Do You Hoard Your Watercolor Paper?

What does an artist need? MORE PAPER! That’s just a given! And yet, somehow, when we have a wealth of paper at our disposal, we hesitate to use it.

The universal paradox of the artist!

But did you know that watercolor paper is time-sensitive? Over time, the sizing in 100% cotton paper can break down and cause your paint to flow and absorb unevenly, resulting in patchy washes and dark spots. What heartbreak in realizing you waited too long to create your masterpiece!

Brush Miles AND Paper Miles

If that isn’t reason enough to use your paper, for an artist there is only way way to grow your skill in technique and it can be measured in miles. You’ve heard artists talk about logging brush miles to grow skill, but what about miles of paper? If you believe in your ability to master this medium, be willing to fill the mountains of paper it will take to acquire your most accomplished techniques.

And measure your growth! Not in the paintings you have framed and show proudly, but the development pieces that you aren’t so proud to show or identify as your work. Celebrate failed paintings as learning opportunities. Recognize less-skilled paintings as stepping stones to today’s achievements. Growth begins in the paintings with the less-than-perfect outcomes, where we’ve made the mistakes that push us further, where we have struggled to understand and implement something new, where we take risks and work with the consequences. If a painting isn’t turning out, I want to throw everything I can at it so it can teach me as much as possible.

The Stare of the Blank Page

Do you struggle to place that first mark on a new sheet of watercolor paper? You’re not alone! The blank page has intimidated artists for centuries. I love this letter describing the problem (and the solution) from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother, Theo:

You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves.

Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas IS AFRAID of the truly passionate painter who dares — and who has once broken the spell of “you can’t.” (-copied from this post)

Isn’t that a wonderful closing thought? We choose to adopt a passion for our art that is greater than our fear of failure. For me, I do that best by making my painting practice fun. Even if my painting doesn’t turn out, I want to be able to say, “I poured my heart into doing something I deeply love.” 

Cheap or Valuable? Investing in creative growth.

As a new painter, I purchased pads of “student grade” watercolor paper, and struggled to get the effortless flow other artists were creating. It wasn’t until I tried out 100% cotton, artist quality paper that I realized that I had been making my learning more difficult and frustrating by choosing cheap paper that resisted flow and made watercolor harder to control. I needed to believe in my creative practice enough to invest in quality paper…and then to be willing to use it, even in practice! 

I love investing in supplies that indicate the value I’ve place on my creative practice. It’s inspiring to paint with lovely brushes and my favorite colors on velvety surfaces of pristine paper. As proud as I am of the paintings that represent the best of my heart & vision, I commit to believing that the value of my art is not the quality of the work I am creating but in the investment I am placing in my creative growth, regardless of whether or I have a finished painting to show for my effort. The investment of myself to become a passionate painter who is willing to dare to go back and try again, to push further, to do more. I am valuable and my art practice brings so much value to my life that I want to treat it like the treasure that it is. 

Treasure is there for the artist who dares!

Having a personal artistic practice has filled my studio with a wealth of paper that has fulfilled its purpose – to be filled with color. A blank piece of paper has not lived its potential and I want my paper to live a full, happy life! But my personal artistic practice has done more for me than create a body of work; like that blank piece of paper, my purpose as a person is to be filled as well, to live a life of experiences.

Art has invested my inner life with meaning; teaching me to look more closely, to notice without judgment, to feel my feelings without allowing them to define me. It’s taught me how to care for my heart, how to hear it and when it’s safe to let it loose. Art has given me words to define what love looks like.

If that takes an investment in a few sheets of paper, I think it’s been money well spent.

beauty in art angela fehr

This article offers a look at how to get the most value for your paper.

What lessons has art taught you that have been the most valuable? Leave a comment below!

Recommended3 recommendationsPublished in World Watercolor Month

14 thoughts on “Do You Hoard Your Watercolor Paper?

  1. there is still available for high prices pre war Whatman paper. and still good to use! how different is the paper from today. fabriano just give you 10 years time. then the quality goes back. The New Millford paper is guarenteed for 100 years. I have some. but at the age of 59 I don’t think I make it. 😉 But you are right. use it and use it a lot!

  2. I love what Angela says about investing in supplies that indicate the value she places on her art form. I’d not made that correlation but instead choose supplies with the idea of what could be, since I’m at the beginning of this long and exciting learning process. I find myself reflecting on this time last year when I picked up watercolor and how my practice time and outlook on choosing quality supplies have evolved and the intersection between the two. Many great thinking points in this piece. Thank you for the different perspective.

  3. Such great advice about being willing to invest in yourself by using quality supplies. I found my skills improved when I used better paper and Angela describes perfectly how the paint flows correctly on better paper using good paint. I hadn’t thought of comparing how important it is to ‘log miles’ on my paper but I love this analogy.

  4. I have always been a hoarder of paper, convinced that therez the perfect-for-me paper out there! But I have stopped because I have found that while paper lasts, sizing doesnt. Hate to start painting on a sheet to find that it’s become absorbent!

  5. Never appreciated this about paper. I’ve bought some expensive, for me, paper in sale. Waiting to use it when my skill will match it’s worth…. Hummmm maybe I’ll rethink that.
    Thank you for the other insights shared.

  6. I enjoy the valuable information and struggles you openly share. You are enthusiastic with your presentations and your words of encouragement. Thanks so much!

  7. I have some below professional paper that I was using to start with, but have gotten so excited on my journey that I have gone to 100% cotton and am trying cold and hot press, depending on what I am doing. I take a large 22″X30″ of Arches paper and tear it into workable sizes, for those times, I want to show up, but I don’t have much time or am traveling. That way I always have good paper to keep experimenting and playing with. Sometimes, I do book mark sizes to try something, so I get a good result and then am ready to try it on a larger piece of paper. Miles of brush work and miles of paper sounds wonderful.

  8. This post resonates with me at so many levels as it does with everyone who reads it. That art teaches you to observe with judgement and to feel without letting them feelings define me – gosh – hitting all right spots. Also love the emphasis on investing in quality supplies to honour one’s creative process and growth. Great advice as always, thank you, Angela❤️❤️❤️

  9. Even though I’ve only been painting since the pandemic, thank god for you tube, I have managed to do some decent pieces, but the ones that aren’t so good, I try to find something in that painting I do like. I won’t beat myself up for making mistakes and feel like Ive wasted a good piece of paper, because, “ I’m worth it”. Lol

  10. I am ashamed to say I am guilty. I laughed so much at the cartoon I must pin that up on my WALL! I am going to start stretching all that paper I have kept for YEARS waiting for me to one day be able to paint something good. What a mistake. I did notice some weird paper reaction but thought it was my bad painting. Thats it, I’m getting out every sheet, cutting it up and getting the brushes out and for the first time I will play with watercolour. Thank you Angela

  11. Greetings Angela & Charlie. Nice article. Yeah, I’m a paper collector and hoarder, somewhat afraid, well, reluctant, to use my “Good stuff” for practice. But I’m trying to overcome that reluctance and force myself to use the artist grade. Regarding older paper, I agree (And hope we’re right) with the comment by “Watercolors from Holland.” I asked some pretty reliable people/sources on whether they thought 25 year old paper was still good & usable. And the answers were “Yes.” So I bought some Whatman paper online from England, old quarter century plus stuff. Hope my sources and Mr. Hannema (Watercolors?) are right!

  12. My children gave taught me this when we visited a local at museum that had an open studio for anyone to use their artist quality materials. I saw how much easier it was for them to create when they could use “real” at supplies, instead of children’s at supplies. Now they are allowed to use any of the materials I’ve horded over the years and when I buy more, I buy the best I can within my budget. With watercolor paper, I cut down the sheets into smaller sizes sometimes so that my 4 year old can make the 10 paintings in 10 minutes that he wants to do, whole house older siblings use large sheets to work on one or two paintings.

  13. One way I love to use up paper and stay connected to friends and family – i bought some 6×8 envelopes and 4×7 paper. I send my watercolor sketches to my friends with a little note on the back. This encourages me to keep painting, to try things over and over until i get them right, and gives my friends a little something to look forward to in the mailbox.

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