Ink Wash Portrait: I Miss Gelatin-Sized Watercolor Papers

August 23, 2021

This is another comic guest from “As Yet Untitled with Alan Davies.” I’m sorry I don’t remember his name, the book is in storage. A lovely 8 x 7.5 inch journal that always seems a perfect size to me.

I used brush pen and ink wash on this sketch. And I did pause the TV for this sketch (unlike the previous post), because I wanted to take time and play with the washes and establish the values in a more orderly fashion.

While it’s certainly still possible to make nice ink washes on the current Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper, now that it’s made using vegetable sizing you have to work harder to get the smoothness. And so here I made that work for me by making deliberate stroke-i-ness on the collar. (I bought this paper after the change was made, not knowing until I used it that the sizing had been changed. It sat in my flat file for years until I finally bound it into journals for quick sketching.)

Regardless of the paper you’re working on there is something really fun about monochromatic drawings.

Be sure to let your paper manufacturers know that you LOVE GELATIN sizing for watercolor and wet media papers. Fluid 100, ThSaunders/Waterford, and Arches all still use gelatin sizing (as of this posting—it could change in a flash). If we don’t speak up, it will disappear, and with it, a tradition that’s hundreds and hundreds of years old (introduced by Fabriano in the middle of the 13th century); and common to papers of the great age of watercolor—1775 to 2000.

    • Paul
    • August 23, 2021

    Roz, I suspect the shift away from gelatin sizing is at least partially related to reducing a paper mill’s carbon footprint, expect gelatin sizing to disappear in the near future. As much as I like gelatin sized papers too, I’ll gladly do without to help avoid the worst effects of human induced global warming. Love the monochrome sketch👍👍.

    1. Reply

      Paul, you know I love you, but you aren’t a watercolorist so you don’t have any skin (no pun intended) in this particular game. If you’d grown up watercoloring on gelatin-sized paper I know you’d still have your great scruples but any thoughts in this vein would be a good deal more tortured.

      I believe there are ways to continue to have gelatin sizing for watercolor paper without destruction of the environment. It should be on the table to discuss and work out, especially since people universally haven’t shifted to vegan lifestyles there are still bi-products and waste from raising animals. The material used for gelatin is a bi-product of the animal husbandry industry so using those materials is actually a way to have less waste.

      I think it’s a matter of non-art companies buying art materials companies and caring only about the bottom line in cost of producing materials, and in their public face for the world community, especially non-artists, or people who haven’t worked with other materials and don’t know the difference.

      I know that it will be more and more difficult to get gelatin-sized watercolor paper as my life winds down to its conclusion. And my grief over this is not just selfish, that I won’t have more paper to use, but for artists I’ve trained and those coming up behind them, who will never know what it’s like and will be several more degrees removed from the creation of art they might enjoy viewing in museums. I think it’s very very sad.

      But then I sobbed very audibly throughout the Linotype movie.

    • Nancy
    • April 19, 2022

    Thanks for this info. I was just trying to figure out why I hate the newer w&n paper as well as the changes to fabriano artistico and though I knew it was something to do with the sizing I couldn’t figure it out. You are the only website I came across mentioning gelatin vs vegetable/starch sizing and that is definitely the problem. I could maybe manage the Fabriano but the wn is awful which is unfortunate as I really like the texture of it. I don’t know how to technically describe the problem but it really changes the medium. Every watercolorist discovers the beauty of a well laid single, undisturbed brushstroke and I just can’t get that on these nongelatin sized really does change what watercolor is to me so I’m with you -if there ever needs to be a petition or protest! ;). (I’m of the mindset that we should focus on big policy changes and not individual lifestyle (or individual market) changes if we want real sustainability going forward ). My fav paper now is Saunders and second is arches. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for the info!

    1. Reply

      Nancy, it’s very difficult for those of use who love gelatin sized watercolor papers. The paper makers don’t seem to be taking those of use who are using the paper into consideration. Having to work on vegetable and synthetic sizing has really changed the way we can work.

      Sadly I don’t think your desire to sign a petition (which I surely would) and your “mindset of going forward on bit policy changes not individual lifestyle (or individual market” changes if we want real sustainability going forward” will probably be mutually exclusive in this area. Those of us who love gelatin sized papers are probably a dwindling group because since 2020 most papers have changed and it’s on those changed papers that a whole new generation of watercolorists have learned. The rest of the world probably doesn’t care about us. And many would argue that to have less livestock in the world (the source for gelatin) would be a good thing because of global warming issues and pollution, and also general health (people eating too much meat and fat). So many will argue that sustainability lies in a different direction from where you and I and other watercolorists would like it to go.

      We can hope, we can speak out. I think it needs to be a priority, but then if I were in charge of the world I wouldn’t have let almost all the linotype machines get junked—so obviously I have some pet interests.

      In the meantime I agree with you on the TH Saunders/Waterford. I was sketching earlier today on some and I practically swooned because of the lovely gelatin sizing odor and the fun of painting on it. I wish everyone could have that and there would be a crowd in front of every paper mill.

      If you haven’t tried Fluid 100 (their 100 percent cotton, gelatin sized watercolor paper, not the student grade stuff they first came out with) you might give it a go and enjoy it, as I mentioned in the post.

      Also, I frequently add Langton-Prestige paper. You can read about it here.
      One of my students drew it to my attention last year and I did a test and I like it. Read the full post because they have a different, lower grade paper too that has similar packaging and is similarly named.

      The downside to that paper is that it isn’t available locally (for me) and so it’s a bit pricey.
      But it’s one to add to your gelatin sized paper list.

      If I find more I’ll be sure to post—if you find more brands that are using gelatin sizing, please write to me!

      Hang in there and enjoy the papers you can find.

      And remember, if things get really bad, we could always apply surface gelatin sizing to our sheets of paper. It would be a mess, and I have little studio space now. But it would be perhaps worth it.

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