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Using Black Watercolour Paper

As watercolour artists, we are trained to use the white of the paper for our highlights and we learn to build up a painting from light to dark. Watercolours are mostly transparent which makes this possible and unique from other media. Building up layers of subtle glazes is my preferred way to create a painting in watercolour. 

But have you ever used black watercolour paper? This new product flips that way of thinking this right on its head. Instead you are building up the lights of your painting and letting the shadows show through the layers. It definitely takes som getting used to. 

This was my first time trying it, myself and I am loving the results! So here's what you need to know about trying it out yourself.  

Paper review

The paper I used is Stonehenge Aqua Black Watercolour Paper made by Legion Paper, an American company. I bought mine at my local Curry's Art Store.  It comes in pads of a few sizes, I bought the 8 x 10 size and cut it down into small pieces to make tests and samples. The paper is high quality, 100 percent cotton, acid free and cold press it is "sized" that means prepared for use with watercolour and wet media. It comes in 140 lb. an 300 lb. 

What watercolours do you use?

It works best with opaque watercolours, gouache and metallic watercolours. I've used it with my white gouache, Derwent Inktense Metallic Paint colours and a variety of watercolours I have in my studio. I have a youtube video above swatching these out. 

How do you tell if your watercolours will work on black paper? 

Watercolours are generally considered to be transparent, but not all watercolours are created equal.  Different colours are made up of different pigments which each have their own properties. Specific colours are described as "Transparent, Semi-transparent or Opaque." Colours such as Yellow Ochre and Cobalt Teal are examples of colours that are more opaque. You can find information about the specific qualities individual colours on the brands websites. For black watercolour paper, you will want colours that are listed as semi-transparent or opaque. 

The easiest way to find what colours are opaque is to break out your palette and start testing the colours you already have. 

If you want to test the opacity, without black watercolour paper, you can test your paints using a black waterproof pen, like a sharpie. Draw a thick line on your regular watercolour paper, and paint over it with a variety of different paints. A paint will be opaque, if that black line becomes milky or chalky. Try Lavender, Cobalt Teal, Yellow Ochre, Indian Red, Horizon Blue to start. 

Colours that contain white pigments in them are often opaque (colours are often made of more than one pigment). These colours often look more pastel and soft. Think about Lavender or Naples Yellow for example. You can find out if there is a white pigment in your paint by checking your paint's pigment numbers. These are found on the brand's website but are often labelled directly on the tubes. Look for colours starting with PW. (P for Pigment, W for White) For example, my tube of Horizon Blue from Holbein contains PB15, PG7 and PW6. This tells me it is made of blue, green and white pigments. 

Try using gouache

Gouache is opaque watercolour and if you love these effects, you should try it! You can even mix it with your regular watercolours to make them more opaque. I love Holbein's Artists Gouache and I use their permanent white gouache often. It is great to have in the studio to reclaim and add highlights to paintings on white paper as well. 

What techniques work best?

I've tried wet in wet and wet on dry and from what I can see, most techniques will work on this paper. It takes some getting use to and you have to really saturate your colours. They tend to build up on top of the paper, so paintings using many glazes might be more of a challenge. So far, I've found it is best for simple, stylistic paintings like these floral doodles.


 Have you tried Black Watercolour Paper? If you did, let me know what colours you have tried in the comments below. 

I think there are so many possibilities and I am excited to experiment more. 


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