Stonehenge Aqua Review Part 1—Overview and the Cold Press Surface

February 27, 2019
Read below about my adventures with tape on this paper. Here the tape didn’t tear and the watercolor direct brush sketch worked well over the pre-painted acrylics on this page. There is a little bit of white gouache in some areas where the pre-paint was too dark for the highlight.

In 2017 I requested Stonehenge Aqua samples based on a company promotion. I’m sure many of you did the same. You’ve probably already made your decision about this paper.

I spent most of January 2018 working on Stonehenge Aqua 140 lb. watercolor paper in both the cold press and hot press surfaces. 

For various reasons—the death of my mother-in-law; an accident with a cutting blade; and the inertia resulting from a growing mountain of examples I needed to put together to write the post—I never published my review.

I published a bunch of images made on this paper, throughout the intervening months, and with good intentions kept saying that the review was coming.

The obvious conclusion is that I wasn’t too keen on the paper or I would have rushed to tell you about it. Or the flip side of that is that I wasn’t so put off by the paper that I had to rush to warn you about it. The two driving forces of my materials reviews are to help you find more fun factor in your work (products that work great) and give you a heads up on expensive products that won’t do much for you.

What Do You Really Think About This Paper Roz?

I’m going to sum up my review today even through there will be five parts (posts) to the review. In the past when I do multi-part reviews some readers see a few positive points and rush off to buy the reviewed item only to get to the end of the review’s many parts to find that I don’t recommend it. So let’s not bury the lead.

Stonehenge Aqua watercolor paper is neither a fabulous new, must have paper, nor a poor ghost of a paper that won’t work for you.

Is it a great paper? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t leave one of my current favorite papers for this paper. 

Current favorite watercolor papers: TH Saunders/Waterford, Fabriano Artistico, Kilimanjaro, Canson Heritage. And I also paint quite happily on Stonehenge PRINTMAKING/drawing paper.

In this series of reviews I am going to show you examples of sketches and watercolor sketches I made on this paper and tell you what worked for me and what didn’t. Then you can decide whether you want to try the paper or not, based on how you work on watercolor paper and what you expect from a paper.

Some Background Information and the Price

Except for a couple 8 x 10 inch cut pieces I received as free samples (from that public promotion I mentioned earlier) I purchased all my sheets.

I have to point out that one of my favorite papers is Stonehenge Printmaking and drawing paper. I make books out of it (only some of the newer colors crack when folded with the grain, you can read about that by using the blog’s search engine to find Stonehenge). And I actually love to paint on it with watercolor and especially with gouache!

I also have used it a lot when teaching because Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing paper is available pretty much everywhere and at a very low price point, typically under $3 for a 22 x 30 inch sheet.

So when I was told Legion was releasing a watercolor paper in the Stonehenge line I was excited. I also had expectations that it would be inexpensive. It is even touted as such by discount distributors such as Jerry’s. But I buy pretty much everything I use in my artwork at local independent art supply store Wet Paint. When the paper first came out they had a $5 price point on it. That’s not less than the other major brands of paper I was purchasing. The price would have to come down into the $3 range before I’d give up my other papers for it. (I see that currently Wet Paint has a $4.46 per 22 x 30 inch sheet price but that’s not low enough to tempt me, and you’ll see why as we go through the review.)

Since most of us don’t have unlimited funds it’s important to keep in mind where you are buying your paper (so you can support local independent businesses if that’s important to you for instance), and the paper price when deciding whether to use it or not for a particular use—for example general use or special projects where you might spend a bit more money.

Also keep in mind that one of the reasons I buy the materials I test is so that I can feel the full pain of the expenditure in my pocket book when deciding whether the fun factor or quality factor is really “worth it.”

The Specifications and Some First Thoughts

Stonehenge Aqua is available in sheets, pads (glued at one edge), and blocks (all edges glued).

It comes in two 140 lb. surfaces—cold press/textured and hot press, smooth.

I find that both textures are very flat and compressed. I find the cold press is much flatter than other cold press papers I’ve used. The hot press is very flat, but retains enough tooth that it isn’t going to be like painting on plate Bristol! 

I did not test any paper from pads or blocks. Those papers will be more compressed by the padding process and you should expect some variation from a full sheet.

It’s a bright white paper that is 100% cotton, neutral pH, acid free, chlorine free, and sized for watercolor painting.

The sizing is a synthetic sizing.

Why is sizing important? I’m in the gelatin camp and fewer and fewer watercolor papers are sized with gelatin. Currently the only gelatin paper I use regularly is TH Saunders/Waterford. (It’s one of two that I can get easily.) The other papers I use are vegetable/starch sized—Fabriano switched from gelatin to vegetable/starch sizing approximately 20 years ago—right when you noticed you weren’t having as much fun with the paper.  I still use Fabriano Artistico because it has great properties for binding, and it’s probably the best vegetable/starch sized paper on the market. (Arches is still gelatin sized, but it doesn’t bind up well.) I also am experimenting with new watercolor papers from Hahnemühle which are vegetable/starch sized. (Since so many papers are going that way we have to keep experimenting and adapting, hence the testing.)

As non-gelatin sizing goes the synthetic sizing on this paper is very draggy. Also it imparts the entire sheet with a stiffness I don’t care for (in part because I like to bind paper into books, but in general this paper has a stiffness that makes it seem lifeless next to the other papers I use. And yes I’m anthropomorphizing, that’s part of what artists do.). This paper’s tactile appeal is very low for me.

The sheet is a bright white. Really bright. This means your colors will snap on it.

Each sheet has two cut and two deckle edges.

Legion recommends this paper for pretty much any art method under the sun. (I don’t remember if they recommend it for collage, but I have to point out that I found the cold press version great for collage, and typically it’s difficult to collage on textured papers—but the cold press is not highly textured and the glue I used adhered well to the textured surface.)

I concentrated my tests in pen and ink, pen and ink with watercolor, direct brush watercolor, and color pencil.

I also did some rubber-stamping, but didn’t control with extensive tests into various brands of rubber-stamp ink so many of which need specialty papers—so I’m not going to address rubber-stamping in my review.

Some Work of Mine on Stonehenge Aqua You’ve Already Seen

If you use the blog’s search engine and enter Stonehenge Aqua a bunch of posts will come up. Some deal only with Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing paper, but you’ll be able to see quickly which is which. 

Some of my favorite paintings of 2018 were done on this paper—however the fun factor while painting on this paper was particularly low for me because of the draggy nature of that synthetic sizing.

The young woman in a hat, shown in the post linked here is one such favorite of mine. There is a lot of stuff going on in that piece, lots of media used. I would say that if you enjoy working with mixed media this is a good paper for you. Definitely a step up from working on Canson’s Mixed Media paper. And definitely a step down from working on Strathmore’s 500 Series Mixed Media paper (which has superior flexibility, surface texture, and is much less draggy.)

Here is another post in which I work with mixed media on Stonehenge Aqua.

If you enjoy preprinting your journal pages with acrylics you might take a look at this post which compares this paper to a couple others in the same usage.

I started testing this paper in journals I’d bound in January 2017 with this first painting. I found that using the water brush it was difficult to get the full saturation of color I normally get. And the draggy nature of the sizing made my brush movement awkward. These are all things you can adapt to with practice and I tested these papers from January 1 through February 11, 2018, by using them in two visual journals I bound for experimentation.

Looking Specifically at Stonehenge Aqua Cold Press

Direct Brush Sketching

Page from my cold press Stonehenge Aqua journal that is about 8 inches square.

In this direct brush portrait on Stonehenge Aqua Cold Press (SA-CP, or SA-HP for hot press going forward) I dealt with the draggy nature of the sizing on my brush. I found I had to be more careful than on other papers, to not retouch an area too quickly and disturb it, but all papers have a tolerance zone and I was learning this one. 

There is little evidence of the cold press texture showing through the brush work, except in the dry brush edges at the fore edge of the page. 

I found it particularly difficult to lift out color. You can see my early direct brush outlines throughout this piece, under other areas of tint and brushwork.

I find it useful when testing a new paper to do some monochromatic work so you can judge the paper texture and working without the distraction of color.

Working with Artist’s Tape and Wearing Out the Surface 

A pencil and watercolor sketch made on a pre-painted page which was then masked with artist’s tape.

I have found that Nichiban Artist’s Masking Tape is the safest tape I can put on watercolor paper and other papers I use when working in my visual journals. I successfully use it on a number of other papers. However it did not work well on this paper at all.

As my note indicates the tape was only down for about an hour before I carefully removed it. Even so it ripped up the paper at the left and also top right. 

While this page was pre-painted in areas where the tape went down, the tape was not added until days had passed and the page was completely dry. As you’ll see in the cold press section of my review to be published later tape tears on the unpainted paper as well.

Note: When removing tape I begin away from the paper’s edge so that I don’t catch any fibers from a torn paper edge or deckle edge.

In the second photo in this section you can see a detail of the torn surface. If you click on that image it will enlarge and you will be able to see the damage to the paper

I found that in other instances of working on pre-painted pages of this paper the tape didn’t tear up the paper but instead either came off cleanly or created a texture I can best describe as pock-marked—random small dots of fiber pulling.

Another thing I found, if we look closely at this image, is that the paper didn’t rework as long and as easily as other watercolor papers I’ve used do. I found it particularly difficult to make adjustments to value and color on this paper without tiring it out. 

Working With Quick Stroke, No Reworking

Pen sketch with watercolor added with a 3/4 inch flat brush. Stonehenge Aqua CP.

If you work with clean clear strokes and go in and get out, as I did in this last image in this post you may enjoy working on this paper, though you will still have to deal with the draggy nature of the sizing on your brush.

In this example of washes on this paper you can see the bright white color of the paper is great for watercolor. If the other issues I’ve encountered don’t influence how you paint this might be a paper for you to try.

Looking Ahead

I am going to end part one here.

In my next part I will have something to say about ink line work on this paper.

And in a subsequent parts I’ll tell you how I found working on the Stonehenge Aqua Hot Press surface.

    • Hilary
    • February 28, 2019

    I don’t know if people tell you often enough how grateful we are for your generous posts Roz. I’m currently working my way through a book you reviewed, Wil Freeborn’s 50 Small pictures, and you are my absolute ‘go to’ if I’m struggling…Roz will know!
    So, a million thanks for these gems like the above, you are loved and appreciated.

    1. Reply

      So glad you are enjoying that book by Freeborn. Thanks for reading and letting me know that you enjoy the posts. I appreciate it.

  1. Reply

    Yep – that paper tearing really annoyed me. I used a couple types of tape and it tore after an hour. Also, it seems to repel the water color. My investment was small – a 15 sheet 7×10 inch block and I’m currently testing some acrylics on it. They look nice on this paper with the bright white background. Thanks for reviewing this! People will be pleased to find out it’s not just them.

    1. Reply

      It is always good to hear from other people about papers to know that they aren’t working in a vacuum. I’m glad you were able to test a couple different types of tape. I was most disappointed about that in some ways, because a lot of the other stuff can be worked around. Glad you only had a small investment. I need to get out of the testing mode, my expenditure was considerable. Going forward I need to reduce the testing budget and increase the fun factor budget for known materials!

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