What Is a Watercolor Block? – Finding the Best Paper for Watercolor
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If you are new to the world of watercolor painting, you will have discovered an assortment of unusually named items. These include a spotter and rigger brush, pan paints, watercolor blocks and pads, and many more items. We have put this article together to provide more details about watercolor blocks, and have also included information on other types of paper which can be used for watercolor painting.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is a Watercolor Block?
- 2 What to Consider When Purchasing a Watercolor Paper Block
- 2.1 Quality of Watercolor Paper
- 2.2 Textures of Watercolor Paper
- 2.3 Weights of Watercolor Paper
- 2.4 Other Forms of Watercolor Paper
- 3 Frequently Asked Questions
What Is a Watercolor Block?
What paper you choose to use to paint on is the most important decision you need to make when working with watercolor paints. Watercolor paper has been designed to hold a large amount of water before getting soggy and saturated. That being said, it still needs to be stretched properly so that it will dry flat before you can begin painting on it. Stretching paper can be time consuming! Thanks to watercolor blocks, you no longer have to do it.
A watercolor block resembles a standard pad of paper, but instead of being glued only at the top, it is glued along all four sides. The concept is that you do your painting while the paper is still on the block and only remove it when you have finished.
Why Use a Watercolor Block?
Like anything, there are positive and negative aspects to using a watercolor block, instead of just a standard pad, or perhaps a loose piece of paper.
- Thanks to the paper being trimmed at the edge, you can paint right up to the edge and not have any space wasted.
- You have a flat and solid surface on which to paint, thanks to the sturdiness and thickness of the watercolor block.
- As the paper is attached on all four sides, the paper will remain flat whilst painting on it.
- The pad has a rigid backing board, which stops the paper from crumpling or creasing.
- You do not have to waste time stretching each piece of paper before you begin to paint on it.
- You can only work on one page at a time, while it is still attached to the block. If you are working with a deadline on several commissions, then we would not recommend using a watercolor block.
- Certain watercolor paper blocks will start to fall apart once you have removed the initial few pages, and then you end up with loose sheets of paper. As most artists work outside, carrying around a lot of loose paper is not ideal.
- Paper that has been stretched by hand is stretched a lot tighter than a watercolor block.
How to Tear a Sheet of Paper off a Watercolor Block
As we mentioned previously, the pages of a watercolor block are bound or glued in rubber on all four sides. You are therefore not able to simply tear off a page. The majority of the binding agents are off-white or clear, though certain brands use black material. You want to carefully look for a gap in the binding. You can then insert a flat object, such as a palette knife. The gap is normally located in the top right or left edges of the block.
Once you have found the gap, take your palette knife or something along those lines (that does not have any sharp edges, like a butter knife, or letter opener), and separate the first page from the one beneath it. Keep the knife flat and steady as you slowly run it around the edges of the block. You do not want to use an item with a sharp edge as it can damage the pages beneath.
You will only have to go around the paper block once before the page becomes loose. In some instances where the binding is particularly tight, you will have to run your knife around a second time.
What to Consider When Purchasing a Watercolor Paper Block
Watercolor paper can seem a little overwhelming, as not all watercolor paper has been created to the same level of standard. There are a few things you need to take into consideration before making your purchase.
Quality of Watercolor Paper
The most important aspect is of course the quality of the paper. Regardless of whether you are purchasing loose sheets of paper, or a watercolor pad, or even a watercolor block, you want to ensure you are buying top-quality paper. There are two grades of paper, namely artist-grade (or professional-grade paper) and student-grade. What makes the difference is what they are each made of, and how exactly they are made.
Artist (Professional) Grade Paper
Artist- or professional-grade watercolor paper is manufactured using 100% cotton and is also referred to as cotton paper or rag paper. Cotton is perfect for absorbing water and provides your painting with a unique look that can only be achieved when using watercolors.
The paper has a textured surface and is made in a mold. The paper is archival quality and is also pH neutral and acid-free.
Student-grade paper is made up of cellulose and wood pulp. The paper is not as absorbent as artist-grade paper. This means that your finish will be different in comparison to work done on professional-grade paper.
The paper is made by a machine and is less textured, and it is sadly non-archival or pH neutral. Unfortunately, the paper will turn yellow with time.
Textures of Watercolor Paper
You might have heard of “rough”, “cold-pressed”, or “hot-pressed” paper for watercolors and may not be too certain what these terms mean. We have put together a reference to understand the terms better.
This term classifies the process which was used to make this type of paper. The paper pulp is moved through a heated cylinder to form a smooth, practically texture-free surface. Of the three textures of paper, this is the least absorbent.
This paper is ideal to use if you are looking to do very fine and detailed work such as botanical painting.
The process for making this form of textured paper is very similar to hot-pressed paper. Sheets of pulp are pressed through metal rollers that are cold and are covered in felt. This contributes to the texture of the paper. Thanks to the texture, the cold-pressed paper is very absorbent.
While you can use it to create detailed paintings, they will not be as finely detailed as when you use hot-pressed paper.
You make rough paper in a mold and press it through rollers which are similar to those used when making cold-pressed paper, in that they are covered in felt. The difference between cold-pressed paper and rough paper is that rough paper is allowed to dry without being press dried. It results in a pebbly, rough texture once dried.
Rough paper cannot be used for detailed work, instead, it is ideal when you are painting subjects that require a certain textured look to them.
Weights of Watercolor Paper
You have probably seen reams of multipurpose printing paper marked with its weight. It is normally 24 lbs or 80 gsm. Watercolor paper is available in three different weights. The weight determines the thickness of the paper.
- Light: this is the lightest of the watercolor paper, despite being almost twice as heavy as the weight of printing paper. It weighs 90 lbs or 190 gsm.
- Medium: this paper is a lot heavier than the light paper, weighing 140 lbs or 300 gsm.
- Heavy: this paper is more than three times heavier than the light paper, at 300 lbs or 640 gsm.
Most of the time professional artists will choose to use the medium-weight paper as you do not need to prepare it before use (no stretching is required). It is not necessary to tape it onto a board to stop it from buckling or curling when you apply water.
If you think you might be working with very wet watercolors (and will be using a lot of water), we suggest you then use heavy paper.
Other Forms of Watercolor Paper
While we have focused on watercolor blocks in this article, there are of course other forms of watercolor paper available, such as sheets and pads. Before we go into more detail about the other paper forms, it is important to mention that in terms of a watercolor block the paper is more than likely going to be of artist-grade paper (professional-grade paper), and is hardly ever made of student-grade paper.
Pads of Watercolor Paper
Pads of paper for watercolor are usually made from student-grade paper. The pads are usually wire-bound which makes it simple to just turn over to a new, fresh page, and begin painting. Alternatively, they are taped together along the top of the pad or the left-hand side. You are then able to tear off one page at a time, as needed.
Sheets of Watercolor Paper
If you want pages that are bigger than those found in a watercolor block or a pad of watercolor paper, then you can use sheets of watercolor paper. You can either have them cut to size or buy them as they come. Normally professional artists choose to use loose sheets of watercolor paper thanks to their high quality.
That being said, as a beginner you might find it a little more affordable to simply purchase a few sheets and have them cut to the size you require, instead of spending money on a big paper pad or block.
Individual sheets of paper are made with a deckled edge. This resembles a natural tear in the paper, but only along the sides. The main body of the paper is in no way affected. A deckled edge just adds another beautiful element to a stunning watercolor painting.
Now that you know what a watercolor block is and are aware of the elements which constitute a good piece of watercolor paper, we are certain you are excited to begin your painting project. Keep in mind there are no rules which determine which paperweight, format, or texture is the best, it is all up to your personal choice. Just select what you would like to work with, and begin painting!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Use Textured Watercolor Paper When Painting with Watercolor Paints?
The decision is all yours! If you are making a finely detailed piece of art then we suggest you use hot-pressed paper, as it offers no texture and a smoother surface. The cold-pressed paper has a slightly textured surface which is very popular with watercolorists. If you are someone who likes to work with very wet paints, then you should probably go with rough paper, thanks to its rough and heavy texture.
What Is the Best Weight of Paper to Use for Watercolor Painting?
There is no best weight, as it all depends on the type of watercolor painting you are planning on doing, and naturally, your personal choice! However, we recommend using medium-weight paper, which weighs 140 lbs. or 300 gsm.
What Is a Watercolor Block?
A watercolor block is a pack of paper that can be used when painting with watercolor paints. A watercolor block is usually made from artist-grade paper. The paper has been glued or bound on all four sides. If you insert a palette knife (or anything similar that does not have a sharp edge) into the small gap in the binding and run it around the whole block, you will be able to tear the page off once you have finished painting.