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Look To Your Paper

Look To Your Paper

JMW Turner painted one of his most famous sunsets* on tinted paper, so I thought I’d have a go, too! The experience, however, turned all my ideas about watercolour painting upside down. I mean, whoever heard of putting all those subtle, transparent colours on dark grey paper?
*The Scarlet Sunset 1830-40 Tate Gallery

The answer, I found, was to set all my purist watercolour notions aside and ladle on the gouache!


To get the ghostly effect in the background of this painting of Taormina at night, I used a technique employed by little-known painter of genius, Arthur Melville. I made so many corrections to the picture, however, that my poor old sheet of machine-made paper nearly fell apart!

Thanks to the overnight soaking it got in Arthur Melville’s bath of Chinese White, though, the blue that appeared in my night sky was something else!


From the twelfth to the nineteenth century, ‘laid’ (or ribbed) paper predominated and it wasn’t until the 1750’s that James Whatman’s ‘wove’ paper paved the way for mass production.  Laid paper might not be the first choice for a grumpy cat painting, but look how the fur appeared without my having to paint a single hair!

I used the same paper stained with tea to create this drawing in the style of an André Derain landscape from 1910*. If you paint the tea on, it will lift when you make corrections, so it’s best to give the paper a long soak in it instead. Don’t run the bath, though! Get yourself a gravel tray from the garden centre (which, I discovered, is just like a seed tray but usefully, without the holes).
*I was channeling another artist with this particular scene. Any ideas who it might be?

This fabulous, heavyweight, handmade paper has so much character, it ‘broke’ every line I tried to draw with my Conté stick. 

I love the impressionistic end result, though.

While we may always worry over our colours and sometimes fret over our brushes, our paper is often the last thing we think about. Rough, cold-pressed, laid, tinted, hand-made or machine-made, the finish and quality of the paper we use makes an enormous difference to our work. Just ask Jim!
Last Monday at my Beginners Watercolour Class, paper-making legend, Jim Patterson from Two Rivers Paper Company demo’ed and talked about his equally legendary paper. He bought a van load of the stuff, too, including some of that eighteenth century Turner Grey. I bought 40 sheets!

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