Stonehenge Aqua Review Part 5—A Look at the Hot Press Surface

March 11, 2019
Stonehenge Aqua Hot Press watercolor, brush pen and watercolor in the field.

This is part 5 of a multi-part review of Stonehenge Aqua cold press and hot press. Please see this link for the first post in the series.

Hot press paper is my paper of choice, so I’m going to spend more time testing a new hot press paper than I am testing a cold press one. Testing this paper line was no exception.

The ultimate test for paper in my universe is how it works for me in the field. 

This means I’ll test the paper in humid conditions, hot and dry (or cold and dry in this climate) conditions, and I’m typically standing. 

Working in these types of situations burns the experience into my brain. It’s how I have fun. 

Sketches in the “field” tend to be quick responses to my environment. The first sketch in this post took about 4 minutes to sketch and then another two or three to paint. Then I had to wait for the first layers of paint to dry and do the second, darker values. With a new paper I have to learn the absorption rate of the sizing and the paper for the given conditions so there’s some trial and error. But that’s great because in the “mistakes” that occur, like going in too quickly with the next wash, I discover the tolerances for the paper and how much work it can take before it falls apart.

One thing that I really liked about the hot press paper in this line was the smoothness that allowed the pen to move easily along whether I was sketching or writing. The drag is less noticeable when writing and sketching than on the cold press version.

Brush Pen and Lifting on Stonehenge Aqua Hot Press Watercolor Paper

I did however have to test my Pentel Brush pen on this paper. 

In this second image you can see me doing that at home, using a Muse photo from the Sktchy app.

I found that the brush pen actually hiccuped in some areas. By that I mean it caught and wouldn’t move on. That’s something I’d expect to see on cold press watercolor paper, but not a smooth, hot press watercolor paper. 

When it did this the paper tended to absorb too much ink, another signal to me that the sizing was not uniform across the sheet.

I found that the best way for me to work on the hot press paper was with filbert and large flat brushes. I found that I was more pleased with flat regions of color I could glaze over with other colors when dry (liked the cheek in shadow) than with trying to lay in even washes. 

For this type of loose approach I think the paper is more than adequate. (I have other examples I’ll post at a later date since I did so much work on this paper.)

A huge disappointment however was the susceptibility of this paper to damage when trying to lift color. See the pilling occurring above the eyebrow on the shadow side of the face. This means that the paper is not strong enough for the type of work I might throw at it.

Using Tape on Stonehenge Aqua Hot Press Watercolor Paper

Tape test on the Hot Press version of this paper.

In my first post of this series I mentioned how the paper tore when I used Nichiban Artist’s masking tape to create borders and masks.

This happened even when the tape was left on under one hour. (I press the tape down sufficiently to ensure that it is adhered but I do not burnish it down.)

In the sample shown at the right you see a rectangle on the hot press paper that I masked off and then immediately filled with a watercolor wash. Three sides of the rectangle tore when I removed the tape after the paint had dried. (The paint air dried, a heat gun which can sometimes interfere with tape adhesive was not used.)

The tearing of the paper fibers was significant. I need to be able to mask on paper I use regularly for my work so this paper is not useable for me.

Additionally I found that the central area of my rectangle pilled easily with just one up and down stroke of my brush. You can see the uneven deposit of paint where the paint is soaking into the pilled areas.

Bleed Through

Stonehenge Aqua Hot Press watercolor paper—fiber-tipped brush pen sketch with watercolor washes.

Bleed through is when ink or paint actually soaks from the working side of the paper, into and through the paper, emerging on the reverse side.

If you are working on both sides of a sheet of paper for economy or if you are a book artist and visual journal keeper who makes your own books like I do, you must have a paper that doesn’t allow bleed through.

In the painting at the right you will see a sketch I made on this hot press watercolor paper. I colored that sketch with watercolor using a one-inch flat.

As I cast my eye over this piece I can spot numerous areas where there are problems with the sizing on the paper, but I’m OK with them in this sketch, because I’m working loose and not attempting to get flat, even washes. When areas of lightness pop up, looking almost like droplets, I’m not concerned because they will just add to the general texture of the sketch. For other artists going for a more uniform look this characteristic of the paper would be problematic.

Instead I kept painting happily along. This sketch was half way through my hot press watercolor paper journal. I’d already finished a full journal with the cold press watercolor paper in this line.

Areas of bleed through on the reverse side of the previous sketch.

At no time had I experienced any bleed through when working on the cold press Stonehenge Aqua. 

I also tend to work with the least amount of water possible, and that helps. And of course pigments don’t tend to soak through watercolor papers. (Dyes on the other hand will soak through papers more readily.)

In other words, I was moving happily along. Imagine my surprise when I turned the page upon finishing the last portrait and saw that the PAINT had bled through the paper!

The bleed through was not significant enough that it would have damaged another sketch already on this page had the bleed throughs occurred in pigmented areas. However it is significant in that there is a large and easily visible area at two points (callouts A and B). It is also significant that these bleed throughs occurred at points on the previous page where that side of the page was not particularly worked over while I was painting. (I didn’t dig down into the paper with bold strokes and tear the paper in some way, the sizing just gave out and let the pigment through.)

When I’m selecting a watercolor paper this is a deal breaker for me. I can find ways to work around masking without using tape or frisket. I can put up with inconsistencies in surface application because of sizing imperfections. But I do require that I can count on a watercolor paper to not allow paint to bleed through to the other side.

For these reasons I can’t recommend Stonehenge Aqua Hot Press watercolor paper for any application. Even ink sketching on it might prove to be erratically unpredictable.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve read all five parts of my multi-part review of this paper you’ll now understand why I am not adopting this paper (either the cold press or the hot press) as a regular paper to have in the studio. Through almost two months of testing it didn’t support me in my work methods. I didn’t even unleash some of my more strenuous approaches which really tax a paper on it!

I would offer a limited recommendation of the cold press paper as a pen and ink paper (with limitations listed in that section of the review).

I cannot recommend the hot press version of this paper for anything.

I have been heartbroken writing this review.

One of the reasons I delayed so long in writing this review is because I was so disappointed. It was a sad task I would rather put off. I’d rather focus on something fun that I discovered in my painting adventures.

I really like Stonehenge’s Printmaking and Drawing paper, so when they announced they were creating a watercolor paper I was wildly expectant and eager to try it.

After using the Aqua for almost two months on a daily basis I actually woke up some days and hoped it had all been a bad dream.

Not every paper is going to work for every artist. It’s important that artists test papers they think might work for them to see how they actually work under their hand. I hope that my specifics in this series of reviews will help you decide whether testing the paper is worth a portion of your art supply budget, and more importantly worth your time.

Can you learn to paint on this paper? Yep. But like me you probably wouldn’t want to. For now there are still several other watercolor papers readily available that are in the same price range, yet have better sizing, durability, and workability. 

But here is something else I will put to you—What about Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing? What about it indeed?

Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing Paper

Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing paper, bound into a handmade book, prepainted with acrylic paints (the bands), sketched upon with a Pentel Brush pen and 3 layers of Stabilo Tone water-soluble crayons. (The final layers were hand smoothed.)
Detail of the above image showing clearly the lovely smooth texture of the paper, its ability to carry and blend a wash (background), and its strength and durability in accepting multiple layers of work without giving out. This sketch has multiple layers of water-soluble pastel, and the final layers were blended with my fingers and lots of pressure—In other words I was tough on this paper.

The main reason I was eager to test Stonehenge Aqua is that for decades I’ve used their printmaking and drawing paper and loved doing all sorts of visual journaling on it. I’ve used it also to print my eraser and linoleum block carvings. I have friends who do pastel landscapes on it (without first treating the paper). I take the paper to life drawing and draw on it with charcoal and also with ink wash.

(See a sepia ink/dye wash portrait here when I work more aggressively on Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing paper here.)

I have used hundreds and hundreds of sheets of Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing paper and I have never encountered a defect in the sizing.

I have PAINTED on this paper.

Some of my favorite paintings have been on Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing Paper! I am inserting one of them here—a finch sketch I made in 2010 (which previously appeared on the blog, but in a pre-2017 post so the images won’t expand there; here you can click on them and see them expand). 

I can still remember how much fun it was to work on this paper. I can remember how responsive this paper was. I also remember how I was not afraid at any moment that the paper was going to give out on me. Despite rubbing with my fingers to smooth the color layers the paper didn’t pill or give out. It didn’t break down. It didn’t allow bleed throughs. 

I’m heartbroken. I wanted all that from a watercolor paper that bore the Stonehenge name. All that and watercolor sizing.

6 x 12 inch piece of Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing, with brush pen and ink wash.

But since I can’t have that in the current Stonehenge Aqua I can still be glad that I have the printmaking and drawing paper.

Look, watercolor washes are going to be draggy on Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing paper because it isn’t sized for watercolor. But those washes aren’t going to be as draggy as they are on Stonehenge Aqua!

And the Printmaking and Drawing paper is hardier.  So what’s not to love?

Yes if you use Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing paper you are going to have to learn how to adjust your water usage. You’ll have to learn to change your brush pressure. How to push a wash around will be different from the action you use on Arches Watercolor paper. But you’ll have to learn to adapt if you use the new Stonehenge Aqua watercolor paper anyway? And with Stonehenge Aqua you’ll have all the issues I wrote about.

When the materials we use add to the fun factor of the painting and drawing experience we allow ourselves to stretch and grow and be adventuresome. We push ourselves to try knew things knowing that the paper will provide a foundation for our explorations.

I’ll get over my disappointment in Stonehenge Aqua not being the paper I’d hoped for.

I’ve still got Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing.

Happy painting!

To Get You Started with Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing

I have found that the following colors of Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing do not fold well for book binding—i.e., they crack when folded with the grain: Pale Blue, Polar White, Steel Gray, Kraft. (I have a blog post on the cracking experienced with the Kraft.) I have not used their Black so it’s a wild card as to folding.

All other colors I have found will fold well for binding.

All colors of Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing are absolutely fabulous for gouache painting as long as you control your water use. You’ll catch on after one painting. I recommend the Kraft, the Steel Gray, and the Pale Blue.

    • Paul
    • March 11, 2019

    I really appreciate your thorough reviews Roz They save me time and money. Thank you!!

    1. Reply

      Thanks Paul. That’s what I’m hoping, to save people money. We can all adjust to work with anything and it looks like we are all going to ultimately have to adjust to starch/vegetable sizing on all our papers, but amongst those at least there are some choices that still work reasonably well, so I’m going to keep working on those and not today’s paper.

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