic paints on this board as it is pretty hardy!

Image of Mifune watercolor journal with cherry blossom cover from
Mifune watercolor journal, cherry blossom cover
Image from product listing at

Mifuner Watercolor Journal

  • 40 sheets/ 80 pages, current price: $12.99
  • Linen covered hardcover with sewn binding
  • Paper size, other sizes available
  • 220 gsm (lightweight for wc paper)
  • Both sides have a slight texture (not exactly rough) smoother on reverse side
  • Lays flat, has loop for a pencil, pen, brush
  • Storage pocket/ attached elastic band 
  • No indication if paper is acid free or archival
  • Can handle light washes of watercolor, some gouache, most technical pens, alcohol markers will bleed when layered, colored pencil, graphite needs fixative
This journal is rather nice for the price, and it comes in a very large variety of cover options. The only problem is that I cannot tell by the listing if the paper is acid-free. Since you will probably keep it closed with the attached band, the work inside will probably stay out of direct sunlight, however. With the holidays coming up soon,  I would recommend these as gifts for fellow artists. The book is well constructed and easy to take along on trips as well.

Part II for this series will cover Canson XL papers for mixed media and watercolor. I also plan to do some alcohol marker reviews and comparisons just in time for holiday shopping. If you have any favorite papers that you want to recommend, feel free to share them below!

No comments:

Post a Comment