A blog about paper testing!

I hope you will be interested in the topic of this blog! There are loads of photos that can be perceived as dull if you are not interested in the subject. I have used my iPhone for some pictures, in addition to two different microscopes connected to the computer. If I call myself a botanical artist, why not use the equipment to find out about the paper we use.

The topic of the day is to find a paper as good as Fabriano paper, loved by many botanical artists. Some may have heard that Fabriano hot pressed paper seems to have changed recently. The manufactures have apparently changed their process for commercial reasons. But one result seems to be that people find that the paper is no longer as smooth as it was.

The papers that seem affected are Fabriano Classico 5 and Fabriano Artistico – both hot pressed. I have used Fabriano since the early eighties, so the thought of having to find something else was a little upsetting. But put into context with all the terrible things going on in the world, it is a minute problem.

R.K.Burt’s in London identified the problem earlier in the year and contacted St Cuthberts Mill, the company that makes Saunders Waterford paper. They immediately put everything in place to come to our aid and have even changed their sizing process. The sizing seems to be the main reason why we all like Fabriano – but of course it may not be the only reason.

I have decided to put the photos in four different galleries. I compared Fabriano 5 with the two Saunders Waterford’s papers – Botanical Ultra Smooth (50% cotton replacement for Fabriano 5) and High White (100% cotton replacement for Artistic0).

  1. First Fabriano 5 painted on the non-mesh side:

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2)  Saunders Waterford High White painted on non-mesh side (except for one example). The non-mesh side held the label, :

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3) Saunders Waterford Botanical Ultra smooth. Painted on mesh side (with label) :

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4) Saunders Waterford Botanical ultra painted on non-mesh side:

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My opinion so far, not having painted a complete picture with either media on the two new papers:

There seems to be a clear difference between the mesh pattern and non mesh patterned sides, but more significantly with the Botanical Ultra Smooth. I found it easier to get better layers and deeper colour on the non-mesh sides of both papers. I also found that the coloured pencil result was not good on the Botanical Ultra Smooth mesh side, but worked well on the reverse. It seemed pale and fluffy on the mesh side, but much easier to get depth of colour on the reverse. In fact, although I didn’t Use as many layers as I might in a complete picture, I liked it the result.

The effect wasn’t quite the same with the High White as neither side became fluffy with CP.

With the watercolour washes on both Saunders Waterford papers, close views of the washes seemed to show the white of the paper in between the fibres. This became accentuated with more layers. This was quite strange. Also it wasn’t easy to get an ultra clean edge to the pigment line although I particularly went over with a damp brush, using a magnifying glass.

Looking at the views in the microscope, one can almost understand why. I used the microscope, because when looking at the mesh-side of the Botanical Ultra Smooth in the sunshine, the surface seemed to be covered with fibres that weren’t visible before I did anything on the paper. That could also explain the fluffiness of the CP on that side.

But comparing Fabriano with Saunders Waterford, the length of the fibres seemed different and the way the fibres accepted colour seemed different too. It also seemed that with watercolour, the pigment tracked out along the filaments on the edge of the painted section, much more with the Saunders than the Fabriano. Trying to go along the edge with a damp brush and magnifying glass didn’t make much difference.

I think that we might have found replacements for the coloured pencil paper, as long as I use the right side of the paper,  the non-mesh side. By the way, it is even more difficult to determine the right side with Saunders than the Fabriano, as the mesh pattern is very faint.

I am writing the coloured pencil section of my online botanical art course at the moment, so I intend to use this paper for the demonstrations and YouTube videos. I probably won’t be doing so much watercolour whilst I am doing this, so I hope others will be able to give more useful information about that.

I hope that what I have written so far will useful.



10 thoughts on “A blog about paper testing!

  1. It looks as if the fibres of the Fabriano are just smaller, ie shorter? I have asked for samples of the Saunders papers, looking forward to try them.

    1. Hei Kathe, that is my feeling too. I have just brought a lens up to the house and I’m going to ask my husband to check it out in case I am mistaken. I wondered if this could be some of the reason behind the difficulty in getting a a sharp edge with watercolour. But I am hoping I get a chance to paint something properly tomorrow as I demonstrate for my workshop.

    2. I’m glad you have asked RK Burt to send you some samples. they are a very caring company for us botanical artists. Do I remember that you were in to coloured pencil? No matter what, make sure that you make sure you check out both sides of the paper. The felt side without the very faint mesh pattern is the best, but check it yourself.

      1. I do both watercolour and colored pencils. I will check thoroughly and make notes! 🙂 Did you stretch the paper before painting the samples?

      2. No, I didn’t stretch it. The squares were so tiny. When I have a go tomorrow, if I get to it, I won’t stretch the paper either. If it is reasonable and I decide to use it, I’ll stretch it afterwards. Let me know the results of your tests won’t you?

  2. Great review Gaynor, nice to see it in micro. I’m just starting to play with the SW ultra smooth. I come at this from a different angle and appear to be the only one who does so far, as everyone seems to use Fabriano. I’ve always used Saunders Waterford. I like the texture of the old hot press paper, which was certainly rougher than this new product they are replacing it with. I was worried I wouldn’t like the smooth surface, but so far I like it becuase they have somehow kept the long fibres, which is a relief to me! I find after adding one or two layers of watercolour it gets roughed up again. I’ve never liked Fabriano as it doesn’t hold the paint in the same way – to me it doesn’t sink in. Anyway, I’m so sorry you’ve lost your beloved paper. I too am sad that I’ve lost mine. Funny how we’ve all been affected!

    1. Hei Jess, I’m glad you liked the blog, but sorry that the manufacture change affects you too, I knew that you used the old Saunders Waterford, but I thought that they were going to keep their paper and that the new one was to be an addition to their products.

      I’m right then, that the new paper has longer fibres than Fabriano! I noticed that the SW changed for each layer of paint that is added. I did a whole lot more tests last weekend and intend to write a bit about those tests too, but I’m waiting for some Strathmore to test too. I don’t think the Bristol vellum or plate that I am going to try will be right for you as it is apparently quite a hard sized paper. I don’t know what their pure watercolour paper is like though.

      I love your leaves by the way. It will be lovely to see the whole series when you finish them. Where are you intending to exhibit them?

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