Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Test of 140 lb. Paper

8/16/13 Platinum Carbon ink, watercolor, 140 lb. paper
Although I knew our trip to the Twin Cities wouldn’t be a long adventure with lots of sketches, I decided to take along my “Stefano” sketchbook system anyway (as I’m planning to use it as my everyday sketchbook soon). And since flexibility is one of its key attributes, I took full advantage of it this time.

The signatures I stitched up for Barcelona/Germany served me well on my travels, and the paper in them – 100-pound Canson Biggie watercolor paper that I happen to have a huge stack of – is similar enough to 100-pound Stillman & Birn Alpha paper that it felt familiar and comfortable. It’s ideal for pencil, markers, and pen and ink, and it even holds up sufficiently to light watercolor washes.

But I have been wanting to find a paper closer to the 180-pound Stillman & Birn Beta paper that I have come to appreciate with heavier watercolor washes. Although I’ve been told they perform beautifully, I was reluctant to invest in high-end watercolor papers that can cost $5 per sheet or more. So shortly before my recent Minnesota trip, I purchased a pad of Strathmore 140-pound watercolor paper. With a discount coupon, the price worked out to about a dollar per 18” x 24” sheet, which is reasonable for my budget and intended purpose.

I took along a signature of 100-pound paper that was leftover from the ones I stitched previously. In addition, I also stitched up a signature of the 140-pound Strathmore. The heavier paper meant that I could bind only six pages per signature (instead of eight for the 100-pound paper), but since the dimensions are identical, I could use the same punching template. (More important, I didn’t have to do any additional page-measuring and cutting calculations, which means, for me, eliminating new possibilities for error!) The Stefano cover has two elastic signature holders, so I could carry both at the same time, side by side.

The sketch above of a planter outside our hotel was my first test of the 140-pound paper. (I also used it on the sketch of the Minneapolis skyline and of the column at Noerenberg Gardens.) It curled slightly under full washes, but overall, it held up well (about as well as 180-pound S & B Beta paper, which surprised me). The part I had difficulty with was the rough cold-pressed texture, which kept catching on my Lamy pen nib. S & B Beta paper is also quite rough, but I haven’t noticed it catching on my pen in the same way. I’ll keep trying it to see if I can get used to it. (I suppose I could try a hot-pressed paper, but I’ve heard that invites different issues. Or maybe keep looking for a smoother, cold-pressed paper in the same price range as the Strathmore.)

My evaluation: 140-pound, cold-pressed Strathmore paper: B-. (Stefano sketchbook system with side-by-side signatures of two types of paper: A+!)


  1. Do consider hot press paper. I use it in a lot of my sketchbooks, and it's just lovely with pens and fountain pen ink. Strathmore's watercolor paper is so-so. Canson BIggie is also meh. In the end, I don't think it's economical to buy mediocre paper -- it's hard to get good results with it, and you're always "making due" with it.

    I think you'll be surprised at how a truly well-made watercolor paper responds to wet paints. Go ahead and splurge on a single sheet. It's the same cost as a nice cup of coffee, and it'll last longer. :)


  2. Hi Tina... I haven't tried a S&B Beta or even an Alpha so I won't try to compare but my favorite sketchbook paper is Strathmore 500 Mixed Media. It's a vellum surface... not quite smooth but smoother than cold. No trouble with my Lamy and it handles wet washes wonderfully. The best thing is that it's 90# but somehow feels thicker to me. It folds and binds beautifully and even when I use a lot of water it dries flat. It's about $2.50 for a 22 x 30 sheet (grain short). I can't find it on the Daniel Smith site but I did find it at Blick. If you think you'd like to try it out without putting the energy into the binding you can get a hardbound sketchbook there too.

    When you were it the Twin Cities you might have heard or met Roz Stendahl. She wrote extensively about the paper and journals on her blog. Just start here and follow the links. You'll have TONS of information and photos of her work to compare.

    Good luck on your hunt for your favorite Stefano paper... love your blog!

  3. Thanks so much for your suggestions, Elaine and Dana! I am definitely going to keep exploring paper options, so I really appreciate your ideas. Stay tuned for further reports!


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