Handmade Paper

  • Handmade Paper

    Hi all. William from Vintage Paper Co in Orkney, Scotland here.


    First off, yes, I am a paper person, not an artist. I LOVE paper. I love beautifully made paper.

    I buy and sell antique and vintage British papers for watercolour, drawing, printmaking and bookbinding. I also commission new handmade artisan papers for watercolour and printmaking.

    So why I am here? I am interested to know what your community thinks of paper. I see on the forums lots of chat about paints and pigments but surprisingly little about the surface it’s applied to so I’m intrigued to know what qualities you, as watercolour artists look for in a paper?

    What qualities are important to you – the fibres, the sizing, the surface hardness, the whiteness, the price (obviously!), the consistency from batch to batch? Are deckled edges important (they often are in the printmaking world)? Do you stick to what you know or do you like to chop and change? Do you have a practice paper and a good paper? Tell me everything! I’m greedy for info!

    Many thanks for your time reading this and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

    Best wishes, William

    ps – I LOVE doodlewash, am always lurking!

    Thank you for your interest. And you’re right, not much chatter about paper.   I’m actually happy you said something as I keep looking at your ‘old paper’ and wondering about it, especially the application of watercolor. What did they use in the ‘old days’?  Perhaps you could educate us also.

    As for what I use,  I love love love Arches watercolor paper, 140# cold press and make my own sketchbooks because they don’t make them. The way wet in wet works on it is just magical. I also like Stillman&birn for their heaviness and toned paper.

    As for pen and ink, again, Stillman&birn although I haven’t found a favorite paper yet.

    Thanks for lurking!  Lots of beauty to see here.

    Hi Teri

    Thanks for your quick reply.

    In the old days they used old paper although it was new then! Paper makers referred to it generically as drawing paper but of course you buy it in a variety of weights, sizes and surfaces as we do today.

    The main difference between old paper and modern paper is the fiber, the sizing (gelatin) and methods used to make them – so everything really!

    To many people a traditional paper feels weird because it’s so cottony – some of it almost feels like material rather than paper, they’re not used to it. Arches is a great paper and nicely made too and consistent so a rag paper would be more familiar to someone like you. A wood pulp paper is a very different beast to a cotton paper.

    Handmade paper has more character than a machine made paper, some people don’t like that, they prefer a neutral experience. That’s fine. The thing I love about handmade paper is that a person made it. To see a skilled craftsperson making the same thing, time and time again just through feel and vision is a wondrous experience.

    🙂 will carry on lurking!



    Hi William!

    Very true on the observation of less paper discussion. I do see more paper chatter on Instagram if you’re on that platform. Many people describe what they’re using for a piece during that particular post. (I actually did a small paper swatch test back in February on my Instagram account @jillgustavisart.)

    I just started switching over to cotton papers this year, so I don’t have a tried and true favorite yet. (For cellulose, I used a lot of Canson Montval or Fluid blocks.) I’ve been trying a few new ones here and there and added around 10 different full sheets in August to slowly chip into in addition to some blocks I have. I don’t usually like to jump between papers while I’m trying them out for the first time. My focus gets muddled and I don’t get an accurate understanding of each paper’s strengths and weaknesses. Even that swatch test I did, although I kept the test to 2 identical subjects (same iris, same landscape), didn’t reveal a fraction of what I now know these papers are capable of (or not capable of), so the quick snapshot of characteristics didn’t really work and I haven’t done it with new papers since. Now I pick a paper and work on it consecutively, then I’ll move on to the next. Once I get through these, I may realize, oh, I most enjoyed working on so-and-so paper, or that paper gave me the results closest to what I want, and slowly refine my inventory to match my preferences.

    Indigo’s flax blend has a LOT of character (it’s yellow colored) and paint flow is good, but a little unpredictable at times. I need to get better acquainted with it.

    Recently I made a sketchbook out of a full sheet each of Fabriano CP and rough (both 90lb). Haven’t used any of the rough yet, but I like the cold press a lot. It has more ‘velvet-y-ness’ (making that word up) than Arches, but not as much flow as the Hannemuhle Cezanne I’ve also tried. What I mean is when I’m working wet in wet, the color doesn’t just swim on the surface, but doesn’t soak in either, it creates silken washes with luscious soft edges. Maybe most cotton papers do that in varying degrees, but since I’ve only tried a few, just stating what I’ve observed.

    On the other end of the spectrum, the lily I did on Fluid 100 HP (140lb I think) paper was enjoyable since the predictability of the paper was perfect for achieving subtle blends and sharp details. I find Arches is much like this too; many not as exotic or exciting, but reliable and it what does, it does well.

    I’ve enjoyed painting on all of them so far though, and haven’t come across one I’ve disliked. Some are more suited to different styles and techniques than others, but since my own style is still evolving, I can’t even pin down which I prefer there either. Like color, I sometimes want a white paper so that the subject really shines, especially when paired with an equally white mat, but I get a different satisfaction painting on the yellow tones of the Indigo flax, more raw, creating sketchy moods and warm values.

    Thanks for bringing up the topic!

    Paper maker here, and I love paper.  Studied with Marilyn Wold.  I am swamped with work but wanted to say, FOLLOWING!

    I’m one of the people here that has posted and commented on paper.  I’m very intrigued with your Vintage Paper and intend to order some to try out.  I’ve been reviewing Hahnemühle paper at the moment and have been waiting until I’m done with that.  I like their paper very much, especially the Leonardo.

    I don’t have a ‘paper’ that I always use.  I look at it in much the same way that I look at the paints and brushes.  I feel that there are very few ‘bad’ products on the market.  Each product has it’s strength and weaknesses and should be used according to the way it is formulated.  So I usually try to use a paper to the point that it shows damage, the first time I use it, to best discover what the strengths and weaknesses are.  Then, later, I choose the paper based on what result I want.  That’s the theory, anyway.

    Since I like to make my own watercolor journals, I often use Strathmore Aquarius II, because at 80 lbs it is light, yet it doesn’t buckle much (though it has more so, of late).  I like the Hahnemühle Leonardo and William Turner for their texture, and the ease of lifting color.  I like Shizen and India Watercolor paper for their rough textures.

    I’m looking forward to trying out your Vintage Papers and reviewing them.


    For many years, the only paper I used was Arches 140 lb or 300 lb paper for watercolours. Lately I have been trying several different kinds of paper as they have become more available to me.

    I like the Strathmore 500 series 100% cotton paper, and Bee paper, also 100%cotton, 140 lb. Hahnemuhle Cezanne paper is also 100% cotton rag and 140 lb and has become a new favourite.

    I’ve been using a Canson XL Watercolor Notebook for my ink and watercolor sketches. 140 lb. It works well for this, but I haven’t tried it for a painting.

    The Artist’s Loft 140 lb Watercolor Pad, cold press seems fine for a quick, alla prima painting, but I found it difficult to add multiple washes because the previous layer of colour lifted too easily.

    The Strathmore Windpower Watercolor paper, 140 lb, is also new to me and I have enjoyed using it.

    I’ve also recently tried the Canson Montval Watercolor Aquarelle cold press, 140 lb, watercolour pad. So far, it seems to be fine, although I think I need to get used to the heavy sizing.

    These are just my recent experiences with new to me papers, and not a review as I haven’t yet tried to find their limitations.

    I just ordered a trial pack of the botanical paper and the watercolor paper.  I’m very eager to try these out!

    I’d love to read your impressions of these papers once you’ve had a chance to test them!

    I will definitely be reviewing them.  I suspect my biggest problem will be the blank page syndrome – fear of messing up one of the sheets!


    Can’t wait to see your reviews.

    Hi – thanks for your order, much appreciated.

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts too.

    People’s preferences of paper is a funny thing. I recently sent some samples of some 1960s mould-made J Whatman out to 2 artists specialising in the same field; botanical watercolour. One loves it and the other? Not so much…!

    The person who wasn’t crazy about it just wants a direct copy of the old recipe of Fabriano Artistico and the other, more keen user is someone who is always happy to chop and change and try new papers and works with the paper’s idiosyncrasies and embraces them. I guess that’s a reflection of us as humans to a certain degree. Try and change my brand of morning coffee and see where that gets you! 🙂

    Many thanks to those of you who have contributed to this thread – everything’s been read at least three times even if I haven’t replied. Would still like to hear more if anyone else would like to post.

    Hope you all have a wonderful weekend. Looks like we’re in for gale force winds here in Orkney until Sunday… brrrr!

    I agree.  I work with the paper much like I’d work with inks or paints — seeing their strengths.  On the other hand, I bought Fabraino’s sketchbooks because people LOVED them and found the paper pilled like crazy, so that is not okay with me.  IF it is to be a watercolor paper, it can’t pill.  (BTW, they were responsive but unfortuantely sent me more of the journals and they pilled too.  I don’t get it — possibly just a bad batch?)

    me too!

    I can’t see the advantage to ordering vintage paper if you are expecting it be the same as modern paper.  I love trying different kinds of paper just because it makes me stretch and explore.  I may be more likely to use some brands more often than others, but I enjoy trying different kinds just to see how I can surprise myself when forced to work differently.

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