Friday, August 17, 2018

Hemming and Hawing about Paper

8/4/18 University Village
(graphite on Canson XL 140 lb. watercolor paper)

For the past four years, I’ve been happily using Canson XL 140-pound watercolor paper as my go-to for my handbound sketchbooks. Although it’s only student grade, I’ve found its cold-press surface and hefty weight pleasant and reliable for all the media I’ve ever thrown at it – watercolor, colored pencils, water-soluble colored pencils (even when spritzed heavily with water), ink, brush pens, everything. It’s available in 9-by-12-inch pads, which means I don’t have to cut it – just fold and stitch. (Frankly, if it weren’t available in that size, I’m not sure I would be using it – the convenience is hard to beat.) Although I use other sketchbooks at home, like various flavors of Stillman & Birn, and occasionally dabble in other papers on location, the Canson watercolor paper has given me no reason to look around for anything else.

Until now (you knew I was going to say that, right?). As you’ve seen, I’ve been fascinated with graphite ever since I took Eduardo Bajzek’s workshop, and I’m discovering that the paper choice with his technique is more critical than I had initially realized.

On his supply list, he had suggested a relatively smooth paper, but during his workshop I tried the Derwent sketch pad we had been given, and I liked the light tooth on it with the sketch I’d made. I also enjoyed using Strathmore Bristol – a very smooth paper that Suzanne Brooker had recommended for both colored pencil and graphite – for a few sketches I made in Portugal (the paper was in a signature I had brought for use in Eduardo’s workshop, but I ended up using the larger Derwent pad instead).
8/11/18 St. John's Church (graphite on
Strathmore Bristol)

Since I had enjoyed using the slightly toothy Derwent surface, I tried a sketch with his method using my usual Canson XL watercolor paper, and it was too toothy for my taste (sketch above at University Village). When I used a tissue to blend and smudge, the graphite got trapped by the texture and looked grainy instead of forming an even haze of tone. It ended up looking murky. It was also more difficult to erase.

I decided to stitch up a signature containing sheets of the Derwent, the Strathmore Bristol and some Canson Bristol that I had initially tried and rejected during Suzanne’s class (it’s smooth, but not as smooth as the Strathmore). At the Greenwood neighborhood sketchcrawl last Saturday, I used Strathmore Bristol (St. John’s Church at left).

My plan is to make several graphite sketches on each paper and see how they compare. Stay tuned for the results.

Three papers I'm trying with graphite


  1. I enjoy traveling along with you as you explore your media! Thanks for all your great write-ups!

    1. Thanks for following along, Cathy! I'm having fun as usual!

  2. It's been fun watching you leave your pens behind as you dive deeper and deeper down the graphite rabbit hole. Before all the dust has settled on your paper testing, you might want to try the "vellum" version of Strathmore's Bristol. It adds just a bit of tooth to their smooth version and makes it a very popular pencil surface.

    1. Ohh, good suggestion, Larry! I think I might even have some "vellum" Bristol somewhere. . . (need to go "shop" in my endless storeroom of supplies! ;-) )


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