Review-The Vintage Paper Co Watercolor Papers

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    Sandra Strait

    You can find the full review at my Life Imitates Doodles blog.

    The Vintage Paper Co (VPCo)is a mail order supplier of vintage papers, vintage-inspired papers and bookbinding supples, based on the island of Orkney, just off the northernmost tip of Scotland.  Some of their papers were made in the 1850s! As you might guess, some of these papers are expensive.  But they do have trial size packs that are affordable, if small and the shipping and handling is reasonable.

    I had to buy some of these papers.  Of course, I did.

    I ordered two of the trial packs and William, the company’s founder, kindly sent me some extra samples, as well, one small sheet of WSH 150 Cold Pressed and 2 small sheets of WSH Rough in two different weights.

    And, most exciting, I also received one small sheet of  J Whatman Handmade Antique Paper made at the Turkey Mill in Kent, England back in 1864!

    What all the sheets had in common:

    All the papers were pretty absorbent so the paint dried quickly, but it dried bright.  The color flows well, but you might not get as much coverage as you are used to from your usual pigment/water load. According to the site, most of their papers are best for dry painting.  Where I had more than one sample, I did try some very juicy washes and the paper did well, but did perform better with dry painting.

    With one exception, noted below, I didn’t pre-wet, stretch, tape or do anything to keep the paper flat while I painted, but none of the papers curled or buckled.  There was little dimpling, none in some cases. This surprised me, as some of the papers are a 72 lb weight. Even though that’s light they are not in the least flimsy.

    I pushed in lifting color and scrubbing to see how far I could go.  I was able to get to white and repaint with minimal damage.

    The site also warns that some of the vintage paper may have marks due to age.  I had a slight crease on one set of paper but other than that my sheets were clean.

    Whether hot pressed or cold pressed, there isn’t too much tooth.  Texture is visible and more even than you would normally associate with ‘handmade’.

    J Whatman – Antique Paper  

    Sheet Size – 197 x 170 mm / 7 3/4 x 6 1/2 inches.

    I have to admit that I had a bit of blank paper anxiety with this paper.  It’s 153 years old!  The information didn’t give a weight or indicate if the paper was cold pressed or hot pressed.  My guess is 150-200 lb and probably hot pressed.  Whatever it is – it is extremely sturdy.  This paper did not buckle or curl AT ALL.  It held up to lifting and scrubbing and repainting.  The colors flowed, they stayed bright through-out , and though this is an expensive paper, but I’m going to see if I can talk Santa into buying some for me.

    WSH 150 Botanical HP Sample Pack 

    Size: 200 x 145 mm, 7 3/4 x 5 3/4 inches Weight:150gsm / 72lb

    This paper is only 72 lb, which seems rather light by today’s standards, but it is stiff enough that is has body. My sheets did have a slight crease. This could have happened in the mailing or be a result of the age.  This was the only damage on any of the papers.

    Although, I don’t usually paint in a hyper-realistic style I like to do so on occasion.  Based on the description, I thought this would be a good paper for it.  I wanted to concentrate on how the paper handled, so I followed an Anna Mason tutorial and let her make the compositional and color choices.

    The site recommended dry-painting and that’s what I did for this painting, letting each layer dry completely before I painted the next layer. Even though this is a hot pressed paper, and feels smooth to the touch, it has some tooth, and held up well to several glazes, lifting of color and even some scrubbing.  Those highlights were painted, scrubbed and re-painted four or five times without pilling.  I finally got some damage on the single cherry and quit at that point.

    There was a slight amount of dimpling, but not enough to interfere with painting or to allow the paint to pool.

    For my second try with this paper, I went wetter.  I still kept to a dry-painting style for the most part, but used juicy washes for the background.   I didn’t lift color as much, but did use the method to soften edges, using a kleenex while the paint was wet, and a brush once it was dry.  I also created the reflections with this method.  The highlights on the jar were also done this way – I had hoped to get harder edges.

    VPCo Watercolour Trial Pack 

    Material – 100% long-fibre cotton, gelatine sized.  Surface – Hot Pressed, Wove. Size – 4 sheets, 8 x 11 inches, 205 x 255 mm (approximately). Weight – 400gsm, 200lb

    This isn’t a vintage paper, though it is handmade.  I felt a little freer to test, but still – with only four sheets to play with, I didn’t go quite as wild as I usually do.  This is also a hot pressed paper but it isn’t as smooth as the WSH 150.

    I decided to try some wet into wet, and soaked this paper thoroughly before starting.  I didn’t tape it down or do anything to keep it flat.  The paint  flowed well.  I lifted color, both while wet and after it dried. .  I did some repainting, re-lifting and scrubbing.  You can see there is a bit of damage in my starburst, but it took me a while to get there.  This is a nice paper for lifting.

    I used a splatter technique for texture, splattering water among the trees with a small brush, and then dabbing with a kleenex.

    For the second painting, I went with more transparent colors, and less lifting, though I did lift and glaze to get the marbling effect in the background.

    WSH 150 Handmade Vintage Paper 72lb Cold-Pressed

    This is one of the extra samples that I was sent.  Size: 148 x 210 mm, 5.83 x 8.27 inch Weight: 150gsm 72lb Cold Pressed.

    This was another of the 72 lb papers, and I didn’t stretch or tape it down.  Still it did not curl at all.  It barely dimpled and it took a lot of scrubbing.  It was easier to get soft edges and more difficult to lift color.  Hard edges occurred in the form of those dark halos around the eggplant pod, and I finally used a white ink to recover the highlight on the eggplant.  Both of those things were the fault of my technique.  If I weren’t testing, I would have used the white of the paper, and a lower concentration of pigment to begin with. I like lifting color (can you tell?) for special effect, and texture, but now I know I can’t use this paper to do that.

    The surface of the paper gives the finished painting almost the look of fabric.  Even though I can’t lift color, I have other paper to do that with, so I bought more of this one to do other effects with.

    I still have the WSH 180 Rough 90lb, and the Rough 167 lb to try out, and you’ll be seeing what I do with those in the near future.


    The Vintage Paper Co sells some amazing paper.  The quality is high in the papers I have used so far.  I didn’t tape or pin down any of the sheets as I painted, but even the 72 lb papers took a good amount of water and scrubbing with only the slightest of dimples.  Colors stay bright on all of the papers.  Color  lifts well on the WSH hot pressed, very well on the VPCo hot press and so-so on the WSH Cold-pressed.

    The site warns that some of the older papers might have some age marks, but all the sheets I received were very clean.  The WSH 72 lb hot-pressed has a slight crease.

    I live on the West Coast of the United States and the Vintage Paper Co is based in Orkney, an island off of Scotland, but it only took a little over a week for me to get my order.

    The novelty value shouldn’t be under-estimated, but only you can determine what it is in your case.

    I highly recommend visiting the Vintage Paper Co site. There are tutorials on book binding and tons of information on vintage paper in Britain. If you’re like me, you’ll find this a wonderful place to window-shop and you might find a holiday gift or two.

    Sharon Nolfi

    Great review and I love all the paintings you did on the papers.

    Sandra Strait

    Thank you, Sharon.  It was awesome trying these out.

    Susan Cuss

    Love all your paintings with the vintage paper, and thank you for the reviews. My box of papers arrived yesterday so, perfect timing! Looking forward to having a nice play session!

    Rebecca Tromel

    Awesome! I love your in-depth reviews. And jealous for those wonderful vintage papers.

    Sandra Strait

    Thank you, Rebecca.  They are fabulous papers!

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