"Right Side" is probably the wrong term but that is what many of us use when we search online for instructions on which side of a watercolor paper roll is intended to be painted on. There is actually no right or wrong side to paint on. Today's watercolor paper is designed so that both the front and the back surfaces may be used for painting. One side usually comes smoother or rougher than the other. There is only the matter of preference. My paper of choice is Arches 140lb cold pressed and I usually pick the side that looks rougher (the side facing inwards) because it has mild properties of a rough paper but still maintains the subtlety of the cold pressed paper. Never had a problem with it until I opened a new paper roll.
I was painting plumerias when I noticed something was odd about how my paint applications were behaving. When I do a more watery wash, the boundaries of it started running in a linear pattern. I was having a bit of trouble keeping my edges defined and my background was also getting this linear pattern to it no matter how carefully I lay down my washes. I thought I may have received a defective paper. I continued the rest of the painting using dry brush just to see if that could be a possible solution for salvaging the rest of the new paper roll. At the same time, I was searching online if others were having the same problem with new paper rolls. If it proves to be a batch problem, then there might be hope for a product recall and replacement. I learned a lot by just reading through the complaints and how the paper maker's company addressed them. Turns out, sometimes when the felt for the roll presses for the machines are new, they may leave behind a more rougher surface. This is the reason why some cold pressed watercolor paper may appear rougher than normal. I wish I took note of all the sites I have been directed to. But two sites stood out that I found most helpful in making me realize what the real problem was. I will provide the links at the end of this article under recommended readings.
It was seeing the screen pictures at BruceMacEvoy's handprint.com site that was my first Aha! moment. The linear marks on my painting could be explained by it. After I read the article, I felt very very enlightened.
Now I get why the paint was behaving that way. I have been painting on the wire side all along. Not only am I getting the impressions from the felt, but also the linear impressions from the wire. I don't have a defective paper after all. But I'm probably being incoherent jumping to the conclusion like that when I'm supposed to be making the explanation easier to follow. Let me walk you through my epiphanies, thanks to all the online help:
Your basic ingredient when making watercolor paper is plant cellulose. It undergoes mechanical and chemical treatment that results into it being made into pulp. Paper pulp, which comes suspended in water, is shaped into sheets by the use of molds (whether the process is handmade or machine-made). Paper molds are like flat rectangular strainers that drain the water that come with the pulp mixture. The cellulose fibers left behind are allowed to settle and adhere to each other. That is how you get the shape of the sheet. There is still water within this cellulose fibers and so either they are allowed to dry by themselves or rollers are used to squeeze the water out and hasten the drying process. The surface that is facing the mold is called the wire side. The surface settling against this side will acquire the texture of the wire. Which is why if air-drying is used, the side facing the wire is still the rougher of the two surfaces. The settling of the fibers into the mold impresses the texture of the wire or screen into that surface of the paper. When the roller method is used, the mold with the pulp is sandwiched between two felt sheets before it gets pressed by the rollers. The wire side now gets its texture not only from the wire but also from the felt sheet it comes in contact with. The opposite surface, the side that gets in contact with only the felt acquires the descriptive name the felt side. The newer the felt, the more pronounced the texture it impresses on contact. Because the felt side receives texture only from the felt, it would appear textured but will appear to be much smoother compared to the wire side. The side facing inwards of a watercolor paper roll is the wire side. The side facing outward is the felt side. If you've pre-cut the paper and are now confused as to which side is facing inwards or outwards, Char's advice would come in very handy. To determine if the felt side is the side that is up, check the corners. If they are angling down, you have the felt side up.
Instead of using "right" side as our search word, we should have been using the terms, felt side or wire side. As both side is usable, you cannot go wrong. As for me and the linear spread, after a little water loading adjustment, I got my control back. I like how the finished painting turned out.
Pink Plumerias, Blue Background
10 x 13.5 inches
Collection of Maureen Pascual, U.S.A.
Thank you also to Mr. Bruce MacEvoy for creating handprint.com and for sharing what he knows. Very nice fellow and he does answer his own emails as said in the main page of handprint.com. Thank you, sir. Highly recommended readings for those who wish to understand watercolor and the other materials you will be handling when you work with the medium.
Bruce MacEvoy's handprint.com site
Also got a tip from one of the coolest artists that I am following, Mr. Nicholas Simmons: "I've been buying rolls for years, no problem with either side. Work larger and small defects won't matter." *
A very wise observation. Probably, the clue to very passionate paintings. You can concentrate more on expression if you do not get too caught up with particulars. Thank you, sir.
The links to his latest art and book projects can be found in his blog. nicholassimmons.blogspot.com
* Reposted from his comment to me on facebook.
Also, don't miss out on his video, Innovative Watermedia. Out now.
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