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Homemade Watercolour Blocks

Here is a tip for people who like the idea of using watercolour blocks, but don't like the price of the ones that you can buy: it's not difficult to make your own.

You will need 10 to 15 sheets of watercolour paper cut to a little larger than the size you want the finished block to be; a similar-sized piece of mountboard or stiff card (it should be acid-free if possible); two more similar-sized pieces of thick card of any type; PVA adhesive; a sharp craft knife and a heavy cutting guide.

Make the watercolour paper into a stack with the piece of mountboard at the bottom, and mark out on the top sheet the exact size of the block.

Cut down through all of the sheets and the card to leave a clean edge. This needs to be done carefully as it's easy to let the angle of the knife drift and end up with a bevelled edge. It won't affect the function of the block, but it doesn't look so good. The best way is to use a light pressure and gradually cut through. From this point try not to disturb any of the sheets in the block, so that you keep a perfect edge.

Next, cut two pieces of card slightly smaller than your block. These will go on either side of your block while you are glueing it. One is to raise the block off the work surface, the other is so that you can weigh it down evenly on the top.

Assemble all of the components on your work surface, so that you have a piece of card, followed by the block of paper, then the other piece of card, and weigh the whole of it down with a heavy weight or several heavy books (I have used a piece of MDF as well, just to make sure that the weight is distributed evenly).

On one side of the block, mark two vertical lines about 4 to 5 cm apart. These will be a reminder to leave a gap without adhesive, so that it will be easier to remove sheets after they have been painted on. Then apply adhesive to all four sides of the block, spreading it out evenly with a smooth stick or knife. It doesn't need to be very thick, but make sure to cover all of the edges of the paper sheets and the bottom piece of card. Leave it overnight and the next day you will have a block of watercolour paper ready to use.

The final thing, for convenience, is to attach a sheet of paper of your choice to the back top edge of the block, so that it can fold over and protect the front when not in use. When you have finished a painting, insert a clean knife into the unglued portion of the edge and slide it around the block to detach the sheet.

The nice thing about home-made blocks is that you can make them any size and shape that you like, so that if you've always fancied a long, landscape format block, or a square one, that's no problem.

If you haven't used blocks before, you may be disappointed to find that the paper still cockles sometimes. This happens even with manufactured blocks and is quite normal. The paper will go flat again when it dries. It is a mistake to think that paper in blocks behaves in the same way as paper that is stretched on a board in the studio.

One final point: if the edges come apart with wear (I have had this happen even on good quality Arches blocks), just weigh down the block again and apply more adhesive.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment, or send an email, and I will do my best to answer them.  I would also be interested to hear any suggestions for improving the process.

If you are making blocks on a regular basis, René's idea (see comment below) is probably easier. Cut two pieces of MDF, plywood or very stiff card slightly smaller than your block, and then use clamps to sandwich the block between them.

Sue Johnson has an interesting idea for making sketchbooks here, and a nice example of a printed cover for a block.



  1. Keith...brilliant! i usually don't leave comments anymore on blogs...but some how saw yours and had to leave a note. So generous of you to share this tidbit....wonderful, as I paint exclusively on blocks...except full sheets. thanks again!

    1. I'm glad it's useful to you Julie. I hope the instructions are clear. I've been experimenting with different methods and this is the best I've come up with so far.

  2. Keith, I have always loved working on w/c blocks and have purchases many of them but limited it to very small 5"x7" ..because of the price of larger sizes.
    sorry I still use inches ...
    I've never thought of making my own.. but you have now given me another thing to do ... oh whoopee.. !! another chore. .. Thanks Keith .. I will try it.. Barbra Joan

    1. Hi BJ, blocks are so much simpler aren't they, but the price has always put me off as well, so I thought I would have a go at making them. It is a bit of a chore, but it only needs to be done once for every 15 or so paintings, and it probably gets easier if you are doing it regularly.

  3. Instead of a weight you could use some frame clamps and two pieces of wood as well.
    It's great isn't it, ... making your own stuff!

    No I'm at it, you made some awesome work lately Keith, no always have the time to comment
    on it, but be aware you have a great admirer here in Holland!

    1. Thanks René, that sounds like a good idea and I'll try it next time and maybe put an update on here.

      Glad you like my latest work. I'm trying out some ideas after reading about Trevor Chamberlain. I know you admire him for his oils.

    2. Not only for his oils Keith, more for his way of looking.
      He's such a sensitive guy, who still teaches me a lot of looking
      for new subjects with your heart,...

      (Hope the text comming through in order now.) :-|

    3. Well as I just said on your blog, I reckon it's working for you! :-)

  4. What a good idea! It's very generous of you to share it like this. As has been said, the price of some art items is totally ridiculous!! Thanks Keith.

    1. Glad it's useful to you Kev. I don't know whether blocks are expensive compared with other materials; there must be a lot of wastage in the process. Art materials are getting very expensive for starving artists though! ):

  5. Hi there Keith!... A great idea! Almost makes me want to jump back into the watercolour fray! I like the idea of the unsual format idea.... takes away the restrictive nature of the commercially prepared blocks! One can even throw together other paper varities that are perhaps more conducive to trying out new ideas.

    The price of materials continues to grow in a staggering fashion. Any tips to lessen the cost load are worth pursuing!

    Good luck with the new blocks!

    Good painting!
    Warmest regards,

    1. Hi Bruce, yes different papers is an interesting idea and it would be a way of using up odd sheets as well.

      I don't think I'm ready to make my own paint yet, but it's nice to save a bit of money when it's fairly easy to do.

      Hope you enjoy the winery event.

      All the best,

  6. Thanks Keith
    What a great tip. I made one and it turned out great.I posted it on my blog today.

    1. Hi Sue, I'm glad it worked for you. That's a great idea for a cover.

  7. What kind of adhesive do you use Keith?

    1. Hi Caroline, for this I used PVA craft adhesive from a stationers. I think Copydex might be better, because the commercial blocks have a similar latex-based adhesive.

  8. You must have found the PVA craft adhesive did the job just fine. I know that Copydex is meant to be very good as an adhesive. Wondering if you have tried both products! Many thanks Keith. Caroline

    1. Yes the PVA seems to be OK. Occasionally I've had it coming apart slightly, but it's easy to put a bit more on when it does. I think Copydex would be stronger but I don't know whether it would be acid-free. Having said that, I don't think it would matter much as it's only on the edges.


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