Selecting Paper for Watercolor Painting

watercolor painting, grain elevator, grain elevater painting

Click Picture to Purchase: "Grain Elevator at The Grainery, Pullman WA"

When selecting paper for painting, most of my paintings are done on half-sheets (15″x22″) of rough, 140# (or 90#) cold-pressed paper. I rarely use quarter-sheets (11″x15″)… only for demos. When painting several days or more at a time at plein-air events, I’ll often work on full sheets (22″x30″) of 300# cold-pressed paper, since this heavier paper seems to hold its shape better… but also because I’ll end up with a larger painting! However, I may also use sheets of smoother, perhaps lighter-weight, hot-pressed paper.


● whiteness/brightness
● texture and surface stability
● color saturation
● thickness/weight

Watercolor paper comes in three different values of whiteness/brightness: bright white, natural white, and warm.  Natural white has a pleasant warmth to it, wont turn yellow like other paper. It’s the more archival option.  Warm papers have absolutely no brightness and no problems with yellowing, since they’re already yellow.

Texture and surface stability are highly subjective matters. “Smooth” fine art paper is smooth relative to other surfaces, even though it may have the slightest amount of “calendaring.” Paper that’s “velvet” is neither smooth nor textured. It’s somewhat in between. “Textured” paper has a rough look to it that many watercolorists (including myself) prefer. Pigments seem to settle in the tiny depressions, thus providing a very sensitive variation in areas where the pigment has been applied.

When painting outdoors, I clip half-sheets to my 1/8″ thick masonite panel that acts like an easel. I can carry this about for reasonable distances, along with my toolbox, palette, and bucket (See further discussion on paper under “Paper for Reproductions“).

Douglas Stenhouse also wrote a book about watercolor painting.

“I decided to write about how I paint, not only to share my observations with others, but also, frankly, to do some self- examination. I wish I had done this earlier in my life! But then, how was I to know I’d benefit from doing so, certainly at a time when I had no aspirations of becoming a professional artist.” 

To learn more about Doug’s Watercolor Painting Book, click here. To purchase a signed copy, use the link below.

Douglas Simms Stenhouse, watercolor artist, transparent water color art, watercolor painter, painting with water colors