Hot Pressed (HP) paper is the most suited to botanical work because its smooth surface enables the artist to achieve the good clean edges for precion work. HP paper is manufactured using a glazing or sizing process which is traditionally applied via pressure applied through heated steel surfaces. Sizing is applied to the body of the paper and the surface as a gelatin. Therefore the level of sizing impacts on the papers level of absorbency.
The paper used should be of the best possible quality, 100% cotton rag papers are the best quality being made from the cotton linters ( rag was originally used in the process). Papers with wood pulp are more economically produced using chemically processed wood fibres. A mix is used in some papers. Any paper used for painting must be pH neutral ( acid free) for long term stability of colour and durability.
I've settled on Fabriano Artistico HP 140lbs, which I've been using for a few years now. Occasionally I use the 300lb version for larger pieces but I don't use a great deal of water so have no need for the heavier weight paper. It's generally recommended to use a heavier paper if you use a lot of water or stretch the paper. A few years back I used to use Schoellershammer 4G which is more suited to line and wash - it's a super smooth lovely surface perfect for clean crisp illustrations but very unforgiving to errors.. These days I like something a bit softer in appearance.
Fabriano 5 - 50% cotton rag and 50% wood pulp, acid free available in pads and sheets. I first tried this paper when the Society of Botanical Aritsts recommended it for the Diploma students. I absolutely hate this paper, it's my least favourite. I don't care for the surface it spoils easily in my opinion but lots of people love it, perhaps this is something to do with the fact that it's only 50% cotton - I'm not sure because it's supposed to have a hard sized finish which implies that it has good durability but maybe that glaze is thin and the internal sizing is not so good ( I don't really know to be honest). Most of all though I dislike the unnatural white colour and find it has a slightly blue look to it! Costs around £2.15 per imperial sheet.
Fabriano Artistico - 100% cotton, acid free. Available in imperial size sheets. This is pretty much still my favourite paper. Just the right amount of smoothness and absorbency for my style of working and a nice off white colour, tub sized which means it's fairly easy to lift paint. Available in the traditional white or extra white ( I've not tried extra white so can't comment but if you like that extra white look of the Fabriano 5 it's the way to go). Costs about £3.30 per sheet.
Arches Aquarelle HP - 100% cotton imperial size sheets and blocks. A very absorbent paper which makes lifting and shifting paint difficult. I don't mind this because I seldom lift paint but I many artists like to move their paint around a bit so it's worth a mention The surface is pretty robust though and doesn't spoil easily from overworking. One of the things that I have noticed is a variation in what are supposed to be the same paper in sheet and blocks form. I have used Arches HP blocks and found them to be too thirsty, acting more like blotting paper by sucking in the water and paint immediately. This put me off Arches but in the back of my mind I was sure I'd used it before in sheet form. So having recently purchased it again in sheet form it is indeed very different. I can only assume that there is a difference in the external sizing? or perhaps I had a bad batch from the block? Arches can vary slightly in colour too because the water used to wash the paper comes from the river and is muddy at certain times of year! I found the one I used most recently to be more of a bright off -white, more so than Fabriano Artistico but not so white as Fabriano 5 whereas in the past it's been nearer to a cream colour.I prefer this paper for drawing. I always draw on HP watercolour paper.
|On Arches, (loose sheet) bit of a dark photo, very clean edge but absorbs too much. I prefer it for drawing on because you can get great detail
|Drawing on Arches, block
The Langton Daler Rowney Extra Smooth HP pad, 100% cotton, acid free. Available in Pads and blocks. A lower cost paper I discovered this one last year and as far as pads go I like it! Lovely smooth surface, not too absorbent off white colour. 12 sheets rrp £14.50 for the pad. I use this for practise work rather than finished paintings. You can get a good clean finish on it.
|Preparatory work on Langton Extra smooth HP, apologies slightly dark photo but hopefully you can see it gives a sharp edge
Schoellershammer 4G. 100% cotton. A very smooth surfaced paper available in sheets 51 x 71 cm. Suitable for line and wash and dry brush illustration work that requires a slightly different approach. Only available in 115lbs weight is £2.82 per sheet (min order 5 sheets). Pretty nice white colour. They also manufacture exceptionally smooth board at £7.99 per sheet for line and wash illustration work.
|On Schoellershammer 4G, Good for illustration work. This is an old one!
Sennelier HP Imperial sheets 56 x76cm (21 x 29ins), 300gsm/140lb, Hot Pressed (NOT or Rough also available) 100% cotton, mould-made, acid-free and chlorine-free.
I used this paper during the SBA Diploma course and quite like it, could be a little smoother for me though but all in all a good paper easy to lift paint from. There were some supply issues with this paper and I've not been able to source the sheets very easily but have just found it at Heaton Cooper Studio for £3.95 per sheet. The pads only go up to 12 x16 inches which is a bit limiting but I would use it again if it was easier to find.
|Sennelier paper used in the old days of the SBA Diploma course, nice paper but hard to get, still not as good as Fabriano Artistico though.
Saunders Waterford HP 100% cotton, acid free. I used the 300lb imperial sheet and found it rather difficult to work on because it absorbs water very quickly and has a pretty rough almost sandpaper like surface which makes it difficult to get clean crisp edges. It also seems to dull the colour slightly. Having said all of that it give a softer finish, which having finished my painting I really like. It contains no optical brighteners which adds to it's stability. Quite cream in colour around £ 6.50 a sheet but also available in 200lb in high white. It's the only paper to carry the Royal Watercolour Society seal of approval. It's tub sized and is very robust and pretty easy to lift paint from. My initial reaction was that I'm not using this paper again! but now it's framed and on the wall I think I'll give it another go and maybe try the 200lb version. Again available from Heaton Cooper.
NOTE: I put some rough guides to prices, only really useful at this point in time but gives you an idea.
More to follow....when and if I get around to it!