nena, I like most kinds of paper it is more of a matter for what purpose. Sketching is most any kind of paper, for more finished work I really like Stonehenge by the sheet (not the pads). This of course only applies to paper, my preferred surface is either Pastelbord (for professional work) or homemade panels with a custom chalk gesso.
There are a ton of excellent hot pressed watercolor papers, most anything 120lb to 250gsm or over is simply fantastic to work on. Fabriano, Arches, Canson, Strathmore, and so on, all good.
antidotepictures, I am thrilled that this thread is proving useful to someone. I had long meant to share my growing list of tips and tricks, really just different tools for different purposes. It is good to know they might be useful to others.
In fact, after some time of messing around my craft foam shading technique, I realized that I had not been using craft foam to it's full potential. We often buy very specific tools for blending, and in doing so generally find ourselves having to adjust to the edges that tool provides. I have started making my own blending tools out of craft foam. Pictured here is a small rectangular piece I have been using one edge of to do some blending on dry layers, this also works well for use with solvent, the foam soaks it up and allows for very even distribution of it without leaving brushstrokes behind. It requires practically no pressure to smooth colors, it blends areas together, and it cleans out with water (soap too if you used a solvent).