Leanne Reilly talks about watercolour paper


Leanne Reilly, the smile behind the counter at Musgrave Art has been advising and guiding artists for quite some time. Hailing from Rathmines, Lake Macquarie NSW, she worked for 7 years in orthodontics on the Gold Coast before being introduced to the art world when she joined Brad in his family business – Musgrave Art.

Musgrave Art has been in operation for 35 years, originally supplying architectural and graphic materials from it’s home in Musgrave St, Chirn Park (hence the name).

Eric hamming it up for the camera

The range of supplies and location has changed since then, and the quality of service and information has become richer and more diverse over time. Leanne’s inquiring mind is a steel trap and all the information imparted to her by artists is absorbed and enthusiastically shared. How she retains this knowledge baffles me. Not satisfied with hearsay and feedback, she also spends considerable time researching – both for herself and for customers with challenging questions. Her resources are expansive, being able to contact major suppliers and find out in great detail about particular products and their capabilities. In fact, I’m going to take a gamble here and say, there’s nothing Leanne doesn’t know or can’t find out about art materials.

But there’s more to Leanne, than just dispensing materials – she also spends what spare time she can sketching and carving. We’d like to introduce you to the gorgeous and intricate Eric, who she carved out of soapstone.

Watercolour paper

A month or so ago, I decided to take an adventure into watercolour land, and naturally Leanne set me straight on the correct pigments to look out for and understanding the density and opacity of the various watercolour products available and how they sat on the paper. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to rummage through Leanne’s amazing mind and learn more about watercolour paper.

What makes watercolour papers different to regular paper?

Because watercolour is loaded with water, a paper that absorbs less rather than more is required. If you use a paper that is too absorbent, the water is rapidly sucked away from the pigment, leaving it to sit on top of the sheet losing it’s binding agent in the absorption process. This means the pigment may flake off.

A good quality water paper will be ‘sized’ so that the liquid will soak in enough for the paint to stay in place, however will not absorb too rapidly and cause flaking.

What are the different types of watercolour paper?

Watercolour paper comes in several different weights to suit different preferences. Heavier papers can accept heavier washes without cockling. Lightweight papers should be stretched before use.

Watercolour paper’s surface texture varies too. There are different names for these types of treatment because of the processes that are used to create them, but basically they fall into three categories. Smooth (hot pressed), medium (cold pressed) and rough.

Watercolour paper can be machine-made or mould-made – the quality of paper is reflected by this. Machine-made tends to distort and is less resistant to deterioration. Mould-made papers are highly durable and have a handmade look.

What is watercolour paper made from?

Watercolour paper can be made from either cotton fibres or cellulose from wood pulp. Cotton fibre paper is by far superior with greater stability and durability as well as absorbent qualities that are suited to watercolour use.

Which side of the watercolour paper should be used?

When using a cheaper cellulose paper it is preferable to just work on the side where the watermark reads correctly. These papers tend to be sized on the one side.

A good quality cotton fibre paper can be worked on from either side. It is also incredibly stable and may be worked and reworked without causing damage to the integrity of the paper. The sizing has a lot to do with this. High quality paper that has been sized thoroughly such as Arches can handle multiple washes of colour, masking fluid, scrubbing and tape without damaging the surface.

Does watercolour paper only come in sheets?

Watercolour sheets come in a range of sizes, the most popular being 570mm x 760mm. For the more ambitious of you, there are also large rolls up to 1,500mm wide available.

Do watercolour papers deteriorate?

Surprisingly they do lose some of their workability as they get older. Unfortunately it’s nearly impossible to tell if there’s a problem until work commences. If you find your work is not responding or behaving in a way you expect, there’s a good chance it’s an older sheet and may need to be discarded or recycled for another use.

Watercolour paper rundown in more detail

Machine-made: less expensive but prone to distort when wet and less resistant to deterioration.

Mould-made: highly durable and less prone to distortion. Handmade look.


    • Rough: heavy texture, embossed during the sheet drying process

    • ‘Not’ or Cold Pressed: a rough textured sheet that has been pressed to remove some of the roughness. Adds brightness to watercolour paintings because of it’s increased surface area holds more colour pigment and reflects more light.

    • Hot Pressed or Smooth: heat treated and pressed to remove all texture. Excellent for detail and precision work, where line and form control is required.

    Weight: Generally measured in grams per (gsm). 185gsm (lightweight), 300gsm (medium) and 640gms (heavy).

    Rag Content: Refers to cotton content. 100% rag is 100% cotton. Dates back when old rags were used in paper mills. Today the cotton used in paper making comes directly from the plant and is called cotton linters.

    Sizing: A treatment that reduces the absorbency of the paper. Can be ‘internally’ and ‘externally’ sized. Internally sized paper reduces the absorbency of the fibre itself by chemically bonding to it. Externally sized paper has a layer of gelatine on the surface which enables the watercolour film to sit on the surface and enabling it to be sponged off.

    Where to find out more

    Visit or ring Leanne at Musgrave Art if you have a question relating to art materials and processes and she’ll either have the answer or know where to source it for you!

    Phone 07 5531 4010
    Musgrave Art Southport Trade Centre
    3-15 Jackman St, Southport 4215
    Monday to Friday 8.30am-5pm Thursday 8.30am-6pm Saturday 9am-12.30pm