Friday, April 30, 2021

Seduced by Hot Press Again (This Time, Stonehenge)

4/23/21 Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle
pencils on Stonehenge hotpress

Other than trying a student-grade pad of Fabriano years ago, the closest I have come to regular use of a hot press paper was when I thought Stillman & Birn Zeta could be “the one” (a commercial sketchbook as my daily-carry for urban sketching after years of binding my own). I had grown to love Zeta (and its lighter-weight sister, Epsilon) at home, where I used it frequently to draw still lives with colored and graphite pencils as well as all kinds of ink. But the honeymoon with Zeta ended when I discovered a weird mottling that occurred when I had spritzed the surface, one of my favorite techniques with watercolor pencils. Although Zeta is heavy enough to take wet washes and claims to be suitable for wet media, I had discovered something unpleasant about its sizing. I still enjoy using it with more traditional watercolor pencil techniques, but not with spritzing.

S&B Beta, with a surface closer to cold press and better sizing, turned out to be a better all-purpose urban sketching book, and it’s been my daily-carry for a couple of years now. I almost always prefer a visible cold press texture, which brings out the best in watercolor pencils. And yet, every now and again, I find myself seduced by the delightfully smooth surface of hot press.

A tiny sample pad of Stonehenge Aqua hotpress

In addition to Aqua Coldpress and White, another paper I tested in the Legion Stonehenge sampler set (full review at the Well-Appointed Desk) is Aqua Hotpress. With a surface that feels identical to the 90-pound White, Aqua Hotpress has a 140-pound weight and is sized for wet media. What makes the White and Aqua Hotpress (and several other Stonehenge papers) special is a unique, velvety surface with a clearly visible tooth compared to most hot press papers, including Zeta. From my paper experience, its tooth is somewhere between Beta and Zeta – which could be quite a sweet spot for me (if other important factors such as spritzability are also present). The little taste I got while testing the sample gave me a craving for more.

[Pardon me while I pause here to say that it drives this former editor crazy to see Stonehenge’s use of “Hotpress” and “Coldpress” as single words while the rest of the paper industry uses the terms as two words. Auughh! OK, I’ve recovered and can move on.]

4/23/21 Museum Aquarelle on Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress

Before buying larger sheets of Hotpress, I took my tiny sample pad out with me on a recent neighborhood walk. The pad’s 2 ½-by-3 ¾-inch size was tricky for urban sketching – scaling is a challenge for me under any circumstance – but I found a basketball hoop and an excavator that fit. As during my initial tests, that light but distinctive tooth was a joy to use with watercolor pencils. At home, I spritz-tested a sheet in the two ways I use most often when urban sketching: wet-in-wet by applying color with the “licking” method; and spraying dry pigment previously applied to the paper (below). The results look satisfactory, but both techniques require real-world sketching to evaluate fully. These mini sketches and tests were enough to convince me to spring for a 9-by-12-inch block of Aqua Hotpress.

Museum Aquarelle applied wet-in-wet

Dry Museum Aquarelle pigment spritzed

At more than a dollar a sheet, the block is a bit pricey to burn through at my typical urban sketching rate. (Though I just did the math, and it works out to be about the same as the softcover S&B Beta I use regularly.) Tearing down full-size sheets would be much more economical, of course, but it’s difficult to find space to do that in my small studio. Perhaps I’d use sheets from blocks only when I travel, when I still intend to bind a sketchbook (ahh, travel. . . remember that?). Just muttering aloud here as I anticipate a renewed paper tizzy.

Regardless of how well the Aqua Hotpress fares in urban sketches, I can still use the block during a class that I’m looking forward to taking next month. I think the paper would be scrumptious with colored pencils, dry or wet.


  1. I like the spritzing effect you got in your test. Hope this paper works out for you.

  2. Tina, what class will you be taking?

    1. Drawing nature with colored pencils! We will be making small still lives with natural artifacts. Can't wait!


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