Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Invitational Italian Watercolor Competition

The people of Fabriano in Italy have been making paper for several hundred years, 1400AD or so.  There were many small paper mills in the town of Fabriano before the Wars (WWI & WWII), but wars kill craftsmen, and so now there is only one mill called Fabriano, after the town itself.  All paper was made by hand before 1800, when the French invented the paper machine.  Today, Fabriano is a huge government/private partnership corporation which is, for the most part, a machine mill using both cotton and wood fibers.  It makes all the currency for Italy and many other countries as well as most of Italy's book papers, art papers, stationery, and on and on. However, to carry on the ancient tradition and craft of making paper by hand,  they have a small team of craftsmen who continue to hand dip a paper mould into a vat of cotton pulp, forming one individual sheet at a time, just as Twinrocker does in Brookston, Indiana.

This year the Paper & Watermark Museum in Fabriano is hosting their Biennial Invitational Watercolor Competition.  I have been invited to compete with twenty-nine other artists from Italy, Great Britain, Holland, Germany, India, and the USA.  We each received three sheets of Fabriano handmade watercolor paper and were asked to paint on the full 22" x 30" sheet, sending one completed watercolor.  I must add that most, if not all, of the Fabriano watercolor paper that's imported to the USA is machine made, and is radically different from their handmade.  

Many years ago, when Howard and I visited Fabriano, they invited me to make some paper at their vat, and it happened to be watercolor paper they were making that day.  The felts, on which they "couch" or transfer the newly formed wet layer of pulp, have been custom woven so that they have wool nubs sticking up in order to create an embossed roughness to the sheet.  This roughness, which is in the pattern of the weaving of the felt, is present in the Coldpressed surface and is unique in handmade papers world wide.   After many years, I now have an occasion to actually paint on that paper. I'm going into some detail about this unusual surface, because it is unique to Fabriano, and I think you can see the rough surface in this photograph.  This is the 30" x 22" image I painted on their paper.  As its title states, it is a "High Creek Bank" on the edge of a woods with many trees whose roots have become exposed from the rushing water of spring rains.
The thirty submitted watercolors will be augmented with some additional Italian watercolors by invited, non-competing artists which will all be exhibited in Italy and then travel to several other countries with a full color catalog.  The lucky winner will get 100 sheets of this paper, a one-person exhibition in Fabriano, and a two-week stay in Fabriano for the opening of the festivities.  One never knows what the future holds.


  1. Congratulations for the selection! Watercolor month indeed.

  2. A month of watercolor has actually been enlightening! After not painting any watercolor for a year and a half, I realized that I really love the look of watercolor as well as oil. Now I need to paint more so I can have enough time for both, particularly in landscape. It's funny that my first month of watercolor has been with the figure which I've never painted in watercolor before.