Monday, 23 February 2015

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

With reference to 'the right side of the paper' debate (see previous posts)

by Wendy Burchell

Our BAASA Western Cape Tuesday Morning Painting Group, that meets at Kirstenbosch once a week to paint and share ideas, was recently given this valuable advice on finding the smoothest side of HP watercolour paper and we appreciate it enormously. This in no way detracts from valuable advice given to us by Botanical Art teachers to date.

We were shown how to differentiate the 'smoothest, preferred, felt, upper'-side of the paper from the 'slightly less smooth, wire, under'-side of the paper, not by looking at the watermark, but by holding the paper up to the light (in this case a large bright window) and actually seeing the fine basketweave/wire grid pattern on the less smooth side and seeing an absence of pattern on the very smooth side of Arches HP 300gsm paper.

I have also used Sennelier HP 300gsm paper that does not have the same easily identifiable grid pattern on either side. I haven't tried other papers yet.

We were not told one side was wrong or right, but which side was better for achieving the sharp, clear edges aspired to in Botanical Art watercolour painting and especially important for the printing quality of these artworks. It was one of my paintings on which the difference was pointed out, not criticised, for which I am very grateful. In some instances, I have painted on the 'slightly less smooth side' of Arches paper, even though the Arches watermark read the right way up on that side.

I also used an Arches HP 300gsm block, where some of the 'less smooth' sides faced upwards in the glued block. It was explained to me how and why this occurs at the paper makers,but I shan't go into that in this post. I'm pleased I have learnt this now and not after I have spent months painting an exhibition piece on the less smooth/wire side of the paper!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The debate continues.............'Right' or 'wrong' side of paper to paint on based on watermarks

Further confusion to add to the previous post regarding using the watermark on Arches paper to determine the 'right' or 'wrong' side to paint on, I came across this article on the web at

The Watermark. The watermark is a visible mark in the sheet, usually the name or an identifying symbol of the paper manufacturer, most easily seen by holding the sheet up to the light. Watermarks were introduced by the Fabriano Mill (Italy) in around 1282, and rapidly became a way for papermakers to assert the authenticity and quality of manufacture of their product, and to signal specific paper sizes, furnishes (100% cotton), customs declarations, and so on.

In handmade papers the watermark is usually created by a small copper wire image fixed to the wire screen of the mold (image at right); this creates a slight thinness in the pulp directly over the pattern, which appears as a more transparent area in the finished sheet. In machine moldmade papers the watermark is typically embossed on the still wet sheet with a rubber roller.

Some manufacturers emboss the sheet with a logo or trademark, instead of or in addition to using a watermark. This chopmark is usually small and placed unobtrusively along the margin of the sheet, as watercolor paints will not cover it.

Painters are usually taught that the watermark (and chopmark, if present) in handmade sheets is historically oriented to "read right" (is legible rather than mirror reversed) from the felt side of the sheet, considered the better side to paint on because the finish is often more consistent and inclusions (pulp impurities) show less readily (they usually sink to the wire side). But some manufacturers — especially in England — place the watermark or chop to read correctly from the wire side, which makes the manufacturer lettering less obtrusive to the eye. They did this because 19th century papermakers would sometimes shave away lint or clumps of pulp that protruded on the felt side of the sheet, and these cuts damaged the finish and surface sizing and would show up under washes. As a result the wire side became the "right" side to use.

This concern is no longer relevant, as paper sheets are no longer trimmed in that way. In nearly all modern papers, the quality, sizing and handling of the felt and wire sides are essentially the same; in fact, the texture of the felt side may be more desirable in some sheets.

The watermark orientation varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, sometimes even within the same manufacturer. For example, I have before me two sheets of Arches CP 640GSM watercolor paper: in the full sheet (22" x30") the watermark "reads right" from the felt side (opposite the watermark embossing), while in the double elephant sheet (30" x 40") the watermark "reads right" from the wire side! To make matters worse, the rubber roller used to emboss the watermark on moldmade sheets may be placed on the felt side (above the web), not on the wire side, so you cannot use the watermark indentation as a reliable guide.

However, on one side of the sheet the watermark will appear as a shallow embossing or indentation in the paper surface: that is usually the wire side. As a rule, you should put the watermark indentation on the back of the sheet, because watercolor paint will often make it more visible.

The most reliable method is to examine the watermark from both sides of the sheet, then evaluate the finish on both sides for surface texture and visible impurities. Then use the side you prefer. There is incidentally no reason at all to discard a sheet if you've botched a painting on the wire side, because both sides are usable: just flip the paper over, whistle a happy tune, and get cracking.(Last revised 11.12.2007 • © 2007 Bruce MacEvoy)

Take a look at the website for more useful watercolour information:

Monday, 2 February 2015

'Right' or 'wrong' side of paper to paint on based on watermarks

Ann Harris recently heard that a supplier of art materials visited the Arches factory in France, where she learned that the watermark was randomly applied to Arches paper. Since we often use the watermark to determine which is the 'right' or 'wrong' side of the paper to paint on, Ann did some investigating and her correspondence with Michael Ginsburg from Legion Paper follows. Let us know your experience or if you have any more to add to the debate.