Before I start the review, I want to give a little information for those of you unfamiliar with watercolor blocks. If you know what they are, please just skip this section.
Most of us are familiar with watercolor paper sold in single sheets or in pads that are glued or wirebound, but the paper is also sold in blocks. At first it seems as though the paper has been glued all the way around, but somewhere, usually at the top, you'll find a small section that is not glued.
After your painting has dried, you take a blade or a watercolor block device and gently pull at the loose section, moving around the block until the sheet is free.
Blocks have their pros and cons. Watercolor paper in thinner sizes tends to buckle or dimple while you're painting. Usually you tape it down, or wet it completely before painting to prevent this as much as possible. Well, a block eliminates that need. Note, that none of these techniques, including blocking, completely eliminates the problem.
Because all the pages are glued solid almost all the way around, you aren't going to get splashes and leaks dribbling from one sheet of your pad to the next.
However, blocked papers often have a different finish and less texture than single sheets or pads of the same brand and weight. You can also have difficulties in removing your sheets without tearing them. It's best to wait until your painting is entirely dry, which means you also have to wait to get to the next sheet. Experience helps, but the possibility of tearing is always there.
Schut Noblesse Watercolor Block
Paper-: 100% cotton, acid free, neutrally sized, mould-made, gelatin-sized
Grain: Cold-pressed, medium fine
Weight: 140 lbs. / 300 g/m2
Size: 9.5" x 11.75" / 24 x 30 cm
Look & Feel
I found the Noblesse watercolor paper to be smoother than many of the cold-press papers I've worked with though it would be a little rough for hot-press. To compare it in weight and texture to well-known papers, it seems more like Fabriano than Arches to me.
I took one sheet off the block before painting on it so I could make it wobble. A good quality sheet of watercolor generally makes an almost metallic sound when you hold it at one end and shake it (this doesn't apply when you get to the really thick papers that won't wobble much). The Schut Noblesse made a satisfying, metallic sound.
I tore the sheet into quarters. It tore easily and the edges were clean, with no fuzz produced (you can see the torn edge in the photo below). The paper can be folded about 3/4 of the way before it creases, but it does retain some memory of the folding at this point. Laying it under heavy books flattens it nicely.
The color is whiter than the photo below would make it appear. This piece is sitting on a piece of printer paper that is a Bright-145 whiteness. The texture is about right, but in real life the weave itself is a bit more apparent. To my eye, the back of the paper seems slightly different, but I couldn't get the difference to photograph, and it may just be my imagination--the difference I see is that slight.
I did several paintings, but rather than through them at you all at once, I'm going to post one or two each day this week. Today I'm going to share the painting I did specifically to the test everything I could think of. I'm writing it up a little differently, listing what I was testing for, and explaining each.
Color- I used pure colors rather than mixing on the palette because I wanted to get a sense of the range of brightness I could get. You'll notice a bright blue at the head of the largest fish and behind the top fish. Normally, I would tone those down as out of place with the whole. In this case, I left them showing how bright I could get (tomorrow's paintings will show more on this point). The pinks in this piece are Quinacridone Magenta, which is a powerful color, yet I was able to sponge and lift off enough color to keep it muted.
Lifting- And on the subject of lifting, which is a technique of using a wet brush to gently 'scrub' away color. I used both Prussian Blue and Quinacridone Magenta, which are both staining colors and I was not surprised that I couldn't get back to the white of the paper. On other paintings, I tested a more moderate stainer, Sap Green, and got close to white, but was seeing some pilling at that point. I'd say the Schut Noblesse was on the high side of medium for lifting color away.
Scraping-Scraping involves taking a blade and gently removing the surface of the paper. Normally, I would use masking fluid to reserve the white sparkles on the water, or apply white gouache. For this piece, I used an exacto blade. The paper came away easily, with no stubborn tags or fuzz.
Absorbency- The paper was more absorbent than I expected. I laid down several juicy strokes of paint, and then used the bead that collects at the bottom to work my first wash down the length of the page. I was able to get about 75% of the way down. I had expected to get all of the way down. Not too bad, but less than I thought. This does mean a shorter drying time, which can be good or bad. Hard lines set a bit fast--you can see a couple of streaks near the top fish. I didn't soften them right away, and then later I couldn't. The fact that they were in Prussian Blue was part of the cause, though. It's a sticky, staining color.
Dimpling/Buckling-There was some dimpling--ripples that occurred--when I was using heavy washes of water. For the most part, they occurred when I wet the paper thoroughly before hand, and then dropped in juicy loads of color. When I tested a sheet that was removed from the block before wetting, I had almost the same amount of dimpling, though the block did slightly better. Please note, that most (but not all) watercolor paper in the 140 lb. range will have some degree of dimpling. I'd put the Schut Noblesse in mid portion of the high range regarding dimpling.
Masking Fluid- I masked off the heads and upper portions of the fish to keep the whites. I let the painting dry completely before removing it, rubbing it off with my fingers. There was no tearing or pilling. The masking came away clean, and when I painted the koi markings afterward, there was no difference in absorbency or pills in the paper.
Masking Tape-I masked off the edges and cut a few of the plant shapes from tape. The plant shapes I removed after applying the first couple of glazes--thin washes of color--and letting them dry. I then painted in those areas to see if there was any pilling or change in absorbency. There was not. The tape around the edges came away cleanly with no tearing.
Graphite/Pencil-I did sketch in the Koi, and some of the plant shapes before painting. I used a mechanical pencil for it--nothing fancy. The marks softened, but didn't dissolve entirely.
Sponge-Sponges, even natural ones, can damage some papers. I used a natural sponge to wet the paper in one area, before applying the first wash, and later to spread some paint in another area. There was no pilling or change in absorbency.
Eraser-As with the sponge, I erased an area before starting my wash. I did so more energetically than I usually would, and did get some slight pilling. Another area that I erased more gently did not pill.
The Schut Noblesse watercolor paper is of high quality and a pleasure to paint on. My preference is for a paper that is slightly less absorbent, but I found it easy enough to adjust. I'd love to try the single sheet and see if it handles differently than the block paper.
Interested in trying a block of your own? If you don't wish to wait and see if you won, check out the Exaclair website for a list of retailers who sell the Schut Noblesse Watercolor blocks and sheets.
GIVEAWAY INFORMATION - Giveaway Over. Thank you to all who entered.
What Will They Win?
Three winners will each receive a Schut Noblesse Watercolor Block like the one reviewed here.
Cut and paste these words 'I want to win a 'Schut Noblesse Watercolor Block' into the subject line of an email, and send it to me at LifeImitatesDoodles [at] gmail [dot] com.
When is the giveaway over?
The giveaway starts on Monday, August 4, 06:10 AM PDT and ends Sunday, August 10, 2014 at 11:59 PDT. I'll notify the winners by email on August 11.
Who can enter?
I do apologize, this giveaway is U.S. only.
Disclaimer: I received the Schut Noblesse Watercolor block from Exaclair Inc. specifically for this review and giveaway. I was allowed to choose the item to be given away. I'm excited about hosting this giveaway, but tried not to let it influence my opinion, and all opinions are my own. I received no other compensation.