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Historical Materials: Drawing Technique

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Whatman Paper

Whatman and wove paper are inextricably linked. Already famous for producing high quality white papers, around 1755 the elder James Whatman invented the wove papermaking mould and the first wove papers were manufactured at the Turkey Mill in Kent, England. By the second half of the eighteenth century, Whatman operated three other mills in addition to Turkey Mill, and was the largest producer of fine papers in the United Kingdom. By this time Whatman papers were widely known for their superior quality and, among other English papers, were exported to the continent and United States. (1)

Prior to Whatman’s great technical innovation, (handmade) paper was made on an antique or single-face laid mould, which imparted a specific “furrowed” texture to the sheet. In developing the new wove paper, Whatman collaborated with the English printer John Baskerville (1706–75) who wanted a smoother paper for printing his fine serif type. (2) Essentially by replacing the horizontal laid wires with a plain weave, woven wire, a smoother paper could be formed. Wove paper made its first appearance in Baskerville’s 1757 publication of a book of Virgil’s poetry, several years before Whatman had fully developed his new product to consistently produce a uniform sheet. In fact, it took roughly three decades before wove paper was produced in significant quantities. (3, 4)

The Whatmans were also pioneers in developing variations of wove paper to suit different applications, for example, ledger paper, printing papers, drawing papers and most notably, watercolor papers. An important difference among these papers is the amount of sizing agent (gelatin), an additive used to modify paper properties, most notably its resistance to water. (5) The quantity of gelatin cannot necessarily be determined visually, or thoroughly tested with a dry drawing medium such as graphite. Several of Lane’s papers have a more textured surface, sufficient weight, and stiffer hand, that suggests a drawing paper manufactured with more size, specifically for watercolor.

– Moyna Stanton


1. John Krill, English Artists’ Paper (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2002), 72.

2. Theresa Fairbanks Harris and Scott Wilcox, Papermaking and the Art of Watercolor in Eighteenth-Century Britain: Paul Sandby and the Whatman Mill (Yale Center for British Art, 2006), 79.


4. Krill, 73.

5. By the 1790s James Whatman II had adapted his wove drawing paper to meet watercolorist’s needs for a more heavily sized paper. Harris and Wilcox, Papermaking and the Art of Watercolor, 101–02.

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Citation: "Drawing Technique." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum.§ion=Whatman+Paper (accessed May 28, 2024).
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