In the 2nd part of our ‘History of a watercolourist’s materials’ we are going to look at the development of the artists’ paper, brushes and other tools.
Brushes and Other Tools
The brush of choice for a watercolourist was the Asiatic marten or Russian sable due to it’s fine hair which meant that it came readily to a point in the mouth, held a large amount of colour, and flexed against the surface of the paper. All in all a ‘sable’ watercolour brush provided it’s painter with a pliant, firm, and durable material for applying colour. The handles for watercolor brushes were first made from quills, and later, metal-ferruled wooden shafts.
Additional tools became common to watercolour painters during the nineteenth century, when “reductive” painting techniques flourished. These tools consisted of:
- scrapers, sandpaper, penknives, brush handles, or fingernails – used to remove dry or wet colour from the surface of the paper to create highlights
- sponges, brushes, bread crumbs, or bits of paper – used to blot watercolour washes and soften their intensity
The production of wove paper in the late eighteenth century laid the groundwork for future technical advances in watercolour painting. Earlier paper had retained the parallel laid lines of their paper-making molds, thereby causing wet watercolour washes to pool, whereas the wove paper exhibited virtually no impression of it’s fine, wire-mesh molds, allowing painters to apply smooth, precise washes of watercolour without interruption.
Wove paper appeared in a published book as early as 1767, and was immediately sought out by artists. By the 1780s, James Whatman had developed a wove paper ready-sized with gelatin for use with watercolours. Over the course of the nineteenth century, a staggering array of watercolour papers of various sizes, textures, and surfaces emerged to meet the expanding techniques of the medium and by 1850, the leading manufacturer Whatman offered papers with three distinct surfaces:
- “HP” (or “hot pressed”), suited to detailed subjects
- “Not” (or “not hot pressed”), suited to less precise work, and
- “Rough” (or “cold-pressed” or “unpressed”), suited to sketchy effects.
A fourth option, “Griffin Antiquarian,” produced in conjunction with Winsor & Newton, offered a very large sheet of extraordinary strength. The trend for extremely tough surfaces that could withstand great amounts of scrubbing, rinsing, and scraping continued through the nineteenth century, culminating in J. Barcham Green & Son’s “O.W.” paper, a gelatin sized pure linen board developed by the painter John William North in 1895, and certified by the Royal Watercolour Society.
To prevent thinner papers from ‘cockling’ when dampened by the application of watercolours, artists typically stretched them taut. Initially, they pasted or pinned the edges of a dampened sheet to an ordinary drawing board, but in later years, they clamped it to a commercially manufactured stretching board which were popular as they lent works-in-progress something of the aspect of a picture framed for exhibition.