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Watercolour Painting and Papers

Watercolour painting is one of the oldest painting techniques, going back to approx. 2000 years before Christ. The name is derived from aqua = water. The characteristic feature of watercolour is the transparent colour application. The special attraction of this painting technique can be summarised in a few words:

Watercolours are fascinating because of their brilliant colours that appear to barely tint the paper with apparent ease. The easily flowing colours allow gently graded washes in the painting. Watercolour painting offers an inexpensive introduction to a creative activity because it requires few painting utensils and is easy to handle.

Crucial for the quality of a painting is the surface texture of the watercolour paper. Here one must distinguish between torchon, rough, extra rough, matte and satiny. The more exacting the technical painting demands, the more robust the paper surface must be. Inexpensive papers are made from 100% pulp, high quality and fine papers are made from 100% cotton rag. There are also watercolour papers made from 50% rag and 50% pulp. The traditional background for watercolours is bright or natural white paper. Watercolour paper should not be too heavily sized. Sizing makes the paper more resistant to water and the colours take longer to dry.

Water plays the major role in watercolour painting. Colours applied to white paper using a lot of water allow the paper to reflect through. Small amounts of colour applied in thin and transparent layers display an intense brilliance when using high quality pigments. A good quality brush is essential for watercolour painting. It should always spring to a point even when wet. Furthermore, the brush should react to the slightest pressure exerted by the hand and should spring back into shape after a stroke.

The “secret” of watercolour painting actually lies in three basic painting techniques: glazing, wet in wet and dry brush.

Glazing (Dry technique)

Very thinly diluted pigment is applied to dry paper or to dry existing washes. Be careful not to let the different colours run into each other. Either wait until the first layer is dry or leave a dry border between the areas. Once the layer has dried other layers can be applied. This method is used to adjust the colour and tone of the underlying wash. However, with glazing the colours do not attain the same brilliance as with the wet in wet technique.

Wet in Wet
Wet in wet is the process of applying thinly diluted pigment to wet paper. This results in gently flowing colours and blurred, undefined shapes. It is very impressive to see what shapes can emerge. When moistening the paper with a sponge or soaking it in a tray make sure that no puddles collect on the paper. Otherwise pigment can collect in the puddles that create sharp-edged borders when dry. This technique is especially ideal for depicting large areas such as sky or backgrounds.

When using the wet in wet technique start off by applying the light pigments over a large area so that they flow into one another. As work progresses use increasingly darker pigments that will not run so much once the paper has dried. Important details are added to a dry background using a small brush.

Dry Brush
Here a brush loaded with pigment (and not too much water) is dragged over a rough paper surface. The raised areas embrace the pigment and the hollows where no pigment collects show up as so called white points of light.

Recommended Hahnemühle Paper

For paper and board to be suitable for watercolour painting it must retain wet strength. The special sizing controls the absorption and retention of water so that the paper can be moistened without altering its surface structure or without the paper fibres disintegrating.

In addition the pigment must be evenly absorbed by the paper. Spotting due to irregularities in the surface should not occur. It should be possible to wipe over the watercolour several times with a sponge to remove pigment that is still wet. The pigments must wash into one another whilst working on a wet surface. A further criterion is the whiteness of the paper and light fastness that protects the paper from yellowing. All Hahnemühle mould made watercolour papers and the Academie watercolour papers are neutrally sized and acid-free and therefore extremely resistant to ageing in compliance with DIN 6738 and ISO 9706. Matte surfaces are ideal for delicate paintwork, rough surfaces are used to heighten the effect of a painting and produce strong, textural paintings.

The Hahnemühle AquarellSelection is particularly recommended for beginners. This pad in either 17x24 cm or 24x 32 cm size contains 12 different qualities of Hahnemühle watercolour sheets with a selection of surface structures and grammages to match personal aptitude.

The Hahnemühle light watercolour paper “Allegretto” 150 gsm is ideal for dry painting techniques or for school work.

The heavy Hahnemühle watercolour boards “Burgund” 250 gsm, “Britannia” 300 gsm and “Cornwall” 450 gsm are suitable for both beginners and more experienced painters.

If you prefer a particularly exceptional surface structure then the Hahnemühle watercolour board “Torchon” 275 gsm is the board for you.

“Hahnemühle” 200/230 gsm, a mould made watercolour board, is available as the standard quality watercolour board, as a sheet with genuine deckle edges and watermark.

For experienced
watercolour painters we recommend “Hahnemühle Mould Made” 300 gsm. It possesses a fine, grainy surface structure ideal for strong pigment application. The pigment hardly bleeds when used in the wet in wet technique and the painter can easily retain control of the pigments.

Professional papers in the Hahnemühle range include the mould made watercolour board “William Turner” 300 gsm, made from 100% rag, the mould made watercolour board “Tiepolo” 450 gsm and the mould made watercolour board “Leonardo” 600 gsm.