Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Three Papers and a Pen

Three types of 140-pound cold press papers that I'm stitching up into signatures.
On my trip to Yellowstone, I finished up a couple more signatures of 100-pound and 140-pound papers in “the Stefano” and started a third, leaving me only one to spare, so it’s time to stitch up a new supply of signatures.

Now that I’ve been using the 140-pound Strathmore Series 400 paper for about a month, I’m really liking the way it takes washes. I thought it held up especially well when I painted Old Faithful and other geysers wet-on-wet. The strong wind kept drying my paper before I could apply the paint, so I had to rewet it several times. I’m still not quite used to the rough texture that tends to snag my pen nib, but it’s getting better. I started thinking that if I found a 140-pound watercolor paper that was smooth enough to use with pen and ink but still had some texture and also performed well with watercolor, I could eliminate the smoother 100-pound paper that I still prefer when I’m not using watercolor. (I’m staying away from hot press for now, although I may eventually try it.)

(I have to thank my friend Peggy Haug for convincing me to explore heavier papers. I got so used to using pen and ink on the 100-pound paper in my beloved Stillman & Birn Alpha and Gamma sketchbooks that I didn’t realize how poorly it was performing when I added watercolor. I assumed my mediocre painting skills were at fault, and I didnt think heavier paper would help. My painting skills haven’t improved dramatically recently, but some of my painted sketches are definitely better – and I think the 140-pound paper gets the credit! Thanks, Peggy!)

I found myself wandering around at Artists & Craftsmen yesterday. (Do you ever find yourself inexplicably wandering through art supply stores with no apparent purpose – and you’re not even sure how you got there? It’s a very specific type of amnesia suffered only by art supply hoarders.) Rifling through the stacks of watercolor paper pads, I found two I had not yet tried: Canson’s Montval Artist Series and Canson XL (I couldnt find it at A&C online). They’re both 140-pound cold press, but I’m guessing that the XL is student grade, since it was less than half the price of the Montval. Both are cheaper than the Strathmore 400 I’m currently using, but they both also feel less rough. I’m not necessarily looking for top quality – my only requirement is that it be acid-free – so I’m giving them both a try. Maybe I’ll carry a signature of each of the three 140-pound papers I have and compare them side by side. (Another hoorah for the Stefano that enables me to do this!)

As for the pen. . . A couple weeks ago I was talking about the Sailor fountain pen with the funky ski-jump nib and how it was growing on me. Toward the end of the Sketching Forum discussion thread I referred to, right after I wrote that post, Zoe mentioned the Hero 501-1 pen at isellpens.com, which she prefers to the Sailor. What’s hilariously ironic is that my frustrating, unsuccessful search for that Hero, which I had heard several other sketchers raving about a while back, is what eventually led me to buy the Sailor! But since the Hero link had been dropped into my lap, and the pen was only $15, I couldn’t resist getting one, if only on principle.

I’ve been using the Hero only a short time, but so far, I’m not impressed. Yesterday I used it on a couple of sketches at Whole Foods (the man on the left in the middle sketch and the man on the right in the lower sketch), but I had to give it up and switch to the Sailor after a bit because the ink kept skipping. The “ski jump” is shorter than on the Sailor, which makes it harder for me to control. And most annoying of all is that the metal-cased Hero is significantly heavier than the plastic-cased Sailor, and I do tend to favor lighter-weight pens.

I’m sticking with my Sailors.

(And this just goes to show that preferences for things like pens are almost entirely a personal matter. Reading reviews or comments by users can be interesting and sometimes revealing, but most of the time, the only good pens are the ones you like and keep on using. Now if I can just remember that the next time I read a rave review about yet another pen. . .)


  1. Thanks for your reviews. I haven't tried the Canson XL but I do use the Canson/Montvale spiral pads a lot. They are inexpensive and are light enough for me to carry them around (a drawback of the S&B). There is even a size that fits into my purse so I can go incognito easily. lol

    1. I'm looking forward to checking out the new papers and will report back on the results!

  2. Thanks, Tina, for the credit. Yes, I DO paint differently with better paper, or even what I would call "real" w/c paper, as opposed to mixed media, or the Bee sketchbooks. But I'm also going to give YOU credit for your determination to learn, to experiment, to share many of your sketches, and that drive to sketch EVERY day! Your sketches ARE better! SO keep at it!

    1. Wow, thanks, Peggy! That means a lot to me, coming from you -- you're one of my watercolor role models!

    2. I recognize myself in your description of wandering the aisles of ACS! When I used Stillman & Birn, I used the 180 lb Beta. I bought another recently, thinking of giving it another try. I've like the Strathmore Visual Journals watercolor spiral sketchbooks with 140 lb watercolor paper. The only thing is that it doesn't indicate which "series" it is. I prefer Strathmore 400 series or even 500, though the later is hard to find.

      After the experience today of cutting sketches out of my bound books (OUCH!), I think I may go back to spiral books.

      I have noticed how good your watercolors have been looking!


    3. Thanks, Kate! If I ever find loose sheets of S & B Beta paper (which they are apparently selling now), I'd like to try making a signature with it. But I'm afraid it might be too heavy to fold well.

  3. Hi Tina, my father, who paints a bit too, gave me the Canson XL because he didn't like it (ha!). I don't much either, paint really bleeds and soaks in on it, it seems cheap. On the other hand, it probably has its uses, sometimes certain effects are only possible on a specific paper. But it's a great idea to try out some papers, I don't always make a note when I find a good one, your idea of blogging it down is great.


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