Watercolour Painting – How Important Is Your Choice of Paper?

In collaboration with artist paper manufacturers St Cuthberts Mill, we have produced a series of films exploring the diverse medium of watercolour. During filming, we met with Catherine Frood, Marketing Executive at St Cuthberts Mill to discuss the importance of paper when watercolour painting.

How significant is an artist’s choice of paper when working in watercolours?

Paper is an intrinsic part of the creative process and can hugely affect the overall look and feel of a composition. Good quality paper that has been engineered specifically for watercolorists will work with the artist, not against, taking multiple washes, as well as abuse like scrubbing and scratching the paper’s surface without it breaking. A top quality paper will be archival, so if it’s correctly stored it won’t discolour or become brittle. A must if selling or wanting to preserve your works.

Artist Mandy Bonnell experiments on Saunders Waterford paper.
Artist Mandy Bonnell experiments on St Cuthberts Mill Saunders Waterford paper.

Could you talk us through the paper making process and why St Cuthberts Mill is so unique?

The craftsmen who make paper at St Cuthberts Mill are total perfectionists! We strive to only make the best paper. This comes from high quality pulps, which are mixed with the pure waters of the River Axe. Our papers are Mould Made, which means they are created on a very special (and old – ours is over 100 years old) paper machine. Even though a machine is used, it’s down to the skill of the actual papermakers creating the paper which determines the quality of the actual sheet. Mould Made papers have superior surface stability than standard Fourdrinier Made papers, making them ideal for artists. All our papers are inspected and our Saunders Waterford range is torn by hand to create four deckle edges. Every sheet receives the attention of numerous experts to make sure it’s flawless before leaving the mill.

Click here to see how St Cuthberts Mill make paper.

St Cuthberts Mill is renowned for its high quality artists papers (Bockingford, Saunders Waterford, Millford, Somerset). Are there any well known figures that use the paper?

Due to our papers having such a wide range of creative users, the list is endless really. Off the top of my head there is Hazel Soan, Jenny Wheatley, Lucy Willis, Danny Markey, Elizabeth Frink, Clifford Bayley, Tracey Emin, Roy Lichtenstein, Ann Blockley, Mike Chaplin, Carne Griffiths, Paul Talbot-Greaves, Mark Quinn, Peter Blake, Roy Lichtenstein, Damien Hirst, Inkie, Stephen Chambers, Varsha Bhatia. We are extremely privileged that our papers are so genuinely loved by artists, and we often receive messages stating this, which is deeply touching to know.

It was clear from filming how wide-ranging watercolour techniques are. For artists like Steve Burden who work in layers and use a vast amount of water, which paper type would you recommend?

For vast amounts of water a heavy weight paper, like our Saunders Waterford 638gsm or Bockingford 535gsm would be ideal. The heavier the paper the less movement there will be, regarding cockling and buckling. It is able to take a huge amount of abuse with layering of paint, so you can build up with thick layers of paint.

Artist Steve Burden applies a heavy wash to St Cuthberts Mill Saunders Waterford paper.
Artist Steve Burden applies a heavy wash to St Cuthberts Mill Saunders Waterford paper.

Watercolour is appealing to artists who work outdoors because it’s very transportable. What would be the best paper option for artists working in the great outdoors?

A watercolour block is ideal for plein air painting. The artist works directly onto the block. As the paper is glued on all four corners, when the painting dries the paper dries flat. A great tool, so you don’t need to lumber a heavy board with a soaked and stretched piece of paper into the field, and you can use the block directly on your lap. So with a small water container, a travel set of paints and a few favourite brushes, you can have a capsule painting set.
We have blocks in both the Saunders Waterford and Bockingford.

It must be fascinating to see the variety of works produced on St Cuthberts Mill papers. Do you have a personal favourite?

We all have our favourite artists and artwork at the mill, However, there’s a fantastic painting that hangs by my desk, which was given to me by a wonderful American artist called Leslie Frontz. The painting was a complete surprise and created after she discovered Saunders Waterford (which wasn’t widely known in the US at the time) and found it really suited her painting style. I had the privilege to meet her in London when she was exhibiting with the Society of Women Artists.

For more information about St Cuthberts Mill and where to purchase paper, visit

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