Can you use watercolor on sketch paper?

Watercolor paper can get quite expensive if you are an active artist, so it makes sense to consider alternatives. What about sketch paper?

Watercolors can be painted on sketch paper as long as it is thick enough to absorb the water and pigments properly. Using a thinner sketch paper, you can do watercolor sketches outlining your painting before you begin to paint it.

watercolor painting teacher and student

Which kind of sketch paper is useful for watercoloring?

The thickness of the paper is the most important aspect of watercolor paper.

It is important to understand how watercolor paints work in order to understand this. It’s basically a mixture of water and pigments that you apply to the paper.

Instead of remaining on the surface, water helps the pigments flow and settle into the paper fibers. When the water dries, the pigments (the color) remain in the paper.

When the paper doesn’t offer a lot of room for the paint to sink into, it becomes pretty difficult to create watercolor paintings.

When it comes to sketch paper, it really depends on what kind you’re using and how thick/heavy it is.

Thinner ones might not be able to hold all the water, so they will buckle, tear, etc. pretty quickly.

If you only have this kind of paper, you can still use it for watercoloring, as I will demonstrate shortly.

Sketch paper should have a weight of at least 100gsm. Anything below that will be difficult to work with. 

As a reference, I like to use 300gsm paper for normal paintings.

In the case that you are unsure of how heavy the paper is, you can estimate it or find out by trial and error.

It must be thicker than printer paper, but it does not need to be as thick as normal watercolor paper. Somewhere in the middle will do.

On a side note, I would also suggest reading my article about the question why watercolor paper is so expensive.

What should I paint on sketch paper?

In this step, your creativity is really put to the test.

As sketch papers are not designed for watercolor painting, they cannot handle a full-on watercolor painting.

There are still tons of things to do, so this only has a minor impact on you. Let me show you two ways you can use thinner sketch paper with watercolor paint.

Sketching and warming up

First and foremost, you should sketch your paintings before you start painting them. The next section will provide more details on that, but this is probably the best thing to do with watercolor on sketch paper.

In addition, I like to use sketch paper to warm up before painting. When I know I’m going to be painting for a while and it’s going to be an especially difficult piece, I like to get myself warmed up a bit.

It doesn’t take long – maybe 5 to 10 minutes – but it does have a great impact, as it allows you not to have to be too careful while painting.

Doodling with watercolors

Just to be able to paint anything, rather than a detailed painting that takes a lot of time and effort, is really freeing.

There’s no need to worry about the outcome and it eases the painting process.

If you’re not quite in the mood to paint, but know you must/want to continue with a particular piece, I recommend doing this.

Set a timer for 5 minutes and draw watercolor doodles until the bell rings. There is no need for it to be beautiful, make sense, or even have a composition. 

All that matters is that you get into the flow of painting. By the way, this can also be applied to other aspects of your life.

When you procrastinate, do the bare minimum, such as cleaning your sink instead of the whole house. In most cases, you will get into a flow and just keep going.

If you’d like to find out how to frame a watercolor painting without glass, feel free to read this article about it.

Painting on sketch paper can improve your actual paintings

The following is a really important step and one I recommend you do before starting a watercolor painting. 

It will save you a lot of time and effort and make your life easier in the long run. 

I’m talking about watercolor sketching. That is, sketching out your paintings before you paint them.

Normally, I use a sketchbook for this purpose, but it doesn’t really matter. You can use whatever you have lying around or what you’re used to.

You may ask: Why is that important? Why should I make a sketch if I already know what I want to paint?

I’ll explain.

Why sketching out paintings is so beneficial

By sketching out an idea or a painting before starting, you will have a rough idea of how the painting is going to look. This is crucial.

As a result, you are able to see any flaws in your composition before you make a single brush stroke on your painting paper.

You can just stop painting and do a new sketch on the next page so that you can tweak the composition as you wish.

Repeat this process until you find the perfect one. Taking the time to do this will make your life a whole lot easier when it comes to painting, since you will already know what it should look like when you start.

The same applies to color composition. Testing out different colors and color variations next to each other will help you find out which one works and which one doesn’t.

Sketchbooks increase your versatility

A sketch book would also enable you to paint or at least draw anywhere.

Have you ever had a great idea for a painting in mind, but forgot it once you got home?

Writing down your idea won’t really help, since you won’t remember the exact concept anymore.

With a sketchbook and a pen, or even better, a portable watercolor palette, you can scribble down your ideas anywhere.

Once you get home, you’ll still have the idea and can even paint over the sketch you made.

This will vastly free up your creative spirit, as it enables you to paint and draw whenever and wherever, which will increase your versatility as an artist.

Additionally, you will get better and better at the craft over time.

Also read: Are Watercolor Brushes Suitable For Acrylic Paint? and Does Watercolor Paper Need To Be Wet Before Painting? if you’d like to learn more about watercolor painting.

watercolor paintings with sharp white edges


As long as the paper is heavier than 100gsm, sketch paper can be used for watercolor painting. Anything below that will be too thin to handle watercolor properly. Sketch paper can also be used to make watercolor sketches, which helps you get a feel for the composition before actually painting it.

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