I’ve been asked many times about the materials I use, so I thought it would be nice and easy if I could write down a more detailed list over here. I only talk you about materials I already used or those that I use for my daily jobs. I divided this little guide into three posts: Paper, Paints, Brushes & Extra Tools. This first one starts with paper and because I talk about my experiences with the materials in a more or less chronological order not all papers I show here I also liked. So especially in the beginning I will also mention some that might not be good for watercolor painting. This is to let you understand what are the differences and why I ended up with certain papers.
When I started doing illustrations, I thought any kind of watercolor paper would do. WRONG! The difference between types of grain, colors and textures is enormous and I will try to tell you more about the ones I have used so far.
The first block of watercolor paper I used was a Canson XL Mixed Media bloc. It was not mould-made, so it had loose paper. It was ok to draw big scenes, but as soon as I wanted to put a lot of paint in one area, it would get all wobbly and the edges would also be ruined whenever I used it.
The second type of paper I used after this one, was a Hahnemühle. It was a sort of coincidental buy because I bough it while being in a rush, and I didn’t read what type of paper it was: rough finish. Needless to say I never made it past page 2. Not only I don’t like to paint on it, but to scan and treat the image on Photoshop was really hard.
I was pretty happy when I started using Aquarel Block, natural white, 300 g/m, acid free (ALWAYS get acid free paper, if it’s not acid free, turn away as fast as you can) , from Hahnemühle, Quattro collection (this means they are a squared paper). It is a smooth paper, and the weight is heavy which makes it great to use with a lot of watercolor, but I would not go for it if you paint with gouache. It looked nice when scanned but it was a bit hard to use because of the format of the paper. Because it is not a standard DIN format I had to scan it in pieces and then had to merge the images together in Photoshop.
For one of my birthdays a while ago, I got an Arches bloc, satin finish, 300 g/m, hot pressed as a gift. It was a revelation. I never used any paper that was better than this one. It’s smooth, it’s great to paint on with watercolor as well as gouache and it has a subtle warm undertone and the scans it produces are really good. This all comes at it’s price. It is a very expensive paper, but if you are doing commissions and want to take the quality of your finished work to the next level, I cannot recommend this one enough.
Another paper I got was a Fabriano, hot pressed, 300 g/m, satin finish that I bought to compare to the quality of the Arches. I was really surprised by the quality, especially if you need to scan and digitalize the work. The paper color is pure white, so it’s much easier to edit afterwards if you need to mask objects out for a white background. Also the colors come out way fresher than with creme or yellowish papers. The price is about the same of the Arches, so now I found myself to use Arches only for commission pieces, and the Fabriano for works that will be used for print or digital media.
Of course, to train or to do sketches for clients, I don’t use these expensive papers. I use something more affordable. At the moment I have a big bloc from a house brand of Boesner which costs a fourth of the Arches bloc and has 100 pages of paper. When I need to draw a basic compositions with pencil or pens I just use plain, cheap A4 printer paper like an 80 g/m, but if I need to do lettering or work with black ink, I go for something heavier like a 120 g/m.
In any case, I strongly recommend that you use paper in a format that fits your scanner easily. The biggest formats I use have to be scanned twice and merged together in Photoshop but everything until an A3 size is not a problem usually.
In the past I used sketchbooks mostly when traveling, because they are much easier to handle on the go, but now I’m learning to like them for loose inspiration paintings. It has a nice, visual impact to open a sketchbook that is full of works. I think it is important to find one that you like to work with, concerning the format and the paper. I don’t like to use watercolor paper sketchbooks because they feel too stiff. Instead I like plain, standard sketchbooks from brands like Moleskine or Leuchtturm. These papers are very smooth, very easy to use and they also look great. My main recommendation if you plan to paint on these sketchbooks like I do is to use gouache, without much water, so it doesn’t ruin the paper.
I hope you liked to read about my paper tips and let me know if you have any extra questions.
The shops I recommend in Germany are Boesner and Ortloff , but you can find most of these materials in other shops in the internet as well.