Monday, May 17, 2021

Stonehenge Papers: Cold, Hot, White, Lenox Cotton


Legion Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress, White and Lenox Cotton

For the most part, I’ve been happy with Stillman & Birn Beta, which has been my field sketchbook for a couple of years now. Its weight, sizing and cold press texture are well-suited to watercolor pencils, and my favorite softcover format in the 5 ½-by 8 ½-inch size is an ideal urban sketching daily-carry.

Then some new guys came to town. Ever since I reviewed the sample set for the Well-Appointed Desk, I’ve been smitten by some Legion Stonehenge papers. I even started wondering if I’d go back to hand-binding sketchbooks again. The tiny sample pads gave me an idea of the surfaces, but I needed larger sheets to test them fully. (The four papers in this review are available as convenient glued pads or blocks as well as full sheets.) You’ve seen most of these sketches and occasional paper comments in previous posts; this post summarizes my thoughts.

Stonehenge Aqua Coldpress

Kate gave me a couple of sheets of her favorite 140-pound Stonehenge Coldpress that I stitched into an A5-ish sized signature. Beautifully sized for wet media, this all-cotton paper stays amazingly flat even after spritzing. I can see why watercolor painters love it. Although I like paper with a good tooth when using watercolor pencils, ultimately I found this cold press texture to be a bit too strong for my ultra-soft Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles. Fine details are especially difficult, and when I leave the watercolor pencils dry, the texture shows more prominently than I like. It’s probably better suited for a harder colored pencil, and obviously, it’s ideal for watercolor paints.

Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle on Coldpress. The texture is promiment, especially with dry pencil.

Museum Aquarelle and ArtGraf carbon pencil on Coldpress

Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress

Stonehenge 140-pound Hotpress is the paper that threw me into a tizzy. Other hot press papers I’ve tried have been very smooth, but this all-cotton paper has more texture than most. I can hardly call it a “tooth”; it’s more like a soft finish that feels almost like fabric. With the same delicious sizing and weight that I enjoyed with cold press, maybe hot press would have just the right amount of texture to make my colored pencils happy. Available in a 9-by-12-inch block, it was easy to stitch up a few sheets into a signature. (Paper mystery: Although it’s apparently 140 pound just like the cold press, the hot press is thinner. Why?)

Indeed, it’s a delightful paper. I tried it with very little water (Starbucks umbrellas and Mt. Rainier) as well as heavily spritzed (foliage), and it takes both techniques beautifully. The smoothness allows fine details when I want them. I could easily use this regularly on location . . . and yet sometimes I miss having a bit more tooth when I sketch foliage. Maybe a tooth more like Beta. . . ? 

Museum Aquarelle on Hotpress

Museum Aquarelle on Hotpress

Museum Aquarelle on Hotpress

Museum Aquarelle on Hotpress

Stonehenge White

I never considered Stonehenge White a serious contender for urban sketching because it’s too lightweight to hold up to much water (it was originally designed for printmaking). I was surprised, though, by how beautifully it took my spritzing technique (the cherry blossoms), at least on one side. Unfortunately, it buckled enough that using the reverse side was unpleasant. With a fabric-like finish similar to hot press, Stonehenge White is a joy to use with dry colored pencils (I used Caran d’Ache Luminance in the neighborhood sketch), which is probably its ideal use. 

Museum Aquarelle on White

Caran d'Ache Luminance on White

Lenox Cotton

Since all the other Legion Stonehenge papers are also 100 percent cotton, I’m not sure why Lenox Cotton is called out as such – a branding thing, I suppose: According to the pad, “this sturdy substrate was our first 100% cotton paper to be produced by an American mill.” With an ever-so-slightly heavier texture than White and Hotpress, “it’s the ideal surface for graphite, pastel, colored pencil and charcoal.”

Like the White, I bought this pad specifically for use with dry pencils. For the portrait of my mother, I used Prismacolors, which are among my softest colored pencils. Compared to Strathmore Bristol Smooth and Bristol Vellum, which are the papers I am most accustomed to using with dry pencils, Lenox Cotton has a bit more tooth that picks up pigment beautifully. This texture might not be ideal for extremely fine details in botanical drawings, for example, but I love it in this portrait.

Prismacolor on Lenox Cotton

I didn’t think it would hold up well to spritzing, so in the value study of the tree below, I used a Viarco ArtGraf water-soluble carbon pencil and activated gently with a waterbrush. This intense pencil doesn’t need much water to explode with blackness, so a little goes a long way. Once again, the tooth picked up the carbon effortlessly, imparting an organic look that I love when I’m sketching nature.

I haven’t tried it yet with harder Faber-Castell Polychromos or dry graphite pencils, but I have no doubt it would be gorgeous there, too. I’m looking forward to it. 

Viarco ArtGraf carbon pencil on Lenox Cotton

Final Impressions

I love all of these papers, but on location, none suits watercolor pencils and my way of working better than good ol’ Stillman & Birn Beta. Thank goodness I don’t have to hand-bind again after all!

In the studio, however, Stonehenge is a game changer: I prefer both Lenox Cotton and Stonehenge White to the Strathmore Bristol papers that have been my go-to drawing papers for several years. I started using Bristol in Gage drawing classes because most drawing instructors seem to favor them. For finely detailed work, the smooth Bristol surface is essential, but I’d like to get away from that type of drawing anyway and find a more expressive style (maybe like the portrait of my mom?) that would be well-suited to a mild tooth. I’m looking forward to exploring these papers further in the Gage class I’m starting later this week. More on that later.


  1. You have really nice results on all these papers and some do favor one kind of material over the other. At this point in time I can't imagine binding signatures again...although I sometime see someone with a homemade sketchbook and I'm jealous. I will probably continue to make those once in a while. Good review, Tina!

    1. Thanks, Joan! I love the look and versatility of binding my own... but I'd rather be sketching than binding! :-)

  2. I appreciate all the work you do to test these out.

    Yes, I do like the Stonehenge Aqua for watercolors!


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