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Watercolour Paper Types

There are so many different makes and variations of watercolour paper.  They vary in  thickness, size, quality and texture.   Each one will have its own unique properties and each will react individually to the application of paint and water on the surface. There are many makes out there from Frisk, Arches, Winsor & Newton, Saunders Waterford and many more.  My personal preference is Bockingford mainly because I am used to how it reacts with the paints and it is always tough to replace a tried and tested favourite!

Paper Surfaces
There are generally three different surfaces to choose from; these are rough, cold pressed (NOT) and hot pressed.
Rough – This is the type of paper to use for a loose way of painting. You will find many landscape artists use this to help create interest within their paintings by dragging a nearly dry brush across the texture of the paper, giving a bumpy, broken effect.
Hot Pressed – This is very often a preferred choice for botanical and wildlife artists, the surface means you can add the finest of detail with the smallest of brushes. A very smooth paper for those finer paintings, created, as its name suggests, by running the paper through hot rollers.
Cold Pressed – This paper sort of sits in the middle and has a medium texture and is ideal for those finer marks, but with the addition of a slightly textured effect. I do find this better for large washes and is my preferred paper choice

Paper ingredients
There are generally two different types of paper used by watercolour artists one made from wood pulp and the other made from cotton.  Cotton is the most expensive as the excellent fibres give you a lovely surface to work on.  Wood pulp papers are usually machine made resulting in a repetitive pattern texture. Whereas the cotton papers are mould made using a cylindrical roller which give the paper a more random but even texture. 
There are choices from loose paper which may need stretching if used for large washes, spiral bound and my favourite ‘blocks’, which are glued all the way around other than a small gap where you can slice the paper off from the pad using a palette knife.

Sizing
This doesn’t refer to the actual size of the paper as that’s another topic!  Sizing is the solution which is added to the paper to stop it acting like blotting paper allowing the paint to remain on the surface.
The mid to top range papers have a gelatine added to the mix at the pulp stage this type of sizing goes all the way through the paper. Wood pulp papers very often have the sizing added on to the top of the surface after the paper is made.

Paper weights
Paper is usually measured in pounds (lbs) or grams per square meter (gsm).  140lb and 300lb weights are the most preferred by artists. The 300lb doesn’t normally need stretching, is much thicker but also much more expensive!
The general rule is that any papers under the weight of 200gsm will generally need stretching.
Your paper will need to withstand multiple washes and removal of paint.  A good watercolour paper can withstand this sort of brush and liquid abuse, whereas cheaper end papers can tend to fall apart on the surface.

Stretching paper
You would normally start by soaking your paper for a few minutes in a bowl or even a bath tub depending on the paper size. The actual time you do this for requires a bit of guess work, I’ve soaked an A4 sheet for approximately 4 minutes – but with all the different types this will vary depending on brand.
There are quite a few ways you can stretch watercolour paper, you can use a commercially made stretcher which works really well by anchoring down the wet paper on all four sides (a good investment).
Another method is after wetting the paper to pop it down onto a piece of thick board and gently use a soaked sponge to lightly take out any bubbles underneath.  Tape the paper down with gum tape (the type you wet only once otherwise you may take away some of the adhesive strength) and add a few staples around the edge.

So there you go, that’s a little something about papers ….. ok I do go on a bit!
At the end of the day I always say ‘buy the best you can afford’ which is the same for the paints you use.  Get used to the brand but don’t be afraid to try something new or swap with a friend and see if you prefer it.  You never know where your next favourite will come from!
Do you stretch your own papers what method do you use?

Until the next time, keep those brushes wet!  Paul

Watercolour Basics – Paints & Brushes

A back to basics look at paints and brushes, an ideal overview for anyone new to the wonderful medium of watercolour and an insight into my favourite paints and brushes.

Watercolour Paints
There are a wide range of choices out there and in my personal experience a box of 12 – 18 half pans will be enough to get you up and running quickly and inexpensively.  I personally use Winsor & Newton, other brands are obviously out there, but it is tricky once you start with a brand to suddenly switch from something you know to something unknown!

Half pans 
These are solid blocks of concentrated paint.  You tend to get what you pay for; I liken it to orange squash in the sense of the more concentrate you add the stronger the drink. Think about the half pans the same way, the more expensive versions usually have a higher pigment content and ultimately a greater depth of colour richness.
Half pans are my choice due to the fact that you don’t waste as much paint as you would using tubes.  This is particularly true when all you need is a little colour for one small area.  

Tube paint
I do have some tube watercolours, mainly for using with large backgrounds where I need to mix up a much larger wash.  I would recommend having a few of your frequently used background wash colours in tube format should you be able to.

Brushes
Now I know another minefield and all I can do is let you know my preference in brushes. The brushes you buy will depend on the type of painting you wish to do and the budget at your disposal. Bristle types tend to fall into a few basic categories. 
Sable – expensive but lovely to use and has a natural taper giving it a good point to work with, the most coveted being kolinsky sable – the ultimate purchase for any artist!! 
Other natural fibres – each with their own unique properties in their favour.  For instance a hog brush is very stiff and generally used for oil and acrylics, whereas squirrel brushes are soft and often used in watercolours instead of sable as they are cheaper!
Mixed blends – as their name suggests a mixture of blends which brings out the most useful properties from both fibres to give the artist a much more versatile brush.
Synthetic – man made fibres, often more durable and usually a little kinder on the wallet!

Brush Sizes
As for the size of brush, it will depend on your subject.  Should you wish to paint large wash and in a loose style then obviously a large brush from say a size 18 down to a size 2 rigger (long and thin) may be your preference.
However, for the finer style of painting, as in the way I paint, then a size 8 down to a 00 (very small) would be ideal.
There are many different manufactures out there and I can only recommend the brushes I use – they are a bit like paints, once you get used to a particular make and style of brush it is difficult to break away from the comfort of familiarity.  Occasionally I will test out some different brushes and ultimately this may lead to a change in my favourite, but it doesn’t happen very often!

My Favourites
Everyone has their favourites, but here are some of mine.  I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you from the links below.  I hope you find them helpful.
Winsor and Newton Professional Pans
Winsor and Newton Student Cotman Pans
Cotman Watercolour Tubes
Winsor and Newton 00 Brush
Winsor and Newton Size 5 Brush
Mop Brush
Rosemary and Co – Spotter Series Brushes Size 1 & 5
Finally, thank you for following my blog, do leave a comment if there are any other subjects you would like me to ramble on about!   
Until the next time, keep those brushes (sable, animal hair, synthetic, blended, large, medium or small), wet!
Paul 😉

Back to Watercolour Basics

Starting with watercolour can sometimes be a little confusing; I certainly found it this way when I started all those years ago…..OK around 40 or so years to date….but don’t tell anybody! So let me give you a head start so you can avoid some of that confusion about which paints, brushes and paper to buy and that is just to begin with!

The thing with watercolour is that there are so many different methods out there that people use, from a very loose, fresh and expressive way, to a tight, detailed and realistic method. The choice is entirely yours and the only way you are going to find out which you prefer is to simply have a play!

I firmly believe there is NO set way to paint using watercolours, the right way is ‘your way’, so the method you end up feeling most comfortable using.

You will, with time, adopt your own style that defines ‘you’ as the individual, just be patient and above all enjoy the learning process. My method is just the way that I personally paint and the method and style that I teach, but I will never say it’s the right way. 😉
What style do you prefer and why?
Next week we will move on to the plethora of materials out there…..see you then. 
However you choose to paint, remember, keep those brushes wet!  Paul. 🤓

Our Great Tit Family – Part 5

Those of you who are following the ups and downs of the little Great Tit family from our gate post bird box will hopefully be looking forward to today’s final instalment! Our little chicks are no longer quite so little, and actually the last few days Mum has not roosted/brooded in the box with them during the night. As we have not had a camera inside a successful tit nest before, we don’t know if this is normal behaviour or not. Do leave us a comment if you’ve seen this happen too.
Whilst Mum might not be brooding the chicks as much, both parents remain as diligent as ever with their feeding regime. However, the following footage was quite unbelievable. We were in hysterics watching it fold – not sure the caterpillar was quite so happy with the situation though….

We are pretty certain that it was dad who brought the caterpillar in. The male of the species has a wider black chest stripe and we have noticed that his head is less sleek than the female’s. However, it is the mother that ends up with the caterpillar and dad gives up, goes out and leaves her to it!
The following feed was a bit more straightforward.

We have so enjoyed watching the progress of our Great Tits this year, we had 16 days of watching whilst the eggs were laid and then brooded, followed by 21 days from hatching to fully grown fledglings.
Should you have missed their story so far, here are the links to Part 1Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.
Modern technology definitely gives you an insight into the natural world that was never really possible before and we would wholeheartedly recommend getting a nest box camera if you are able. Our cameras give us hours and hours of pleasure and have taught us a huge amount along the way. But, all good things must come to an end, and 3 weeks after hatching the inevitable happened.

Thank you so much to everyone who has joined us in watching this story unfold, it has been a real pleasure to share it with you all and thank you for all your comments. Maybe next week we will get back to a painting related blog instead!!
Until then, it’s Goodbye from me and it’s Goodbye from our little Great Tits too. Kind regards to you all, Paul. 🤓

Our Great Tit Family – Part 4

Things are moving on with our family of great tits. Should you have missed their story so far, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
It can take between 15 and 22 days for chicks to fledge and throughout that time the parents work tirelessly 24/7. We captured the following footage around midnight and were fascinated by the lengths Mum went to in order to keep her nest tidy, clean and hygienic.

She removed the carefully placed faecal sac around 5 in the morning when feeding had already resumed after her broken night’s sleep! In this next clip she is again tidying, even if this means rooting around under the chicks and turfing them out of the nest as she hoovers up underneath them! In fact, you may notice that we are down to just 3 chicks in the next clip and we suspect that at some point she took the dead chick out too. We’ve certainly seen blue tits do this, and as far as we can see the fourth chick is not in the nest. Again, adult birds will try to remove dead chicks, it cuts down on the likelihood of pests and diseases affecting the remaining healthy ones.

As the chicks have got bigger and older there has definitely been an increase in wing stretching and preening. The first sign of the feathers forming is when what are called pins emerge, these are also known as ‘blood feathers’ – both simply names for developing feathers. Gradually the preening helps to remove the waxy coating and the feather starts to emerge. In our next clip you can see that the feather is perhaps half showing on the wings. All the stretching and flapping helps to build up muscle strength for the chicks first flight and probably shakes off all the ‘feather bits’ too!

The increase in the size of the chicks is quite phenomenal in such a short space of time. Our camera does distort sizes slightly, but the chicks are definitely much, much bigger and you can see their characteristic feather markings – the black heads and the bars on their wings developing and showing out clearly.

With just 3 chicks to feed, we thought the odds may even up a bit, however there still seems to be a chick which is slightly smaller than all the rest. We do still wonder whether the prolonged period of hatching over the 36 hours was the start of this difference in chick size. Without a camera on the box we would never have known that the hatching took so long – and indeed in small birds like this we didn’t expect it. However, our woodland boxes are also a bit ‘odd’ this year, lots of whole broods not making it, and the broods that are surviving – there are generally only low numbers of chicks left to fledge. It has been suggested that the parents didn’t time the hatching with the emergence of the oak tree caterpillars which are their main staple food for feeding their young and that food has been scarce. We can only ponder and hope that our data alongside all the other nest data submitted enables the BTO to form a clearer picture of what may have been the challenges for birds this year.

We will finish this week’s blog on a high note and chicks that look like they are on the verge of fledging. It is a bit dark in the corner but there are still 3 in there so fingers are crossed for a happy outcome for these 3.
Do enjoy your weekend and I’ll catch you all next week for the final instalment……
Paul 😉