Monday, January 13, 2014

Burnishing Watercolour Paper

                                         Paeonia lactiflora 'Adolphe Rousseau'
                                         Coral Guest 2013
                                         private collection

The use of paper and its historic development is a subject that has always been of great interest to me. Large sheets of watercolour paper made by Fabriano and T H Saunders have allowed me to paint tall herbaceous perennials life size. I sometimes wonder how Albrecht Dűrer would have reacted to these large sheets of paper had they been available to him in the 16th century. This paper would have enabled him to paint his Irises without having to glue two pieces of paper together to obtain a large enough surface area. I have been asked to reveal how I used some Not surface paper for the often seen Iris 'Superstition' and Lilium regale. So here is the official explanation:

The paper used is:
T H Saunders Watercolour Paper
Not Surface
640gms weight
Paper Dimensions: 101.6 x 152.4cm / 40 x 60ins

I chose this paper because of its size and its very heavy weight, which creates an extremely stable artwork. The size of the paper allows the depiction of a life size image of the whole of a tall flowering plant, including the inflorescence, stem, foliage, and root storage - on the one single sheet of paper.

However, this paper is not available in a Hot Pressed surface. The surface of Watercolour Paper can be either Rough, Not, or Hot Pressed. Hot Pressed paper is the smoothest surface of paper and the type required for detailed work in watercolour. I chose the large sheets of T H Saunders paper because it is the only one currently available in this size and weight. However, the lack of a smooth surface posed a problem, and there is no paper available that possesses all three qualities of size, weight, and smoothness. 

I initially experimented with this paper without success. I was not able to paint fine details because the surface was not smooth enough. After several months of trial and error, I went into my studio one morning and the months of failure dissolved into inspiration - I picked up an etching burnishing tool and burnished a piece of the paper. As a result the paper was rendered smooth enough to allow detail to be painted onto it. 

The above image is a much enlarged detail of a watercolour of a peony, painted on burnished paper. The unpainted area to the right is not burnished. I simply burnish the area to be painted after it is drawn out in pencil.

Lighter weights of 300gms paper with a Hot Pressed surface have long been available on rolls. I have found them to be occasionally inclined to buckle when used with watercolour on a very large piece that is too large to be stretched. 

Set-up costs for paper production are an expensive investment, but it is my hope that T H Saunders will one day produce this large size and weight of paper in a Hot Pressed surface, and in the mean time I shall continue with the burnishing.