Back when the Australian dollar was at parity with the US dollar, one of the American art supply retailers had some sort of ‘buy two, get one free’ deal on Arches watercolour blocks, and since I was putting in an order for a bunch of other stuff anyway, I picked up one of each; hot press, cold press and rough press.
You can buy Arches paper in pads or blocks, or in single sheets, and in various sizes and weights. It’s an off-white colour but it’s not as yellowish as some other watercolour papers I’ve tried. The rough paper has a nice, uneven texture that lends itself well to favoured watercolour techniques like dry-brushing, while the hot press paper is incredibly smooth. I feel like the hot press paper lends itself well to pen-and-ink style illustrations or works done in coloured pencil more than to straight watercolour paintings; while I know some artists do use hot press for their watercolour paintings, it is harder to layer paint without previous layers lifting.
I used the rough press paper in my first sample painting and used a number of techniques, including scrubbing and lifting and applying heavy washes. Even when I soaked the whole sheet, the 100% cotton paper hardly buckled; often on blocks the gummed edges prevent significant buckling but you usually still get some in the middle of the page, but Arches remained almost completely flat. It also didn’t pill or fall to bits when I had to scrub at an area where I’d made a mistake. Some watercolour papers can get damaged when you remove masking fluid from them – even if you’ve only left it on a short time – but I had masking fluid that had been on the paper for nearly two days and even though it was a pain in the backside to remove, it did not damage the paper at all.
My second sample painting was done on Arches hot press paper, and though it buckled quite severely when I applied heavy washes, it dried flat. It didn’t seem quite as robust when it came to scrubbing and lifting techniques and fixing mistakes, though, as when I took the masking fluid off the paper and painted the leaf, there was some pilling. As I mentioned above, I think it is more suitable for detailed, ultra-realistic work.
Arches is one of the most expensive watercolour papers I have come across, possibly even the most expensive, although you do get 20 sheets in a block (a lot of brands only give you 12 sheets in a block). That being said, you do get what you pay for, as Arches is a high quality paper.
Here’s a painting I did on Arches rough press paper…
And here’s one I did on Arches hot press paper.
If you like to do a lot of heavy washes or are tough on your watercolour paper, it’s worth trying out some Arches cold or rough press paper. Yes, it’s pretty dear compared to other watercolour papers, but it stands up well to a lot of abuse, and it’s just a joy to paint on. The hot press paper isn’t as sturdy but would still be good for those who do hyper-realistic drawing and paintings, or who also like to use pencils in their watercolour pieces. If you see it on sale, I’d recommend getting a pad or block of it to try.