A watercolour block is a pad of watercolour paper that has been glued on all 4 edges. There is usually a little break in the binding, either on a corner or at the middle of a side, so that when you have finished your work it is easy to insert a palette knife just under the edge of the top sheet and slice the page away from the block; the work is then ready for framing. Watercolour blocks are practical to use as they remove the need to stretch your paper before you paint – the paper may buckle as you work on it, as it absorbs more and more of the water and paint you apply to it, but when the water evaporates, the binding on the edges is still there to ensure that the sheet will dry flat and resume its original position. Watercolour blocks are most commonly available in not and hot pressed surfaces; not all manufacturers offer a rough block because the irregularity of the surface makes it more difficult to bind paper in this way.
What are the best watercolour blocks to use?
The highest quality pads are made of 100% cotton fibre paper – these include Arches Aquarelle, Fabriano Artistico, Saunders Waterford, Clairefontaine Fontaine, Hahnemuhle Cezanne, Jackson’s Eco Paper and The Langton Prestige. 100% cotton paper is made up of fibres that are longer, and more durable than wood-free cellulose fibres, and this means you can scrub the paper and saturate it in water knowing it will not get damaged as easily as lesser watercolour papers. The less expensive papers include Hahnemuhle’s Britannia, Andalucia, Anniversary, Veneto and Cornwall, Clairefontaine Etival, Jackson’s Watercolour blocks (green cover) and Winsor and Newton Cotman Blocks. These are all wood free, meaning that even though they are not as hardwearing as a cotton block, they are acid free and fully stable, so will not yellow over time. If you do not heavily scrub your work, or do not use very heavy watercolour washes, these blocks are suitable for painters from beginner to professional level, and are a fraction of the price.
Fabriano Artistico Extra White paper – all stable, artist quality watercolour papers need to be treated in a way that will not compromise this, and this includes the treatments used to whiten the paper. Until recently it has not been possible to bleach paper to a bright white. The extra white paper from Fabriano is one step closer to offering a bright white paper to professional painters; although it is not as white as inkjet printer paper it is noticeably whiter than the traditional shade. This has been possible through using a quantity of bleach that does not compromise the stability or durability of the paper. Some artists, in particular botanical painters, have welcomed the availability of whiter shades of watercolour paper such as Saunders Waterford High White Paper and Fabriano Artistico Extra White paper as the paler background allows the transparent colour applied to it to appear more luminous.
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