Painting with watercolors without damaging the paper

Reader Question: Can you explain how to paint with watercolors without damaging the paper?

The damage that can be done to watercolor paper depends on what kinds of techniques you like to use. If you like to implement heavy washes and perform rough rubbing, scraping and blending techniques on the paper, you should take note of these things you can do to avoid damaging your paper when you are painting with watercolors:  

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You don't need to prepare a watercolor canvas in any special way (such as washing it off) before using it. As soon as you unwrap the watercolor canvas from its plastic wrap, you can go ahead and start painting on it with your watercolors.

  1. To start with, be sure to use good quality watercolor paper. Watercolor paper that is listed as "Artist Quality" is better than the papers labeled "Student Quality". My favorite watercolor papers are by Fabriano and Arches. Artist quality paper can vary, so make sure you buy heavy paper (300lb is good) made from 100% cotton fibers (sometimes called rag paper). This paper will be strong enough to withstand a lot of rubbing and scraping. Paper that isn't heavy enough will also have a tendency to buckle, bend and warp when the paints are added. You can buy student quality paper that meets these requirements, but it's usually lighter and made with cheaper fibers. You can learn more about watercolor paper here.
  2. When you start the painting, try not to apply too much paint to any one area. If you overload part of the paper with paint, then decide to re-wet it and rub it out and try over again, there can be a danger of damaging the paper. Start your painting slowly and carefully to avoid adding too much paint at once.
  3. Try not to rub your paintbrush into the paper too much or too hard. When you do this, the hairs of the brush will rub off the fibers on the paper, causing noticeable damage. Always approach your watercolor painting with a light touch to avoid damage caused by the brush.

Hope that helps, and best of luck with your watercolor paintings!

Learn more about Watercolor Painting.