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 http://handprint.com/HP/WCL/paper1.html:

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: http://handprint.com/HP/WCL/water.html

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