Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper

7 June, 2016. Following up on a months overdue promise to put Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper to the test, today I cut up a sheet and folded four sketch pamphlets. My plan was to try watercolor, my Lamy Safari fountain pen with Noodler’s, and my Kuretake No. 40 brush pen.

Why this watercolor paper? It’s very lightweight, yet despite that it purportedly does not require stretching. In fact, the paper is supposed to resist the buckling that takes place with similarly lightweight papers when wetted.

As always, my goal is to carry a minimum of sketching materials and to avoid hassle in doing so. A lightweight paper for my sketching pamphlets is intriguing in that it would further reduce the bulk of my kit. So today I began with a late restaurant lunch and a location sketch. At the booth across from me a couple was engrossed in conversation. This in itself was refreshing as it seems like cell phones are creating walls that prevent any real dialogue from taking place. The paper has a nice tooth to it that takes graphite well. Errant marks, if made lightly, are readily and completely erased without disturbing the surface.

I inked the sketch with my Kuretake No. 40 brush pen. Here, the tooth of the paper made the act of mark making less fluid than I like, but it also allowed some degree of dry brush effect to take place. In order to emphasize important lines it was necessary to go back over them to darken some contours.

I’d hoped to lay in watercolor washes afterwards but to my surprise both the Noodler’s ink and the Kuretake ink quickly reactivate when wetted on this paper. In my Canson 180 sketchbooks, the ink is immediately permanent. So I’m limited in the sense that my usual approach, which involves line work first with washes afterwards, won’t work on this paper. But there’s opportunity to develop some interesting monochromatic washes by reactivating the black inks from the pens with water brushes.

More to the point, does this paper do as billed? Does it wrinkle when wetted or not? To find out I thoroughly soaked portions of one panel and applied paint while wet. In other places I kept the paper somewhat dry. I’ve found this sort of thing tends to challenge most other thin papers, resulting in all manner of buckling. This did not happen with the Aquarius paper: not while I painted and not after the sheet dried. It’s pretty much mostly flat. I’m impressed.

I figured I’d test its chops even further by soaking the sheet with water and paint. With paper that buckles, one winds up with “bands” where the sheet rises and falls like hills and valleys: pigment pools in the low areas and the color is uneven. Here, you’ll notice that the color is smooth because the sheet remained flat, much like a stretched page. Flinging water droplets over drying paint creates interesting textures on this paper, and it’s also possible to create nice blooms. Pigment can be easily lifted – I think because it seems to stay on top of the paper rather than “in” it. Color didn’t seem to dry back badly either. Sometimes watercolor will dry back 25% or even 35%. At least with my limited testing, the color dried back perhaps only 10%.



  1. 28pwilson · December 20, 2016

    Mark what weight is this paper?

    • azorch · December 20, 2016

      Peggy, it’s surprisingly lightweight at 80# basis weight. I know that runs counter to everything we know about watercolor paper – i.e., that the heavy stuff is better. And while that is literally the case with every single other paper I’ve used, whatever the heck Strathmore does to make Aquarius, they sure do it right. I love that I can drench this paper without the nasty waves you normally get with lightweight watercolor paper.

      • 28pwilson · December 20, 2016

        You know that’s hard to believe. 80# and takes a drenching! Gotta try it!

  2. azorch · December 20, 2016

    Remind me and the next time we get together I’ll bring you a sample to try out.

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