It has been a busy summer. I wanted to have my “Drawing Practice: Drawing Live Subjects in Public” class before the Minnesota State Fair in hopes that local students could take the techniques to the Fair. That worked well as even a couple long distance students were able to attend the Fair. Other far-flung students have reported going off to their own Fairs and festivals in search of live subjects to draw.
Even though I was caught up in the interaction with students I still had to finalize my own plans for the Fair. I’ll be writing about those experiments and selections off and on for the next several weeks. While the Fair is over, it’s never too early to begin planning for the next sketching adventure. Some of the materials I tested might be useful to you when you make those plans.
Selecting a Paper for Sketching at the Minnesota State Fair—I Make a Start
Before you can select a paper you really need to think about what you want to use on that paper. For me, I knew this year I wanted to use pen and watercolor.
For my drawing class I’d suggested students use the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media journal because I knew that paper would take all the materials I was discussing in class and return good results to students—it is not a paper that would frustrate them, regardless of their skill level.
But I took one of those journals to the Fair last year because I couldn’t bind then either. I wanted to use something different. All through class while I was helping students with their sketching techniques I wanted more time working on real watercolor paper. Since I couldn’t bind a new book with watercolor paper, and there isn’t a commercially available journal with watercolor paper that I really like my mind turned to the idea of journal cards—but I didn’t want to cut paper, even with a board shears.
I ordered some watercolor journals with wire bindings that I’ll talk about on another day. I wouldn't have time to test them until they arrived just before the Fair, but one contained one of my favorite papers so I knew I was “covered” if I didn’t find something else to use. While I was waiting for them to arrive I kept looking for other alternatives in case the 9 x 12 inch size proved to large for me to carry with my shoulder issues.
Then I saw the Strathmore 400 Series Printmaking paper in pads at Wet Paint. The 280 gms paper was thick enough to work as a pre-cut journal card. The paper is also reasonably priced. I bought a pad and brought it home to test.
Left: Detail of the pigeon painting. The right side of the detail shows a light wash laid in. I will often have light applications of gouache in some areas of my paintings. On the darker, left side you will see some light areas where I scrubbed the dried paint back to lighten an area. All of this is possible on this paper. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Because I originally planned to work on actual watercolor paper I had also started testing ink pens. Not all “waterproof” pens respond as waterproof when used on the heavy sizing of a real watercolor paper. Watercolor papers are treated, typically, both internally and externally with sizing which prevents the paint from soaking into the paper. By floating the paint on the surface of the paper while it dries you achieve a brighter look. But this same sizing keeps the ink you sketch with from soaking in and drying quickly too. So you want to test your pens and inks with this in mind. If you would like to read more about this see my post “It’s Not Waterproof Until It’s Waterproof.
I’d seen an advertisement for the Platinum Refillable Felt-Tipped Brush Pen, which uses cartridges of that ink. I don’t normally like felt-tipped brush pens for anything except very quick sketching and writing (sometimes it’s very fun to write with them). But I have had good luck with the Platinum Carbon Black ink on some watercolor papers and decided to do some tests with this pen.
Dick purchased a couple of these pens for me from Goulet Pens. If you are going to use cartridges instead of a converter with this pen—and when you're at the Fair it's easier to just pop in another cartridge—be sure to buy the Platinum Carbon Black Cartridges and not Platinum Black ones. It's the Carbon black ink that I'm having waterproof success with.
If you purchase the converter for this pen you can use any type of fountain pen ink in it that you want. So you could use your favorite Noodler's ink in this pen and sketch in a color that you love.
The pigeon image shown here was the first test of that pen on the Strathmore 400 Series Printmaking paper. The paper has a hard surface and smooth tooth, but there is a slight texture to it. I found that the pen danced over the surface of this paper in a delightful way. When I added gouache washes I was delighted. The ink stayed put.
Since I knew I wasn’t going to take gouache to the Fair, and had only used it in the first test because the gouache palette I’d used earlier in the day for another painting was still sitting out, I did my next test with watercolor.
For this second quick memory sketch I used the Schmincke pan watercolors I'd put together (I'll write about this on another day), and a large Niji Round Waterbrush.
If you click on the image to view the enlargement you will see the lovely way this paper keeps the paint on its surface resulting in a very bright look, even for the dark mixes. (I was working with Helio Blue Reddish and Burnt Sienna and Transparent Brown to mix my "blacks.")
You can see the the paint can be stroked on, that it can be allowed to puddle in interesting ways, that it can easily be layered, and it can be rubbed back (see the beak).
The eye was also rubbed back a bit and then new colors were applied. Enough of the original colors remained to give an interesting effect.
Also in this sketch, if you look at the top of the bird's head at the base of the comb or at the base of the cheek above the wattle, you'll see that I turned the brush tip on its side and got bold black lines that are quite fun.
I also loved the way the ink stayed vibrant and dark on this paper.
All in all I was quite taken with the Strathmore 400 Series Printmaking paper.
1. I could purchase it in a number of different pad sizes so I could decide at the last moment the journal card size I wanted to use.
2. It was thick enough and stiff enough to use as a journal card. (Even with heavy water application the paper didn't buckle. It curled a little, but in such a way that I believe simply weighting it will flatten it right out—and if that doesn't, it's still not even a distraction. Pieces could easily be held flat in frames if that were your intention.)
3. Because it was available in pads that cleanly released the sheets when pulled, I didn't have to worry about cutting anything down to size.
4. It took one of the inks I was testing exceptionally well. And that ink dried on the paper quickly, allowing me to go in almost immediately with washes, without any of the ink bleeding.
5. The printmaking paper took the watercolor washes (and gouache washes for that matter) very well. I could layer washes, and scrub out or lift up pigment to lighten areas.
6. It's an acid free paper. While it isn't the top of the line paper in this line of printmaking paper (the 500 Series is a 100 percent cotton paper that is acid free), I felt it was a strong paper.
7. It's economically priced so I could buy it and run through a lot of it.
8. It didn't have an offensive odor either dry or wet. (Something that matters a lot to me.)
Despite all those positives I did NOT select this paper for my 2015 Minnesota State Fair Journal.
I really can't think of a negative about this paper, except perhaps that its surface is too hard for me to use my default Staedtler Pigment Liners (SPLs) on it with complete comfort. (It's doable, it just wouldn't be totally fun for me.) And I don't believe I would enjoy working with graphite or color pencil on this paper surface—sure a bold line or too, but not the small strokes and wispy lines I like to play with.
Since I still wasn't sure I wouldn't use a lot of pencil, and still might rely on the SPLs I knew that this paper was NOT my 2015 Minnesota State Fair Journal paper.
But I wanted to share these tests with you because for all the reasons stated above, it's a good paper. I know that sometime this fall or winter someone will suggest a short trip and I'll grab a couple pads of this paper and off we'll go. I'll use the paper as journal cards and make a case for them when we return.
You might find the paper useful for that purpose as well.
Or maybe you want an inexpensive paper that will take ink and watercolor wash (or gouache) and you are trying to keep your paper consumption within your budget, while you work on a new series of paintings? This would be an excellent paper choice in that situation.
Add it to your list of papers to test your favorite pens upon.
You might find my review of the Strathmore 300 Series Printmaking paper of interest. That paper is too lightweight to serve as journal cards, but it's an interesting paper. I haven't tested the Strathmore 500 Series Printmaking paper yet. But you'll be the first to hear about it when I do. I tore several sheets down and they are waiting to be sewn together and bound in a book. I'm looking forward to it.