In celebration of the Worldwide day of Botanical Art, we thought we’d share the thoughts of some leading botanical artists on Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress as a suitable paper for botanical illustration. Hear from Margaret Fitzpatrick, Christine Battle and Lizzie Harper, whether they feel Stonehenge Aqua lives up to the qualities of the old Fabriano 5 and whether it has the crispness, vibrancy and working stamina they need in a paper.
Margaret Fitzpatrick’s rigorous testing on Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress Sample Pad
I was delighted to be asked by Jacksons to trial the Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress paper. I have a number of criteria that I require in a paper for it to perform well and produce the results I require for my work.
I prepared a number of tests using some Winsor and Newton (WN) and some Grahams (G) watercolours to examine the aspects which are important for my work.
These aspects are:
- To be able to lay even washes;
- To be able to lay graded washes;
- To be able to lift the paint from the paper;
- To get crisp sharp edges and fine lines;
- To lay glazes one over the other.
My findings were as follows.
1. To lay an even wash
I used 6 different colours: Cadmium Lemon (WN); Cadmium Yellow (WN); Cadmium Scarlet (WN); Permanent Aliizarin (WN); Cerulean Blue (WN); and, Ultramarine Blue (G).
I found the paper allowed for an even wash with all of the colours
2. To lay a graduated tone
I used the same six colours for this test.
I found the paper allowed for a graduated wash with all of the colours.
3. To be able to lift the paint from the paper
Again, I used the same six colours for this test.
I found the paper allowed for the paint to lift completely, which is important for details in botanical work.
4. To get crisp sharp edges and fine lines
Once again, I used the same six colours with the addition of a mix of blue and yellow to produce a mixed green and I trialled permanent rose.
I found all the colours produced sharp clean and fine lines on the paper with no bleeding of edges.
5. Lay Glazes one over the other
I painted a block of three colours; Cadmium Yellow (WN); Cadmium Scarlet (WN); and Permanent Rose (WN).
I then glazed over each of these colours with two blues: Cerulean Blue(WN) and Ultramarine Blue (G).
I found the glazes remained fresh and I was able to lay the glazes over the previous paint with the first colour remaining in place and not shifting with the application of the second layer.
As a further test, using all of the above techniques, I painted three trial subjects.
I found the paper performed well and produced excellent results. The colours remained bright and vibrant, the edges were crisp and there was no bleeding of colour.
I was able to lift out highlights and veins which is a key part of the way I work to get the required detail. The paper performed well throughout the tests from the initial washes to the final dry brush detail.
As a result of this trial, I found the Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress paper performs well and suits my style of botanical painting. For me it would be an excellent replacement for the Fabriano 5 which is no longer available.
To see more of Margaret Fitzpatrick’s stunning, detailed work please visit her website.
Christine Battle’s Diary of Testing Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress
Monday 19th March
I opened the packet from Jackson’s Art this morning and had a look at the different weights and textures of paper.
First impressions – the colour is good, compatible with both Fabriano Artistico and Canson Moulin du Roy (which I switched to when Fabriano changed their manufacturing process). I only ever use hot press and the heavier the better, so will try the Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress 275lb first. Having said that I also liked the feel of the 300lb Coldpress – maybe an experiment?
The smoothness of the Hotpress is very good and I was much relieved to observe no sign of machine milling on the surface (it can look like the cross-hatching of a fine fabric weave – not nice to paint on as the colour tends to collect in the tiny squares.)
I currently have a very small commission for some sweet peas, which will be ideal for the sample of 275lb Hotpress. It won’t be a very “botanical” botanical painting because it’s the wrong time of year for sweet peas.
Also, the paper sample is quite small so I think my composition will have to be a bit creative … maybe with the flowers trailing off the bottom of the page. Not much space for the usual botanical details; seed pods, flower parts, leaves, etc. I’ve fortunately got a few reference photos on my computer, which should help.
Monday 26th March
I’m working from this photo – in the end none of my images were quite right, so I bought this one from Alamy. They tend to do a good price for artists.
I’ve prepared the paper – using the heavier weight I didn’t need to stretch it, but I find it’s easier to handle a small piece if I stick it down onto a backing board. I use low-tack masking tape from an architect’s supplier.
Tuesday 27th March
I’m a bit worried that some of the surface has lifted off where I stuck a piece of low-tack to keep the tracing paper in place while I transferred my sketch. Hopefully I can burnish it before painting that area.
Thursday 29th March
The drawing is now complete and I’ll start applying the colour next. My pencil marks lift off quite easily with a putty rubber, which is good news.
Friday 30th March
The moment of truth. My initial wet washes make the paper go a bit ‘woolly’ which worried me at first, but if I’m careful not to go over the same area twice while it’s still wet the paper tends to settle down again.
The more layers I add, the better the paint handles on this paper. I think it will be able to take a lot of pigment. But we’ll see – different colours react so differently. The purple I’m using is W&N Winsor Violet, which always goes down well whatever the paper. Greens can be a bit tricky, depending on the mix. I don’t think I’ll start painting the stems and leaves till I’ve finished the flowers.
Lifting colour off is not quite as easy on this paper, probably due to the slight softness of the surface. I’m used to a very crisp, smooth glazed finish on my Canson HP, which makes it so easy to correct mistakes.
One other thing – again the slight softness, almost fibrous, finish makes it harder to get a clean line with the initial washes. Not a problem so far, I just have to remember to go over the edges with a small sharp brush while the wash is still wet.
Monday 16th April
This paper and I do not get on. It is unforgiving of my style of working, and is stubborn about accepting fine lines layered over washes. The petals of my sweet pea become rough after the application of two or three washes; trying to add very fine veins (without snags) to the petals afterwards is therefore very difficult. Also, I just can’t seem to get the petals to glow. The layers of paint become muddy if I’m not careful. Gave up after 1.5 fruitless hours.
Sunday 22nd April
Fiddled around all week trying to get the depth of colour on the petals I wanted, without at the same time roughing up the paper too much. Mixed results, but the flower petals are now finally finished – or as “finished” as I feel they can be. Not completely successful but not quite as bad as I thought on Monday.
Tuesday 1st May
Took a few days off from this painting while I finished off an urgent commission for the Horatio’s Garden silent auction on 24th May. Hoped this morning when I got back to it that the sweet pea would go better; I’ve finished the really tricky bit – the translucent petals – and all I have to do now are the leaves and stems.
But having worked for the past few days on Arches, going back to this paper was difficult. I think it just doesn’t have a robust enough surface to handle my dry brush technique. Other artists who can work in a looser, wetter style will probably really like it. It’s so hard to get a fine, clear line and now that I’m working on the stems I’m struggling to get a clean edge.
Tuesday 8th May
Finished! What a struggle… This paper is not for me! (See close-up of surface of paper after handling it for a month.)
Christine Battle’s finished Sweetpea Illustration:
To find out more about Christine Battle and view her accomplished illustrations please visit her website here.
Lizzie Harper’s testing of Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress
As I’ve said before, I want to stress the fact that everyone paints in a different way and feels differently about the paper they work on, so what works for me may be disastrous for you and what is dreamy for you might be hopeless when I try to paint on it.
Saying that, I’m feeling quite cheerful about the first paper, the Stonehenge Aqua. I chose to paint a foxglove from the garden. The paper feels smooth and hard, and takes graphite well. The pencil does seem to bite hard into the page, and there are dents left after rubbing out.
The watercolour sits nicely on the page. It doesn’t seem to bleed, and when you pop washes on top of areas of detail (the way I work) the detail doesn’t move. The paint is mobile in response to the brush but doesn’t clog or bleed, even if several layers of detail are applied.
Big areas of light wash work well, you can move the paint around as it doesn’t instantly stain the page. It blots well, allowing you to lift the colour without compromising the paper surface.
Under the microscope, you can see there’s almost no bleeding of colour.
Even closer, you can see that each fibre is quite short and flat to the paper. Even at this magnification you can see how little bleed there is. However, the paper looks a bit soft and cottony, perhaps this is why some of the vibrancy of colour seemed to be swallowed up?
In fact, this is my only criticism of Stonehenge; it seems to swallow some of the density of the colour. I painted as I normally do with bright colour, and the finished piece has a pastel-like and soft feel to it. The edges are crisp, but the hues are gentler than I applied.
However, it’s definitely worth working with a little more, I’m adding it to my stable of Arches and Moulin du Roy as a potential replacement for the much-missed Fabriano. To me, it felt similar to Arches HP although a touch less prone to bleeding, and a little easier to move paint around on.
Stonehenge Aqua is a beautifully smooth hot press watercolour paper, and perfect for watercolour work requiring a paper that holds edges crisply but can also take repeated layering of wet and dry paint. It also is truthful to the vibrancy of colours used, and feels good to work on. Much of my work is botanical, but this Robin was done on Stonehenge Aqua, and any issues I have with the finished painting are to do with me, not the gorgeous paper!