There are, for me, two criteria that lead to a successful watercolour: the quality of the paint and the suitability of the paper that is to receive it. Having used Winsor & Newton’s Professional Water Colour paint for over 30 years, observing over time only subtle changes that occur naturally in pigmentation and character, I feel I know my medium and how it behaves. The quality of the paper support is also crucial to painting success in watercolour, as it interacts with the medium to show the paint in its best light.

Between the Salt Water and the Sea's Strand, watercolour on Winsor & Newton Professional Water Colour Paper 140lb (300gsm) Rough, (48x84cm)

Initial tests

When invited to write this report I was excited by the opportunity to experiment. The paper is quite a brilliant white. It’s not the brightest white I’ve ever tried, it’s possibly a little softer, but I was hopeful that it would be white enough for transparent washes to remain radiant without appearing harsh. The paper also has a luxurious velvety finish that I found appealing.

My initial approach to testing is to try out all the techniques I use on sheets of paper divided up into small squares. Working in this way gives order to the process, without a ‘subject’ interfering with the learning curve.

Starting with simple flat washes, layering of washes and graduated washes (see above), I discovered that the paper has an excellent reflective quality. Moving on through techniques for creating textures by admixtures of salt or sand and surface additives such as cling film, feathers and leaf skeletons to name but a few, I found that the paper surface took them all well, allowing the paint to mix, granulate and separate predictably.

One of the most important requirements of a paper for me is its ability to withstand successful vigorous mark-making and lifting-out techniques without breaking through the sizing to the paper’s core, and for masking medium to be removed without damage to the paper surface.

Experiments with lifting and mark making

Second phase of tests

Next I began the more deliberate mark making associated with my own work. As drawing and mark making is a strong feature in my work, I experimented with different brush techniques, pens, sticks and spray bottles. The paper performed really well. It didn’t bruise easily, the surface remained intact at the point of contact and didn’t become absorbent under pressure.

Playing with paint and paper is an important part of my painting process, as this is how I innovate new techniques, questioning myself on what I do and how I do it. Pouring, lifting, drying, re-applying, adding and subtracting is vital to keeping the work fresh and refining techniques, taking time to watch and learn. The paper gave both predictable and surprising results.

For my proposed test painting, Stranded (see below), I thought it important to look for a subject that would exhibit a full range of contrasts and techniques, from the lightest light to the darkest dark. The painting ranges from the lightest and most delicate tints and pure white paper on the horizon and the foreground rock pool, to rich, dark, juicy colour in the rocks and weeds.

I stretched a sheet of 140lb (300gsm) Rough paper by soaking the reverse, or under side, for about 20 minutes before taping it to a board. I began by reserving the white of the paper with masking medium, which I would want to remain in place for about three days. Working from the background to the foreground, which in this case was essentially from top to bottom, I applied subtle washes to the sky wet-in-wet, moving down through the harbour and across the sea, gradually strengthening the colour and increasing the textures in the mark making to give a sense of space and distance. Once onto the rocks I was able to build up layers of paint and increase the strength and vigorous nature of the marks made whilst using heavier mixes until a near-black was achieved to suggest the seaweed. The ability to achieve a near-black mix on watercolour paper is an important element of my work as it gives the truest light-to-dark process. Not all watercolour papers will give you this, but I’m pleased to say that this paper did, very well.

Stranded, watercolour on Winsor & Newton Professional Water Colour Paper 140lb (300gsm) Rough, (72.5x28cm)

In summing up my paper testing I can say that Winsor & Newton Professional Water Colour Paper is a cylinder mould made paper, with a bright white luxurious surface to use, given the appearance of a handmade paper with its deckle edges. This feature makes it very desirable to use on occasions where stretching is unnecessary and the painting might be float mounted. It is made from 100 per cent cotton, and the length and quality of the cotton fibres gives the paper its luxurious feel and results in superior strength and durability. The paper is both externally and internally sized, which means that it will withstand vigorous mark making with all kinds of implements as well as many techniques of lifting-out without paint soaking into the surface, saturating the fibres and bleeding laterally. The paper takes light delicate washes and heavier rich washes equally well in multiple layers. It gives even washes, lustre and transparency of colour, both on the Cold Pressed and Rough surfaces. Good-quality paint and paper, in my opinion, make painting easier at every level, from beginner to professional – this paper undoubtedly gives the artist every chance of success.

Deborah Walker has a first class honours degree in fine art from De Montfort University. She is member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours and an associate member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists. She has paintings in galleries throughout the country, takes part in annual group exhibitions in London and has won several prizes, including the Turner Medal at the RI Annual Exhibition in 2015.

Deborah’s work is also exhibited at The Harbour Gallery in Portscatho

This product report is taken from the May 2018 issue of The Artist

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