1. You get what you pay for, and there's a reason good watercolor paper is expensive. For our purposes in paper crafting and card making, quality may or may not matter quite as much as it does for fine artists like my mother, who only uses Arches brand for her watercolor paintings. It really depends on what you're doing and how finicky you are.
I've used very fine, professional-grade watercolor paper, and it's shocking how much better it is than the student-grade stuff. If you want to start cheap, fine. But don't be surprised if pigments don't move well or paper starts to pill when worked too much. If results don't satisfy with the cheap stuff, upgrade.
2. Watercolor paper comes in different weights: 90lb, 140lb, and 300lb are the most common.
3. Watercolor paper comes in three different textures: rough, cold press, and hot press. Rough is, well, rough. Hot press is very smooth. Cold press is somewhere in between. You'll get better stamp impressions (I find) with hot press. Paper from different manufacturers will vary, so don't expect a cold-press paper from one company to look the same as cold-press paper from another. Colors will vary as well...it's amazing how many shades of white there are!
4. Watercolor sheets come in pads or individual sheets. You can find the single sheets (generally 22" x 30") in large paper racks or drawers at art supply stores or big box craft stores. Pads, which come in various sizes, are either spiral bound or glue bound, and you just tear a sheet out to use it. Pads are probably handier for most paper-crafters, but I usually prefer the individual sheets. You can try different brands/weights/finishes for less money that way, but they are difficult to store and cut unless you have a large cutting mat and large rulers.
5. To minimize buckling of the paper, buy a watercolor block instead of individual sheets. Blocks have sheets of watercolor paper bound together in a block with glue or rubber edging almost all the way around to create a rigid painting surface. I've used 140lb hot-press Arches blocks and been very pleased. Just let everything dry before removing the sheet from the block. There might be some buckling, but it's generally not too bad. To remove the dried sheet from the block, I use a butter knife and follow the instructions from Cheap Joe on this short video.
6. If you really want to use a lot of water without any buckling, get 300lb paper. It's really rigid. Because of the heavy weight, it's no good for folding into cards, but it's great for making single-panel cards.
7. You get what you pay for. Oh, yeah. I already said that. But it bears repeating. For stampers like myself, the expense of high-quality paper is occasionally justified. I bought 2 blocks of 9" x 12" Arches at Hobby Lobby when they were on sale years ago for about $17 each. I've used them both up, and when I went looking for more, I discovered Hobby Lobby isn't carrying the blocks anymore. Neither is Michael's. Bummer. Given how rarely I use these (the two blocks lasted me about 12 years!), I'm having a hard time justifying $38 on sale for a new block from Cheap Joe's.
8. I've met Joe of Cheap Joe's and he's a dear man. My mom takes classes at their North Carolina mountain studio every year. His company does good things for artists, too. I highly recommend them.
Now, are you thoroughly confused? Let me give you my bottom-line, best advice on watercolor paper:
- Buy a little bit and play. If you have fun, buy some more. Experiment with different weights and textures and brands. Go in with friends to share pads or large sheets. If you're feeling really adventurous and also determined to prevent warping, watch this video on stretching paper and play around with that. Play, play, play. You'll make mistakes and that's okay. Just play.
Finally, I present today's cards, which use completely random, unlabeled scraps of watercolor paper from my stash. All I know is that it isn't Arches, but it worked for these cards nevertheless.
These scraps were really rough (and I don't ever remember buying rough watercolor paper, so that's weird), and with some colors of the crayons, the pigment simply wouldn't spread no matter how much water I put down. I suspect the paper is cheap stuff 'cause the crayons aren't.
To get good impressions from the stamp, I inked it well with Memento Luxe pigment ink. Not all the panels stamped out well because of the rough texture of the paper, but I got four usable out of six, which isn't bad.
When the watercolor pieces were mostly dry, I put them between two sheets of waxed paper, then between two squares of good-one-side plywood, and then I put an eight-pound dumb-bell on top. The next day, I had mostly flat panels to put on cards.
Adding glue might have caused additional warping, and my tape runner wouldn't have held this together well at all. So after gluing the cards together, I put them under the weight to dry, and they came out just fine.
I hope this post was useful and not too confusing. Feel free to leave questions in the comments, and I'll answer them as I can. Those of you who are fine artists and know more than I do...please feel free to weigh in!
ink: Memento Luxe
paper: unknown watercolor, SU black, cool Caribbean, pretty in pink
accessories: watercolor crayons, paintbrush, glue