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Art how to paint Watercolour paper and tips on painting moving water.

Updated on March 7, 2013

© frangipanni 2013. All rights reserved.

If you are going to bother trying to paint using watercolors you may as well use the correct paper to achieve good results, right? Thickness does matter, especially concerning painting with watercolor. Read on to find out more about the correct paper and some tips on painting moving water so it actually resembles moving water.

  • The thickness of watercolor paper is indicated by weight – grams per square meter (gsm). This will be stated somewhere.
  • The higher the number of gsm, the heavier the weight is.
  • The heavier the paper the less it will buckle when water is applied.
  • Anything less than 300gsm needs to be stretched – which means soaked, taped and allowed to dry in the stretched position.

  • Cotton or rag paper is more robust than wood pulp paper.
  • Beware of cheap bonded paper – a layer of cotton rag paper bonded to a layer of wood pulp paper. The layers will sometimes separate when wet.
  • Good quality paper will have a layer of size on the surface – usually gelatine
  • Size is a gelatine (usually) coat they put on watercolor paper to seal it so the paint doesn't just immediately get absorbed into the paper. On good quality paper there is a thicker layer of size so the paint sits on the surface for longer and if you make a mistake you've got some chance of wiping it off without taking off all the size and ruining the paper. Cheaper paper has only a thin layer so when you try to wipe off mistakes you also destroy the size and the paper is useless.


Watercolour paper comes with 3 different surface textures

  • Hot-pressed smooth – suitable for botanical art as fine and sharp detail can be achieved.
  • Cold pressed medium – has some tooth (texture) and is a good all-round surface but not suitable for botanical art or fine detail. Also referred to as ‘‘Not’ paper.
  • Rough – is heavily textured and used mainly for landscape, seas


The surface of a large expanse of water is like a large mirror reflecting the light of the sky.

Look for major shapes of light and dark rather than trying to paint everything.

Take photos which freeze a moment so movement is disregarded.

  • In moving water (River, creek, ocean) , reflections still come towards you but are broken up.
  • Wet sand reflects sky, rocks, people, boats etc
  • Foreshore water is usually greenish yellow or brownish as the underlying sand shows through. If the water is rough the sand may be disturbed and therefore discolor the water.
  • Breaking ocean waves will be dark at the base as the wave lifts and dark under the curl as it casts shadow on the water.
  • Rising ocean waves will be transparent the higher they rise and therefore you can often see aquamarine and other sea greens in them.
  • For sea spray and mist, dab color out with a tissue.
  • Waves roll into shore in approx parallel lines and towards the shore.
  • The tone of a seascape is affected by atmosphere and weather conditions. If there’s fog, lots of sea-spray etc, the colors will be lighter and detail will be obscured. If it’s a cloudy day, the clouds may be reflected in the water.
  • Clouds cast shadow onto water as well as onto land.
  • Waves have perspective. The further away, the smaller, flatter and closer together they will appear.
    Waves closer to you have more color, more detail, are larger and more widely spaced.



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    • BStoneBlog profile image

      Jay Dickens 4 years ago

      Exactly the info I need! I'm new to watercolor & was wondering about the differences in paper. Thank you!

    • Frangipanni profile image

      Frangipanni 4 years ago

      Thank you for stopping by ChitrangadaSharan. Glad you enjoyed the hub. Have a nice day

    • Frangipanni profile image

      Frangipanni 4 years ago

      Good morning. Not at this stage kidscrafts but maybe one day when I have time. Have a great day.

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Excellent as usual! Have you ever thought about doing this detailed explanations also as a videos on Youtube?

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      That's called knowing your subject so well. Learnt a lot from your advice on using the correct materials for water coloring.

      Thanks for sharing this useful hub and welcome to HubPages.

    • Frangipanni profile image

      Frangipanni 4 years ago

      Thanks very much. I'm glad you stopped by for a read.

    • The-Quirky-Banana profile image

      The-Quirky-Banana 4 years ago

      You really know your stuff! Great hub :)

    • Frangipanni profile image

      Frangipanni 4 years ago

      Thanks for your kind words careermommy. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Have a nice day.

    • Careermommy profile image

      Tirralan Watkins 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Very interesting hub Frangipanni. This seems like such a beautiful craft to delve into. Very original piece. I can really see this article being a hub of the day.