Thursday, March 17, 2016

Fabriano, R K Burt and St Cuthberts Mill - and fine art watercolour paper for precision painting

The HP surfaces of Fabriano Artistico and Fabriano 5 have changed. (The latter being the paper which is used in the RKB FatPad) .

A number of botanical watercolour artists have recently reported that they have noticed changes to the robustness and performance of the surface of their Hot Press paper from Fabriano. This was also reported by Jacksons in its recent blog post Fabriano 5 Paper Texture Change.

The explanation seems to be mechanical. Fabriano Paper Mills have won a contract to produce a new paper. This means they've changed the settings on the machine which produces the new paper AND the fine art watercolour papers

While such a change in machine settings is very unlikely to be noticed by those using Rough or Not surfaces - this is not the case for those using Hot Press paper. When you are an artist who's looking for the smoothest watercolour paper known to Botanical Artists, there's more than a few who can easily detect any difference in quality very quickly!

However I am beginning to wonder if it is solely the change in the machine setting that is behind the problems being experienced....

About Fabriano Watercolour Paper 


Below are some examples of comments that botanical artists have been making. I'm not going to identify the artists other than to say these are people:
  • who care hugely about the HP surfaces they use as it makes a massive difference to the very precise paintings they produce
  • who are very experienced watercolour painters, who have been painting in the exact same way for some time. When using their own particular techniques they spot very quickly when a paper has changed.
  • who do not make things up!  
  • who return paper or stop buying it when it does not perform as per usual!

About the Artistico


The paper is mould made with 100% cotton, chlorine and acid free and archival. It is sized both internally and externally. It comes in two colours Traditional White (an ivory shade) and Extra White (white with a very pale cream tint) which are both made without any optical bleaching. It has two deckle edges and is watermarked “FABRIANO+ARTISTICO” on the short side.

It's available as both sheets (56 x 76cm and 75 x 105cm)  and and as glued blocks.

My pad of Fabriano Artistico HP Extra White 140lb
Recent comments from artists have included:
I always use both the light (140lb) and heavy (300lb) and have had the same problem, in fact I have returned some of the heavy to the importer. I found an old batch and it was beautifully smooth but the latest purchase is fluffy and although I can work it ok it is not as nice and damages easily. I think they have made a huge dodgy batch and sent it out so I will be checking it thoroughly from now on. (December 2015 - user of both weights of Artistico)
I'm having terrible trouble with the 'new' Fabriano paper and looking for an alternative heavy weight paper that's as smooth as the old stuff. (March 2016 - user of 300lb / 640gsm2 paper)

About the Fabiano 5 (also used in the RKB FatPad)

RKB FatPad - Fabriano Classico 5
The paper is mould made, acid free and comprises 50% cotton and 50% other raw material.
I have always used Fabriano fat pad 140 lb and recently I have found that if I have to wash anything out I have to be so careful as the surface of the paper just breaks up .... I actually had to abandon 1 painting when just taking highlights out of leaves. It looked as though I'd been scrubbing at it for hours. It never used to be like that. (December 2015)
I've found" BITS "coming off the surface &! Only using the first layer of paint & not very wet either (February 2016)

About the complaints


Adverse comments and complaints are tending to come from those who have bought in new stock in the last few months. Obviously those artists who are still working off 'old stock' or buying from suppliers still holding 'old stock' will not yet have noticed a difference.


What the artists appear to be consistently complaining about is the surface breaking up and becoming fluffy - which is inimical with the carefully judged lifting out and sharp edges used by expert watercolour painters. Others have commented on a strange texture which they can feel with their fingers

When they say the surface is not smooth, their comments suggest that it does not remain consistently smooth or stable when WET and used for watercolour painting.

In other words in any quality assessment of the smoothness and stability of a surface for watercolour painters this MUST be tested when wet as well as when dry - and with paint being used on the surface.

From a non-expert perspective, to me the comments suggests that, rather than a machine setting change, it may be an issue related to

I'm unclear whether any of these have also changed. I'm making this suggestion because it's always seemed to me that the differences between watercolour papers in terms of absorbency and how the surface breaks up are almost always down to the size and the materials used to make the paper. The smoothness is a mechanical process which is down to a combination of the machine used and any coating.

I've had a long email conversation with a representative of Fabriano in which I asked them for an official comment on the changes which artists are noticing but the company have declined to provide one. I recognise however that they have a commitment to quality and to understanding better why artists are noticing performance issues not detected in the factory.

Wholesale paper supply - and the role of R K Burt


Many of you will not be aware of R K Burt. That's because they don't sell paper direct to you.

R K Burt are the wholesale distributors of very many quality art papers to the retail suppliers of fine art paper in the UK. These are the people who negotiate with the paper manufacturers and then supply the retailers that you buy from. They don't have a shopfront and they also work on the basis of minimum order requirements.

Interestingly R K Burt were the people who persuaded Fabriano to reintroduce the Fabriano Classico 5 paper after it was discontinued some years back. This is a paper much loved in the UK - maybe because of its use in the RKB FatPad.

R K Burt also acts as a spokesman for quality control! Their representative has recently been doing a stirling job highlighting the issues raised by artists about the quality of surface of Fabriano paper direct with the manufacturers - with a view to getting them resolved.

After discussions with Fabriano and no resolution of the issue to date, R K Burt was keen to keep artists supplied with the paper they want, which is one of the reasons why we have....

Two new papers from St. Cuthberts Mill


St. Cuthberts Mill (who produce Saunders Waterford and Bockingford) have also recently changed their machine technology

They've also come up with two new papers.

Subject to testing of sample sheets by the exacting standards of botanical artists - and any subsequent refinement required - it may well be that these are the papers that can meet the requirements for a paper which will deliver what is required in terms of surface performance.

So the new two new papers are:
  • Saunders Waterford NEW Improved Hot Press - 
    • This is HP | "High White" | 300 gsm2 / 140 lbs. It's 100% cotton, mould made, gelatine surface sized, acid free and archival. (I assume a 300lb / 640 gsm2 paper will also be available in due course). The "High White" sample I have is also the exact same colour as Fabriano Artistico Extra White. 
    • They are also producing a version called "White"
    • My understanding is that the revised paper involves a change of size such that the paint does not sink into the paper as happened with the previous soft sized paper. (Soft size is great if you need to merge and blur and useless if you need a very sharp edge!)
  • Botanical Ultra Smooth is 50% cotton and is (I think) a smoother version of Fabriano 5. 
Interestingly although it doesn't show it in this scan, the Botanical Ultra Smooth is actually whiter and smoother than the new SW HP paper.


If you want to try the new papers you just need to contact R K Burt.
  • Phone: +44 (0)20 7407 6474
  • Email: sales@rkburt.co.uk
I understand RK Burt is also making samples available at the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists in April - so if you want to wait until then...

Feedback is essential


It's absolutely ESSENTIAL for those producing fine art paper that they understand the artists' experience - and factors in use (i.e. when wet - and when paint is being pushed around) that can't always be measured by a machine in a factory on dry paper.  

The important thing now is for all artists using EITHER Fabriano OR the new two new papers from St Cuthberts Mill to feed back about their experience of using the paper to R K Burt and/or either of the two manufacturers.

A number of artists have already been provided with samples of the new papers and are already feeding back on what the paper is like to use to the suppliers.  (I've already given feedback about the use of the SW HP paper with pen and ink and coloured pencils)

Comments are best supplied stating:
  • paper used - and weight
  • a description of the type of use eg wet on wet; dry brush etc.
  • copy of the resulting image describing/demonstrating good and bad aspects e.g. any problem experienced
Do you have any comments?

I'm convinced that any problems faced at present will be resolved in due course. Hopefully sooner rather than later!
Which manufacturer stands to benefit will, of course, depend on who produces the quality of paper that the majority of botanical artists - and others doing fine detailed work - demand.

9 comments:

Nicole Kretzschmar said...

I'm curious as to why you haven't mentioned Arches HP as an alternative? It's an excellent paper - although more expensive than Fabriano, and comes in 300 & 640gsm.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

There are all manner of other Hot Press Papers by very many paper manufacturers. They all have their own individiual characteristics and some suit some techniques/artists and not others.

Arches is actually a very different sort of HP paper when compared to Fabriano.

What I'm hoping with this post is we'll get some recommendations from artists as to which HP paper they prefer for PRECISION PAINTING.

I'm certainly not averse to people highlighting other papers far from it. However it would be very helpful to have people's opinions as to precisely what they are good for i.e. what sort of watercolour techniques they will suit.

Margaret Farr said...

Thank you so much for this, Katherine. I have an old batch of Artistico 140lb.HP and plenty left, so hopefully I'll be able to ride out the storm. Otherwise, will seek counsel when the time comes, as my watercolor technique is frequently more akin to sculpting: I (over and over again)apply paint,scratch with a scalpel, sand, and generally torture my work into submission, and "old" Fabriano takes it all without complaint. I will be watching. Thanks again, and for all of your wonderful advice...
Margaret Farr (U.S.A.)

Unknown said...

I'd really like to hear what the difference is between the papers mentioned & HP Arches. I thought the latter was the smoothest rag wc paper, but if these are smoother I'd like to know about it!

Alan Singer said...

I have also noticed the change in the Fabriano 300lb Hot Press Artisitico paper, and I use this paper for making digital transfer prints, the new surface is not what the doctor ordered. I don't like the "fabric" of the new paper nearly as much as the surface of the old sheets. The new paper imposes a texture and sometimes my printmaking suffers because of that texture. Colors do not lie flat on the paper anymore. I am surprised that a centuries old compnay would make such a radical change to a trusted brand

DA Best said...

It's not just Hot Press paper. While I am still amateur enough to blame bad results on myself, at a workshop I attended in 2011 a professional, well-known artist told us that most watercolor paper is now being processed differently for cost reasons. In his particular style, when using sable brushes on the new Cold Press paper, he has trouble with previous washes lifting with multiple applications of paint, just to mention one of several problems. This artist has experimented with the top brands, and that doesn't seem to make a difference. He has had to change to synthetic brushes and rework his style of painting in order to work with the new papers.

He recommends 1) Buy all the "old stuff" you can (4 deckled edges); 2) Try synthetic brushes on the "new stuff" (2 deckles) and be prepared to make adjustments to your process.

credmayne.com said...

Many years ago I painted flowers in watercolour, very loosely on very wet paper. I relied on the heavy surface sizing on the Fabriano HP paper to keep the paint from going everywhere. After using the same approach very successfully for ages, suddenly it wouldn't work any more. When I enquired at the suppliers, I was told that Fabriano had changed the sizing - there wasn't a 'demand' for the paper I liked. Hmm.

Coral Guest said...

I have recently been requested by several concerned artists, to look at this paper. It is my opinion that the issue is fundamentally with the ratio of sizing to the substance of the rag material used to make the paper. Its a case of it being out of balance. This is not unheard of in other companies, I have in the past returned batches of paper to different manufacturers for this same reason. It is common for only a small area of the paper to be affected.

The issue with sizing can be sorted by trial and error and quality control. However, no amount of perfection in sizing paper can improve the actual basic cotton rag if an inferior quality is used for economic reasons.

I suspect that the manufacturer of this paper in question, may find that sales drop off suddenly if artists are not entirely satisfied, which may eventually make any cost control exercise a waste of time (if that is what this is partly all about).

In the end artists are always prepared to pay more to get the quality they want, if this is what is necessary to maintain that quality. I suspect that the old stocks of this paper will be in great demand now.

Archiving paper has always been something that artists have done when they find something they like. I have papers going back as far as 1985, that are still pristine, which I still use. I first began to store paper as a student, when in the 1970's someone gifted me with some discontinued paper from the 1960's.

Archiving paper is a useful thing for artists to do if they see themselves working with it for years to come. Archived paper also exchanges hands from artist to artist on a regular basis.

david scheirer said...

Thanks for the info and paper recommendations. Currently on the hunt for a new paper after the change to Fabriano's hot pressed paper. I've found along with weird fabric like texture the new paper absorbs differently, resulting in chalkier and washed out colors. Tried painting on the back too (for the heck of it and it looked smoother) but it was even worse - washes would bleed out along the fibers (never happened before).
I managed to get a decent shot of the old and new papers if you're interested. On my blog here: https://www.dswatercolors.com/blog/fabriano-artistico-hot-pressed-watercolor-paper-changes

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