Paper matters

I’m back on paper at the mo. I am preparing a few paintings for an exhibition in the cafe of our local country park. It’s a haven for local dog walkers and water sport enthusiasts. I know autumn is here when the Canada geese fly over honking all the way. One memerable season I thought our conservatory had exploded; just the sound of the geese pooing on the glass roof from a great height!

I therefore thought dogs and water fowl might be popular subjects. I painted the dogs the day before on my usual Bockingford paper – 200lb, not surface. The paper behaved beautifully as always. It let the paint flow and granulate. If I needed to lift the colour it let me without scuffing the surface. I really liked the hounds and had one of those slightly smug moments when I felt pleased with myself.

KODAK Digital Still Camera
Fox hounds

Last night I reached for a piece of paper and by mistake I grabbed one from a pack I bought ages ago. In self-mitigation it was cheap and I can not resist a bargain. I am also lazy, so instead of walking five metres to get the decent stuff, I pressed ahead thinking that a different surface would be good for me. But how different it is. I cannot even remember the brand – it is so horrible I have wiped it from my memory banks. It has a very linear and dominant grain. If you try to lift colour the surface comes too. The paint follows the grain and does not flow. I hate it!

This morning I looked at my efforts and was plain cross. The drawing I had done and the composition were sound, but the result was wrong. Instead of binning it in a strop, I added pen on top using an Elegant Writer. This is a strange pen which I found through Leslie White’s blog ( When you wash it with water it separates into greens and pinks, but then is fixed. By using some bold lines and softening a few with clean water, I think the painting is redeemed. I like the sense of movement – if you have ever watched grebes do their courtship dance you will know why.

KODAK Digital Still Camera
Dancing grebes

So moral of the tale: paper matters! The better it is, the better your results. Cheap is largely a false economy in watercolour and just leads to frustration. HOWEVER, all is not lost until the painting is in the recycling box and collected by the bin men….. Adding charcoal, pen, crayon, watercolor pencils, pastels or whatever can sometimes redeem a painting that has gone astray. You have nothing to lose affterall.

What do you think are false economies in art? How do you rescue failed watercolours? I would love to know!

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