Is Sketchbook Paper Good For Watercolor? Why or Why Not?
When it comes to watercolor painting, most beginners think that any paper is great for watercolor painting. The type of paper you use significantly affects your results. Watercolor paper is the best option, but it's expensive and not a good option for casual painting or when practicing.
If you're wondering whether sketchbook paper can make a good surface to practice your painting skills and get satisfying results, this guide is for you.
In our guide below, we have discussed whether using watercolor on sketch paper is a good idea. We have also shed more details on the right type of sketchbook, watercolor paper alternatives you can use, and more.
Is sketchbook paper good for watercolor?
Not all sketchbook papers are good for watercolor. Some sketch book paper is too thin and smooth for satisfactory watercolors. Such sketchbook papers are made from regular paper and are only meant for use as a sketching or drawing paper your designs.
They have undesirable characteristics that make them unsuitable for watercolor painting. They don't absorb properly, and if you use watercolors on them, they'll most likely bleed, warp, and pill.
Let's briefly discuss the top issues disqualifying sketchbook paper for watercolor use:
Texture: Typical sketchbook papers are made from wood pulp and are around 20lbs heavy. This is unlike watercolor paper, which is quite thick and is manufactured from resin and cotton fibers. It undergoes cold or hot press up to 300lbs to achieve different textures.
Buckling: This is another problem you'll get from using regular sketchbook paper for watercolor. It involves the creation of ripples when the paper gets wet. This makes your artwork on the paper appear wavy and wrinkled.
Quick absorption: The thin sketchbook papers will also absorb the watercolor quickly. When this paint becomes absorbed too fast, there lacks the scope to control the colors, leaving you with a messy and blotchy illustration.
Tearing: Due to lack of a suitable texture, standard sketchbook papers will easily soften and tear down after applying heavy watercolor washes or too much water.
Yellowing: What happens after the paint dries on these sketchbook papers? It turns yellows and looks old. This is unlike acid-free watercolor papers, which do not get brittle and yellow with time.
Regular sketchbooks may only come in handy for printing your reference image instead of printing on watercolor paper. You can then transfer inkjet to watercolor paper. Or you can use other effective methods like tracing and graphite paper.
If you want to use a sketchbook for watercolor, look for one made specifically for the watercolors. Such sketchbooks have papers with thick watercolor paper type design to enable you to use watercolors on them without experiencing any of the issues we have discussed above.
The Moleskine watercolor sketchbook is one such example, designed to help you paint and draw while on the go. (get more details on choosing the right sketchbook paper for watercolor below).
What can I use instead of watercolor paper?
We have ruled out regular sketchbook papers as a good choice for watercolors. So, is there any other paper you can use instead of buying watercolor papers? Well, yes!
There are many alternatives to pick from, as outlined below
Rice paper is one of the best alternatives to watercolor painting. It is often used in Chinese and Japanese ink paintings. These papers present you with a thin, absorbent, and transparent surface that will help you come up with fantastic pieces of art. Depending on your preferences, you can also get the paper in plain and designed variants. However, you'll first mount this paper on a mat board and leave it overnight to let it dry before starting the painting.
Watercolors will work on parchment paper without any issues. However, this paper's naturally warm tone might make the colors, especially white, appear a bit dull. If this bothers you, you can use gouache on this paper to make your paintings appear more lively and brighter. The paper's textured surface made from sheepskin (though there are available plant-based options) further qualifies it for use with watercolors.
Instead of the pricey watercolor paper, you can count on the aquaboard to do your causal painting practices. The acid-free, textured surface makes a perfect substrate for painting. It is also pretty versatile, enabling you to use it with anything from watercolors to the gouache paint.
The paper will absorb the watercolors perfectly well. And the best part is that these colors tend to maintain their purity and vibrancy, just like watercolor papers. Designs made on aquaboard are also long-lasting!
Watercolor canvases are quite popular among artists and painters due to their great texture. They're also versatile and will work with watercolor as well as acrylic, oil, and gouache paints–enabling you to create unique pieces. Different canvas available today even come with primed watercolor base coats to make them watercolors-ready.
However, one issue you'll experience with this surface is that its color absorption is less. Thus, we advise you to practice your painting on practice sheets to perfect creating layered washes. Nonetheless, this less absorbent nature of canvases means you can easily wash off the paint in case of errors.
Watercolorists who want to explore surfaces other than watercolor paper also paint on thin and light fabric like cotton gauze or silk. They support a handful of different paint types to enable you to experiment with various paints to create more interesting pieces.
One major challenge with fabric is difficulty controlling bleeding colors. This will depend on how much cotton fiber the base contains. You'll need to mix your watercolors with the fabric medium before using it on the cloth. Or you can use first use the watercolors and then brush them over with the fabric medium.
However, fabrics may dull the watercolors' brightness, so you'll need to work out sufficient contrast to help bring out those bright colors. Watercolors mixed with fabric medium also tend to dry fast. Adding a drop of drying time extender can help counter this.
What type of sketchbook is good for watercolor?
As we mentioned, you can easily find sketchbooks specially made for watercolor use. This type of sketchbook is made using papers that can handle watercolor paintings.
Focus on the following key features to help you choose an ideal sketchbook for watercolor:
Thick sheets of paper
The best sketchbook for watercolor painting should come with thick and durable pages. This will enable it to handle the wet media much better.
The pages will prove more resilient to pilling, bleeding, and shape warping issues.
Most watercolor sketchbooks have their thickness indicated on the front cover. Go for books with 200 and 300 gsm sheets for the best results.
Look for paper made from sturdy cotton
If you have money to spend, try looking for high-quality watercolor sketchbooks whose pages are made from 100% premium cotton. As you already know, cotton is an excellent substrate for watercolors and keeps the colors bright and vivid. It also absorbs the wet media easily, resisting buckling and bleeding.
Remember what we said about regular sketchbook papers? They tend to yellow over time due to the presence of residual acid. With this in mind, you should look for an acid-free sketchbook for watercolor use. This will maintain its white nature for longer, so your pieces stay vibrant and popping. You won't need to worry about your artwork looking old or stained with time.
Watercolor-specific sketchbook papers come in two types: hot press and cold press finish. Hot press has a smoother surface and is ideal for dry media. Cold press has a rough and textured page, which is ideal for watercolor painting. This is because rough paper makes it hard for the watercolors to drip or slide, improving the quality of your art.
Can you paint on sketchbook paper?
Absolutely! You can paint on a sketchbook provided you choose the right one, as we have just explained in the previous section. Most folks think that you can paint on any sketchbook paper, but this is untrue.
Standard sketchbook papers aren't made to handle the wet media. They will suffer issues like bleeding, pilling, warping, and even tearing.
Sketchbooks specially made for painting have thick and rough-textured pages. This enables them to withstand watercolor paintings while offering you a good surface to practice on before moving on to watercolor papers.
How do you make a homemade watercolor sketchbook?
Making your own watercolor sketchbook is a great way to customize it to your own needs and preferences. You get to choose the size of the papers, the type of watercolor paper to use, cover, etc.
A DIY watercolor sketchbook is a good way to compile all your artwork. It lets you keep all your watercolor sketchbook ideas tidy and in one place. And you can always look back at your paintings and see how far you've come as an artist.
That said, you can make your own homemade watercolor sketchbook customized to your own needs as explained in the simple steps described below:
Things you'll need:
Step 1. Cut all your watercolor papers to size
Step 2. Make the covers. Be sure to cut them to size, and make them slightly bigger than the papers
Step 3. Make holes through the covers and papers. You'll need to use a sturdier hole punch for this job. Set the outer holes to around 1-inch from the cover edges. Smaller sketchbooks will only need 2 holes, while bigger ones will need up to 3 of them.
Step 4. Now stack the punched papers and holes starting from the bottom (i.e., bottom cover first, followed by sheets of paper, and finally the top cover).
Step 5. Ensure the pages and cover holes are lined up, and then insert and close the binding rings.
Watercolor is fun to learn. When practicing your painting, you should use the right paper to ensure you get satisfying results.
Most sketchbooks are not a good choice because they're thin and have a smooth finish. They can't handle the wet watercolors. But you can still get a good sketchbook with thicker and rough paper sheets to use with your watercolors.
Besides sketchbook papers, you can use other alternatives to watercolor paper, including parchment paper, rice paper, Aquaboard, and watercolor canvas.
We encourage making your DIY watercolor sketchbook to help you compile all your artworks in one place. This is a pretty simple DIY process and involves the simple steps outlined above.
Follow our tips in this guide for choosing the right sketchbook for watercolor painting for the most satisfying painting results.