Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Product Review: Millford Watercolour Paper - Part I

EDITED 19/07/16 - I have just found somewhere you can buy original Whatman watercolour papers - albeit antique sheets. I've not bought anything from them and know nothing about them but I just found it online - please post a comment if you know if they're a reliable person to buy from or not. Thanks.

As astute viewers or readers will note, I have reviewed recently the tinted Bockingford range (Review. Video.) from St Cuthbert's Mill. In amongst the same package of sample papers from St Cuthbert's Mill was a paper I'd never even heard of before - Millford Watercolour Paper. The notes in the package said it was designed to replace the discontinued Whatman Watercolour Paper, which ceased production in the 1980s. I was curious about this because we use Whatman filter paper, chromatography paper etc day in day out in my research laboratory. I've since done some reading, so here's a little history lesson for you!

The Whatman Paper History
Waaaaaay back, about 1750, Mr Whatman (or probably one of his staff) discovered a new way to make paper using a super-fine mesh that created a smooth paper without impressions from the mesh. This was the first of the modern printmaking papers - remember that back then, watercolour paper didn't really exist yet. Mr Whatman noticed that since the paper was lovely and smooth, he could impress things into the wet paper - like sheets of felt or hot metal rollers - to create pressed paper or rolled paper. These lead to the cold press and hot press papers we all know and love, though they were "printmaking paper" or "drawing paper" at that time. Sizing then started to be added and what Mr Whatman is usually credited with is the hard size - this being at the time made of gelatin cross-linked with aluminium potassium sulfate (potash alum aka alum) - alum connects gelatin chains together, making a gel that, when it dries out, is nice and hard and, importantly, holds back water for quite a long time. This was obviously popular with the watercolour painters of the day! Nowadays, there's a bit of an issue with potash alum with regard to archival properties - so synthetic sizes often get used, or are made with strong buffers to get the pH stable.

So what was modern Whatman paper?
As I understand it, it was a heavily sized, cotton-and-linen rag paper with a strong gelatin sizing both internally and surface sized too, which makes the paint float on the paper for a really long time. This means that:

  • Washes sit on the paper for a really long time before drying, so you can play with them for a long while.
  • Even staining-colours can be lifted because the sizing is so strong.
  • Because the paint sits on the surface and doesn't soak in, it retains full colour and has wonderful luminosity and glow.
How does Millford paper compare?
Millford only comes in 300gsm (140lb) cold-press paper in the form of Imperial, Half Imperial and Quarter Imperial sheets [US readers can buy it here], which is quite limiting. So I am told, St Cuthbert's Mill have actually obtained Whatman's recipe, so what they make is pretty similar, and it has really good reviews. 

I decided to compare it with all of my other papers in stock at the moment and with both granulating mineral-based paints and with light-stain and heavy-stain dye-based paints. This is what I'm going to test:
  • How long washes sit on the paper and how different they are when they dry.
  • How well the 3 different colour types lift, both immediately and after drying totally.
  • How the paper responds to masking fluid (heavy sizing should making this easy to remove and use).
I'll be posting a video and blog post of my findings tomorrow!

1 comment:

  1. I buy lots of aluminum wire from Whimsy, I think they are great, I would trust them, but I have never bought watercolor paper from them.

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