Choosing the Right Side of Watercolor Paper to Use

  • By: Michael Smith
  • Time to read: 15 min.
Michael Smith
I'm Michael Smith, the founder and creative director of Art and Drawing. With over a decade of experience in the art and design industry, my keen eye for detail and passion for creating inspiring artwork drive my work. I'm dedicated to capturing the world's beauty through vibrant, expressive pieces that spark imagination and emotion.

When it comes to watercolor paper, one question that often arises is which side to use. Should you go with the rough side or the smooth side? The truth is, there is no right or wrong answer. Each side has its own unique texture and characteristics that can impact your painting techniques and final results.

In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of both sides of watercolor paper and provide you with tips on how to choose the correct side for your watercolor painting. Whether you prefer more texture or smoother details, understanding the different surfaces can help you make an informed decision.

Key Takeaways:

  • Watercolor paper has a rough and smooth side, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
  • The rough side is more absorbent and textured, making it great for wet-into-wet techniques and creating interesting effects.
  • The smooth side is ideal for detailed work and crisp lines, offering better control and higher color saturation.
  • There is no right or wrong side to use, and the choice depends on personal preference and the desired painting style.
  • Experimenting with both sides can help you discover which one works best for your individual technique and preferred effects.

Understanding Watercolor Paper Surfaces

When it comes to watercolor paper, understanding the different surfaces is essential for creating stunning works of art. Watercolor paper comes in two surfaces: the rough side and the smooth side. Each surface has its own unique characteristics that can greatly impact your painting techniques and the overall texture of your artwork.

The Rough Side

The rough side of watercolor paper is known for its texture and absorbency. With its prominent tooth or grain, the rough side is perfect for artists who enjoy creating bold and expressive brushstrokes. The texture of the rough side allows for more pigment to be held in the crevices, resulting in rich and textured washes.

“The rough side of watercolor paper adds depth and character to my paintings. It gives me the freedom to experiment with different brush techniques and create interesting textures.” – Sarah, watercolor artist

The Smooth Side

In contrast, the smooth side of watercolor paper offers a more refined and controlled painting experience. The lack of texture on the smooth side allows for fine details and crisp lines, making it ideal for intricate illustrations and precise brushwork. The smooth surface ensures that colors remain vivid and true, without any interference from the texture of the paper.

“The smooth side of watercolor paper is perfect for detailed work. It allows me to add intricate patterns and capture intricate details with ease.” – Michael, watercolor artist

Choosing the Right Surface

Deciding which side of watercolor paper to use ultimately depends on your desired painting techniques and the effect you wish to achieve. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Texture: If you prefer a textured look with visible brushstrokes, the rough side will be your best choice.
  • Absorbency: The rough side is more absorbent, allowing the paint to spread and blend more easily. The smooth side, on the other hand, is less absorbent and can help create cleaner and crisper brushwork.
  • Techniques: Consider the techniques you plan to use. For wet-into-wet painting or creating expressive washes, the rough side is ideal. If you’re focusing on intricate details or controlled brushwork, the smooth side will serve you well.

Ultimately, the choice between the rough side and the smooth side of watercolor paper comes down to personal preference and experimentation. Some artists even choose to work on both sides of the paper, exploring the unique qualities of each surface.

By understanding the characteristics of each surface, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your artistic vision. Whether you prefer the texture and absorbency of the rough side or the refined precision of the smooth side, both surfaces offer endless possibilities for creating beautiful watercolor paintings.

Pros and Cons of the Rough Side

The rough side of watercolor paper offers unique advantages and considerations for artists. Let’s explore the pros and cons of using the rough side:

Pros of the Rough Side

  • Enhanced Texture: The rough side of watercolor paper has a distinctive texture that adds depth and visual interest to your paintings.
  • Greater Moisture Retention: The rough surface allows the paper to hold more moisture, giving you extended working time before the paint dries out.
  • Improved Paint Acceptance: The textured surface accepts watercolor paint more readily, allowing for easy pigment application and layering.
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These qualities make the rough side ideal for certain painting techniques and effects.

Cons of the Rough Side

  • Difficulty Achieving Smooth Colors: If you’re aiming for flat, smooth colors, the rough side may produce a more blotchy appearance due to its texture.

Although the rough side has its limitations, it offers unique opportunities for artists seeking texture and enhanced working time. The decision to use the rough side ultimately depends on your personal style and the desired outcome of your watercolor painting.

Benefits of the Smooth Side

The smooth side of watercolor paper offers several advantages when it comes to creating detailed work and achieving vibrant colors. With its refined texture and superior handling, this side allows for precise brushstrokes, ensuring crisp lines and intricate details without any bleeding or smudging.

When painting on the smooth side, artists experience a smoother surface, which allows for better control and precision in their artwork. This makes it an excellent choice for those who specialize in intricate illustrations or paintings that require fine details.

One of the key benefits of using the smooth side is its ability to enhance color saturation. The smooth surface allows more pigment to transfer onto the paper, resulting in deeper and richer hues. This saturation adds depth and vibrancy to the artwork, bringing it to life.

However, it’s important to note that the smooth side may not have the same water-holding capacity as the rough side. It may not absorb water as readily, which can limit the amount of moisture available for blending and creating textures. Therefore, artists who rely on extensive washes and wet techniques may find the rough side more suitable for their needs.

Despite this limitation, the smooth side remains a popular choice among artists because of its ability to facilitate detail work and enhance color saturation. It offers a level of precision and control that can elevate the overall impact of a watercolor painting.

Is There a Right and Wrong Side?

When it comes to watercolor paper, there is no right or wrong side to use. Both sides are equally good for watercolor painting. The quality of the paper remains consistent, regardless of the side you choose.

The only difference between the two sides may be their absorbency levels, which vary depending on the manufacturing process. Some watercolor papers may have a slightly more absorbent side, while others may have a more even absorbency on both sides. However, this difference is often minimal and does not significantly affect the overall quality of the paper.

Whether you use the right side or the wrong side of the watercolor paper ultimately depends on your personal preference and the effect you want to achieve in your artwork. Artists often experiment with both sides to explore the unique characteristics of each and determine which one suits their painting style and techniques best.

Remember, regardless of the side you choose, the quality of the watercolor paper is what matters most. Look for high-quality papers that are specifically designed for watercolor painting. These papers provide excellent texture, durability, and absorbency, ensuring optimal results for your artwork.

“The choice between the right side and the wrong side of watercolor paper is entirely subjective. Some artists prefer the slightly more absorbent side for certain techniques, while others enjoy the uniform texture and absorbency on both sides. It’s all about personal preference and the desired outcome.”

– Jane Adams, Watercolor Artist

Using Both Sides of the Watercolor Paper

When it comes to watercolor paper, artists have the option to utilize both sides of the paper for their paintings. Depending on your painting technique and personal preferences, using both the smooth and rough sides can offer unique advantages. This section will delve into the benefits of using both sides, allowing you to explore different effects and find the approach that works best for your style.

Advantages of the Smooth Side

The smooth side of watercolor paper is ideal for artists who focus on fine details and controlled strokes. Its smoother surface allows for crisp lines and precise brushwork, offering excellent opportunities for intricate illustrations. When using the smooth side, the paint adheres more evenly to the paper, resulting in vibrant colors and a higher level of saturation. The lack of texture on this side prevents unwanted bleeding and smudging, making it suitable for artists who require precise brush control.

Advantages of the Rough Side

On the other hand, the rough side of watercolor paper provides artists with opportunities to create texture and enhance the visual interest of their artwork. The rougher surface of this side is excellent for larger areas where texture is desired. When using wet-into-wet painting techniques, the rough side holds more moisture and extends the working time, allowing for smoother blending and more expressive brushstrokes. Artists seeking a more organic and textured look in their paintings often prefer the rough side for its ability to create unique visual effects.

“Using both sides of the watercolor paper gives me the flexibility to experiment and explore a wide range of techniques. I love the smooth side for detailed work and portraits, while the rough side adds depth and texture to landscapes. It’s like having two canvases in one!” – Emily Thompson, Watercolor Artist

By using both sides of the watercolor paper, artists can combine the advantages of each surface to create unique and captivating artwork. Whether you prefer the controlled precision of the smooth side or the textured allure of the rough side, alternate between both surfaces to fully realize your artistic vision.

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Advantages Smooth Side Rough Side
Texture Smooth surface for precise details Creates texture and visual interest
Control Allows for controlled strokes and crisp lines Extended working time for wet-into-wet techniques
Color Saturation Enhances color vibrancy and saturation Offers unique visual effects and depth

Experimenting with both sides of the watercolor paper is key to discovering your personal preferences and exploring the full range of painting techniques. Take the opportunity to embrace both surfaces and unlock new possibilities for artistic expression.

Choosing the Right Side for Different Watercolor Paper Brands

When it comes to watercolor paper, different brands may have variations in the texture and absorbency of their rough and smooth sides. It’s important to consider these differences when choosing the correct side to use for your watercolor painting.

One popular brand, Arches watercolor paper, offers both a rough and smooth side. The rough side of Arches paper is known for its increased absorbency, making it ideal for techniques that require more water, such as wet-into-wet painting. On the other hand, the smooth side of Arches paper is better suited for detailed work and allows for crisp lines and precise brushwork.

Another well-known brand, Fabriano watercolor paper, also offers different finishes on each side. The smooth side of Fabriano paper is especially well-suited for dry media, allowing for smooth application and blending of colored pencils or pastels. The rough side, on the other hand, is more absorbent and works better with wet media, creating interesting textures and allowing for more watercolor techniques.

To better understand the differences between the sides of watercolor paper brands, refer to the table below:

Watercolor Paper Brand Rough Side Smooth Side
Arches More absorbent, suitable for wet-into-wet techniques Ideal for detailed work, precise brushwork
Fabriano Creates interesting textures, works well with wet media Well-suited for dry media, smooth application and blending

By taking into account the specific characteristics of each brand, such as Arches and Fabriano, you can make an informed decision about which side of the watercolor paper to use. Whether you prefer a rough texture, require more absorbency, or need a smooth surface for detailed work, understanding the differences between watercolor paper brands can enhance your painting experience and help you achieve the desired effects.

Considering Sizing and Processing of Watercolor Paper

The texture and handling qualities of watercolor paper are influenced by the sizing and processing methods employed during its production. Sizing is the application of gelatine or other chemicals to the paper, which affects the absorption and color appearance of the paints. Understanding the manufacturing process is crucial in making informed decisions when choosing the right side of watercolor paper.

Handmade papers often exhibit a more pronounced difference in texture between the front and back sides due to their unique production methods. These papers may offer distinct handling qualities that can impact the way paint interacts with the surface. On the other hand, machine-made papers typically have a more subtle variation in texture between the two sides.

The choice between handmade and machine-made watercolor paper ultimately depends on your personal preferences and the specific effects you wish to achieve in your artwork.

Exploring the different sizing and processing techniques employed by various brands can provide valuable insights into their handling qualities and texture:

Brand Sizing and Processing Techniques Texture Handling Qualities
Arches Watercolor Paper – Gelatin-sizing on both sides
– Hot-pressed for a smooth finish
Smooth Ideal for detailed work and dry media
Fabriano Watercolor Paper – Gelatin-sizing on both sides
– Cold-pressed for a medium texture
Medium Suitable for a variety of techniques
Strathmore Watercolor Paper – Gelatin or synthetic-sizing on both sides
– Cold-pressed for a textured surface
Textured Excellent water absorption and moisture control

By considering the sizing and processing techniques utilized by different watercolor paper brands, you can align their texture and handling qualities with your artistic vision, ensuring the best possible results in your watercolor paintings.

Exploring Personal Preferences and Experimentation

When it comes to choosing the right side of watercolor paper, personal preference and experimentation play a vital role. Every artist has their individual style, techniques, and desired effects that influence their decision. It’s essential to explore and try out both the rough and smooth sides of the paper to determine which one works best for you.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different painting techniques and effects on each side of the watercolor paper. This process of exploration allows you to understand the unique characteristics and qualities of each side and how they can enhance your artwork.

By experimenting, you can discover the advantages and disadvantages of each side. You might find that the rough side is perfect for creating texture and adding depth to your paintings, while the smooth side offers a more controlled surface for intricate details.

“Experimentation is the key to unlocking new possibilities in your artwork. Take risks, try new things, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. That’s where the magic happens.”

Understanding Personal Preference

Choosing the right side of watercolor paper is a personal decision that stems from your artistic vision. Some artists may prefer one side over the other based on their artistic goals, preferred techniques, or even the mood they want to convey in their paintings.

Before settling on a side, take some time to reflect on your personal style and the effects you want to achieve. Are you drawn to bold, textured paintings or delicate, detailed artwork? Consider how each side of the paper aligns with your aesthetic preferences and artistic aspirations.

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The Power of Experimentation

Experimentation is the key to unlocking your artistic potential and discovering new possibilities. It allows you to push boundaries, challenge yourself, and find your unique approach to using watercolor paper.

Start by testing different techniques, brushstrokes, and water-to-paint ratios on both sides of the paper. See how the paper responds to different levels of water saturation, how the paint flows, and how it interacts with the paper’s texture.

Keep a record of your experiments, noting which side of the paper you used for each technique and the results you achieved. This will help you identify patterns and understand which side works best for specific effects or painting styles.

Embrace the freedom to try new things and be open to unexpected outcomes. Some of the most innovative artistic techniques and styles have been born out of experimentation and the willingness to challenge conventions.

Finding What Works Best for You

Ultimately, the goal is to find what works best for you as an artist. Remember that there is no right or wrong side of watercolor paper to use—it’s about finding the side that aligns with your artistic vision and enhances your unique style.

Take inspiration from other artists, but don’t feel bound by their choices. Every artist has their own preferences and creative journey. Trust your instincts, follow your intuition, and allow yourself the freedom to explore.

Through personal preference and experimentation, you’ll discover the side of watercolor paper that brings your artistic vision to life. Embrace the excitement of this creative process and enjoy the journey of self-discovery as you create beautiful and meaningful artwork.

Conclusion

After exploring the pros and cons of both the rough and smooth sides of watercolor paper, it is clear that choosing the right side is a matter of personal preference and experimentation. Each side offers its own unique characteristics that can enhance your watercolor paintings.

By understanding the difference in textures, absorbency, and handling qualities of each side, you can make informed choices based on your preferred painting techniques and desired effects. Whether you prefer the rough side for creating texture and working with wet-into-wet techniques, or the smooth side for detailed work and crisp lines, both sides can yield beautiful results.

Take the time to experiment and find what works best for you. Explore different watercolor paper brands and their specific characteristics. Consider the sizing and processing methods used in the manufacturing of the paper. By experimenting and finding your own unique approach, you can achieve optimal results and create stunning watercolor paintings.

FAQ

What are the advantages of the rough side of watercolor paper?

The rough side of watercolor paper has more texture, holds more moisture, and provides more working time before it dries out. It accepts paint better and creates interesting texture with a wet brush.

Why is the smooth side of watercolor paper suitable for detailed work?

The smooth side of watercolor paper allows for crisp lines, tiny details, and no bleeding or smudging. It provides a smoother surface for painting, resulting in darker colors and higher saturation.

Is there a right and wrong side to use for watercolor paper?

No, there is no right or wrong side to use for watercolor paper. Both sides are equally good for watercolor painting, with the only difference being in their absorbency.

Can I use both sides of the watercolor paper?

Yes, you can use both sides of the watercolor paper. The smooth side is great for fine details and controlled strokes, while the rough side is better for larger areas and creating texture. Experimenting with both sides allows you to explore different effects and find what works best for your style.

Are there differences in watercolor paper brands regarding the choice of side to use?

Yes, different watercolor paper brands may have variations in the texture, absorbency, and finishes of their rough and smooth sides. It’s important to consider the specific characteristics of each brand when choosing the correct side to use. For example, Arches watercolor paper has a rough side that is more absorbent, while Fabriano watercolor paper has different finishes for dry and wet media.

How does the sizing and processing of watercolor paper affect its texture and handling qualities?

Sizing, which is the application of gelatine or other chemicals to the paper, affects the absorption and color appearance of the paints. Handmade papers may have a more pronounced difference in texture between the front and back sides, while machine-made papers may have a more subtle variation. Understanding the manufacturing process can help you make informed decisions when choosing the right side of watercolor paper.

How should I choose the right side of watercolor paper for my painting?

The choice of which side to use depends on personal preference and experimentation. Different artists may have different preferences based on their painting style, techniques, and desired effects. It’s important to explore and try out both sides to see which one works best for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find your own unique approach to using watercolor paper.

What should I consider when choosing the right side of watercolor paper?

When choosing the right side of watercolor paper, consider factors such as your painting technique, desired effects, and specific characteristics of the paper brand. Take the time to experiment and find what works best for you to achieve optimal results in your watercolor paintings.