Sometimes, you CAN blame your tools.

I got caught up in an Instagram/YouTube rabbit hole the other day (YouTube rabbit holes: for more than just Nazi recruitment!) and ended up on this video about cheap vs. quality water color paper:

I’d been hearing forever that “Arches is the best! Just use Arches!” but a. that stuff is expensive, and b. they don’t really make sketchbooks, just loose sheets and block. And I had never really run across the explanation of what it is that makes a high quality watercolor paper, or why should care about that if you’re still in the “make a lot of crappy work” stage of making art. I knew about hot press (smooth) vs. cold press (rougher) paper, but beyond that, it was all kind of a mystery what makes one paper better than another.

TURNS OUT, the difference is wood pulp vs. cotton fiber. This video does a detailed comparison (seriously, it must have taken him most of a day to film) of different watercolor techniques across three wood pulp papers of varying quality vs. a 100% cotton sheet from Arches.

So I went back through my art supplies last night, and sure enough, the pads and books holding the pieces where I found the paint most frustrating to work with were the cheap wood pulp ones, and the pieces I liked best and found the paint easiest to work with on were on 100% cotton paper (not Arches, but still noticeably better than the others). So I guess that settles that. (The exception is my Stillman & Birn Beta series pocket-sized art journal in my portable kit- I can’t find anything about the paper composition in it, but I love it and will probably buy another one when this one runs out.)

The problem is, I’ve got this stack of cheap watercolor paper sitting here and it feels wasteful not to use it up. I’ll probably go way more experimental with those now.

Being still very much a beginner, I hate to sound like I’m blaming my tools, because if I were a more skilled artist, I could make crappy materials work better, if not ideally, but: There’s something validating about looking at the uneven color in some of my sketchbooks and comparing it with the much better color in the work on higher-quality paper and understanding which is a better reflection of my actual skill level.

A space of one’s own

Because my company is completely distributed, my primary workspace is at home. When I needed to select a permanent workspace in our home, for various reasons, the most sensible location was a corner of the front room of our house. I have our old dining room table (bought on consignment for the tiny dining area in our old condo- incalculable sentimental value) set up there as a desk, and have added shelving and drawer units and other accoutrements over time.

Since I also wanted some creative workspace where watercolor paintings could be left out to dry, this is also my art space.

This setup has advantages, but has proven to be a challenge for setting boundaries. My computer and monitor are kept right next to my paints and markers, paperwork to complete kept next to my sketchbooks.

I’m already someone with issues setting boundaries between work time and personal time (not because of external pressure to work all the time, but because I like my work and I find it engaging in a way that borders on hyperfocus), and the idea behind choosing analog hobbies like watercolor and hand lettering was to get away from screens all the time. But having all that work happening in the same space is not the most conducive.

Sunday afternoon art time

…while the husband and some play Mario Party in the other room. 😍

This is a kit from Let’s Make Art. They send you instructions, a reference image, watercolor paper, paints, an outline (where appropriate) and provide a YouTube tutorial so you can paint along.

There are things I’d like to be different about this painting, but I’m overall pretty pleased with the result.