|Better paper = less frustration.|
As mentioned recently, I upgraded my paper to Strathmore 300 Bristol for my graphite class, and I’m very happy I did. (I used it for my class assignments in tree foliage last week and water reflections the week before.) My instructor had recommended the Strathmore for its smoothness, but I already had a pad of Canson XL Bristol, which seemed smooth enough to me, so that’s what I used when I started the class. After a few weeks of vague frustration (Was it my pencils? My paper? Or just me?), I bought the Strathmore that she had recommended. Instantly I found that it’s much easier to apply graphite to the Strathmore without having to fight the grain that becomes apparent after a while with the Canson. Strathmore is only a little more expensive than Canson, so I can hardly call it an upgrade in terms of cost – but it’s a significant upgrade in quality.
If there’s one important lesson I have learned over time (and apparently am still learning) about art supplies, it’s this: It almost never pays to practice with low-quality materials. When I have conversations with novice sketchers, more often than not, they will say they are using inexpensive, low-quality materials to start out with because they are still just learning, and once they have more experience, they will upgrade to better materials. This is a paradox because it’s much easier to learn while using high-quality materials. I know it seems wasteful to use expensive paper or paints or even pencils while you are “just learning,” but I contend that you will be less frustrated and learn faster if you upgrade earlier rather than later.
Like most, I learned this lesson the hard way. When I first started sketching, I struggled through several inexpensive sketchbooks using watercolor. One day I expressed my frustration to an experienced watercolor sketcher, and she took one look at my sketchbook and said, “Why are you using this crappy paper?” I upgraded, and it made a huge difference.
Obviously I’m still guilty of doing this now, especially when starting a new medium: What if I don’t like drawing with graphite? Why invest in good paper right away if I decide I’m not going to continue? But I have enough overall experience now to know that if I’m struggling with something, it’s worthwhile to try a better material as soon as I notice the struggle (rather than waiting until I use up the pad).
I want to emphasize, though, that everything I’ve said above applies only when my goal is to learn to use a new medium. If my goal is to simply draw and draw regularly, then by all means, I believe in burning through as many cheap notebooks and pens or pencils as I can – the more, the better!
So when I have that conversation with new sketchers who are using low-quality materials, I don’t suggest an upgrade unless I hear them complain that they are struggling with a certain medium. That’s when I’m quick to make the suggestion. (I’m still grateful to Peggy who pointed out my crappy sketchbook back then.)