Monday, June 8, 2020

Choosing the right papers/Openings in online drawing classes

Drawing and Painting Papers
There is a lot of confusion regarding what papers are good for drawing and what are good for painting. Plus, it doesn’t help when you go to the art store or look online and see so many choices. When preparing for this article, I went up to Dick Blick and found 97 different papers. Geez. That’s a lot of paper. Hopefully, this article will give you the basic generalities that may help you make some informed choices.

Paper has several different surfaces that accommodate several different media and tools. To choose wisely, you first have to consider the medium you are using and then match it to the appropriate paper.
If you are drawing with a #2 pencil and taking illustrative notes for later, you can use simple bond paper. Most of today’s copy paper is good enough to withstand pencil, several types of pens, light coloring with crayons and  colored pencil and ball point pens. But by no means do you add water to these pages because they will buckle.

Why? It’s all about weight and texture. While this is probably not the best place to write a treatise on this subject, it’s enough to say that not all papers are the same. Some papers are super thin, like vellum and tracing paper. Then there are drawing papers that can be textured, smooth and weigh anything from 20# (usually bond paper) to 300# (watercolor). There are newsprint papers that are rough, absorbent and fade in time (don’t use if you want to keep the drawings) and even sanded papers (good for pastels).

Weight lb vs gsm
Let us cover weight of the paper, as this causes the most confusion. Paper is classified by its weight, thickness based on a ream of paper (500 sheets). So if you were going to be buying the standard 140# watercolor paper, that is telling you that it’s heavier than 20# bond paper,

Now to really add more to the mix:  have you noticed papers are listed in lbs, gsm or both? What’s that?  In the United States, we use pounds to weigh paper, while the rest of the world using grams per square meters (GSM).

Knowing the difference is really important, especially when you want to use wet materials on paper. If it’s not heavy enough, the paper will buckle. Below you will find a list of papers at watercolor weights.
  • 90 lb (190 gsm),
  • 140 lb (300 gsm),
  • 260 lb (356 gsm),
  • 300 lb (638 gsm)

The general rule is:  paper that weighs less than 90# (190 gsm) shouldn’t be used with a wet medium. Having said that though, you should still tack down your 90# and 140# because the paper will most likely buckle without securing the edges. Three hundred pound paper is sturdy enough to withstand everything.
Below you will find a chart I found on the inside of the Canson XL recycled papers. It’s very informative and something you can use. Click on it to make it larger.

Cotton vs. wood pulp
As we know, especially if you live in Oregon, most papers are made out of wood pulp. That’s fine for copiers, office printers, books, stationary, and such. But when it comes to art, the distinction is big.  Although I do a lot of my sketching and quick-draw art on wood pulp paper, I set aside my important work for 100% cotton (or what’s called rag).

I recommend using 100% cotton (with a few exceptions) for both drawing and painting. Back in the early 2000s, I took a watercolor painting class. I was a novice so I bought all my supplies straight from the instructor’s material list, which included Strathmore watercolor paper. I really struggled in the class because I never was able to achieve that soft, blended watercolor look. It always seemed to come out splotchy.
Then I took a workshop at PCC, and the instructor introduced me to cotton paper. What a difference, the paint just flowed lovely over the paper. The reason the other paper didn’t work was that the paint was sitting on the paper instead of soaking into the fibers.

In time, I learned that I got better results when working on cotton paper even when drawing (pencil, pen, pastels, colored pencil, etc.). I usually use Stonehenge, Canson Edition, and Pentalic Nature Sketch. As for watercolor paper, I use 100% cotton hot press for drawing and cold press for painting, manufactured by Arches, Fabriano and Saunders-Waterford. Of course there are other brands that I can use, but the most important thing to look for is paper weight and what type of paper you are using.

Next month
I’ll cover types of art paper, smooth and textured, including some manufacturers and why I like them.

What coming up?

All classes are now online via Zoom
Tuesdays and Wednesdays
10 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
$90 per five-week session

Creating a Nature Journal from Your Window
Trees from crown to roots

Media: Pencil, pen, watercolor and gouache
Supply list provided upon registration

Tuesday mornings: June 16--July 14
Wednesday mornings: June 17-July 15 Full

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