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Surfaces - a summary

This section looks at the different surfaces available to Coloured Pencil users The individual topics listed on the right look at the way colour performs on a range of papers and similar surfaces. I take each type of pencil in turn. Papers come and go. From the original tests carried out in 2014 and 2015, two papers have now disappeared from the retailers in the UK, whilst others have appeared. It is not always so easy to keep up ! ‘Lost’ surfaces have been removed and ‘new’ surfaces have been added at the end of the list, otherwise the listing is the same as previously posted
Latest update here is November 2018
The surface you use to complete your art work makes a vast difference to the result. Papers that are too smooth will not pick up enough pigment and will give up accepting layers far too soon for you to get decent strength of colour. Papers that are too rough will pick up loads of colour from your pencil but give no accuracy of line .. plenty of colour, no detail Special surfaces made just for your medium can produce superb results - at a cost. Is the extra cost worth it ? Firstly I will have a look at paper - the most usual surface pencil artists use, What it is and how different papers have different surfaces. I also look at how to prepare paper for artwork
PAPER & STRETCHING PAPER Paper is sold in many forms and the descriptions can be confusing to a new artist First of all, quality art paper is more usually sold decribed by weight and also by type of surface. Weight Because we need to know how a paper is likely to perform, we need to know how thick it is and how it is likely to respond to treatment under a brush, pen or pencil. Weight relates to the weight of a square metre of a single sheet of the paper quoted in grammes Copy paper in a printer will probably be around 90gsm ( grammes per square metre ), too light for much artwork. Cartridge paper could be 120gsm or even 220gsm. Good for dry media use and the heavier paper will take a fair amount of pencil work correction Watercolour paper for serious use will be anything from 200gsm to 500gsm and above This will handle water media without buckling These weights are quoted in Metric which is now more usual in Europe and the system is much simpler to explain. In the USA and some other parts of the world Imperial measurement is still used. Here the paper weight is quoted in Pounds (lb) and this relates to the weight of 500 sheets of the paper at 17inches x 22inches. The comparisons are not exact, but the usual 300gsm watercolour paper compares with 140lb and a 400gsm paper with 188lb. I would not recommend that you use a paper with a weight under 125gsm ( approx 60lb ). Surface Type Cartridge paper has a fine grain surface with works very well for graphite pencil and purely dry media. It also works well for pen which involves very little moisture. Watercolour papers come in ‘Plate’ , ‘Smooth’ , ‘Hot Pressed’ , ‘Bristol board’, ‘Satin’ , also as ‘Cold Pressed’ , ‘Not’ , ‘Rough’ , ‘cloud’ , Papers can have two sides very different or very similar. Blocks or Pads Some papers come in pads with one edge secured so that they open like a book. Some papers come in blocks of paper secured around all the edges so that they are pre-stretched for watercolour use. This can be confusing to the new artist who cannot find an easy way to remove the top sheet ( have a close look around the sealed edges and find an area which has no seal - often a corner, but sometimes along an edge. Carefully separate the top sheet using the edge of a plastic ruler or similar smooth blunt instrument. This will avoid tearing the next sheet down which is possible if you use a knife ) SO WHAT IS PAPER and WHAT ARE ALL THESE FANCY NAMES WE GIVE PAPER TYPES ? Paper is a mixture of fibres mixed with water and traditionally made by hand in a mould, but these days more commonly made by machine. The fibres come into the machine in the form of a slurry mixture which is drained of as much water as possible and the resulting wet, felt like, material is pressed between rollers and dried. If the finishing rollers are smooth and hot, the paper will be smooth and referred to as ‘Hot Pressed’. If the rollers are cold, the paper will be ‘cold pressed’ or in old ‘artspeak’ - NOT - or ‘NOT Hot Pressed’ - (Who said artists don’t have a sense of humour ?). There are also Rough papers where the paper is pressed between rough woven blankets or rough textured rollers at the stage where the surface is established. These are usually the heavier weight and more expensive papers, but they are also less suitable for CP work, so we will not get excited about them here . Papers can have opposite sides of different grain, so do check that you are using the side of the paper you intended to. The fibres used can be Cotton, wood pulp - buffered by chemicals to delay internal acid rot, or mixed fibres, including a Bamboo mixture paper sold by Hahnemule. Wood Pulp tends to feature in the lower cost papers, and Cotton in the papers designed for Archival use. There are also more exotic papers using other leaves and generally found sourced from the Far East The paper can have Size - a gelatine like ingredient - added to the pulp when it is originally mixed, and will then be called ‘Internally Sized’. If the surface of the hot paper coming off the machine is sprayed with size as a final coat, the paper will be referred to as ‘Externally Sized’. If it has no Size, the paper will only be suitable for dry media. If wet media ( e.g. watercolour ) is used on unsized paper, the colour will spread and edges of colour will bleed and merge a little like blotting paper though hopefully not as bad !. The gelatine size enables colour to stay where it is put, but is not essential for Dry Pencil work. Internal and external sizing is good if there is any risk of adding water to the paper and pigment A Hot Pressed paper with a very smooth finish, like Arches paper, may be initially too smooth for ideal Dry CP work, but a wipe over with a damp cloth before use will remove some of the external size ( good ) and also raise the grain of the paper slightly to give more tooth (even better for wax pencil use). Another feature of paper is the fact that it expands when it is wet and contracts when it dries, and if it is re-wet, it expands again. Finally, paper also becomes partly translucent when wet and looks grey in colour. This is why watercolour appears darker on wet paper and lighter when the paper dries - the colour reflects better against the opaque white of the paper. Because a paper stretches under a wet media, the even nature of the paper can be disturbed and the paper finish up with a buckled surface even after drying. To prevent this, we can stretch a paper before using watercolour - and also for watercolour pencil media - if we intend to use any appreciable amount of water on our painting process. If we are only using modest amounts of water and simply damping the paper surface, it will not be necessary to stretch the paper if we are using a good weight ( 300gsm or 140lb is a good weight ) Using thin papers like Cartridge paper (an unsized paper) is fine for dry point CP, but I usually hold the paper down to the drawing board with either pins, tape or White Tac to stop it moving about. It is worthwhile checking that your board is perfectly smooth before working with a thin paper, otherwise place a sheet of smooth paper below your working sheet to smooth out any unevenness. I also place a second sheet of fresh cartridge paper on top, secured at the top edge by tape or White Tac so that the artwork is protected whilst being transported or stored during the painting process. I have now split the topic into two parts. When the paper is going to get wet we need to stretch it first and when the paper is going to get damp, we may not need to IF THE PAPER IS GOING TO GET WET If there is ANY possibility that I might use a wet process, I will use a sized paper of 300gm weight or more and pre- stretch it on a board. If I do NOT later use water or solvent, it doesn’t matter, but if I do, the paper will stay smooth at all times. An example would be a situation using wet paper when we decide to work a sky or a complete foundation of colour over the whole of the paper with watercolour pencils ( or watercolour from watercolour pencils ). This enables a quick and effective base to the artwork on to which dry colour can then be applied once the paper is dry. STRETCHING PAPER The aim is to wet the paper enough so that it ‘relaxes’ and spreads out. We then fix it down to a board and when it dries and contracts again, it comes under tension, and stays under tension while we paint. When we add water media to the surface of the paper, that part may well expand, but as the paper as a whole is still under tension from the original treatment when it was put on the board, the paper stays flat. How wet we want to get the paper depends on the weight of the paper. Some 300gm papers are very strong and have the power to bend the drawing board as they dry, so in those cases it is wise to limit the amount of water and then allow time while they relax, before fixing them down . Thinner papers may need wetting with a large brush rather than soaking in a water bath, to limit the amount of water applied. From this you will see that it is the TIME the damp paper is stretching that is crucial, rather than the amount of water used. The 300gm Daler Rowney Botanical paper I use, needs a short water soaking treatment ( usually in the Bath ! ), a further relaxing time to stretch, and it will then require fixing to the board with both wide brown paper ‘Butterfly’ tape, and also staples. Without the staples the paper may well tear itself away from the brown paper tape as it dries.. I can’t give you precise times and amounts of water as only experience will tell you the perfect combination for your paper. In the past I tended to prepare a batch of paper to a batch of boards (all in one go) as that had a higher success rate and a lower mess rate. Fixing wet stretched paper to wooden boards is an unreliable method though. Lately I have tended to use a commercially made aluminium framed board that firmly holds the wet paper down at the edge and this has had a much more reliable result. The Keba Artmate is not cheap, but is easy to use and trustworthy and comes in a range of sizes (based on the old imperial paper sizes). I now have a full set and find them invaluable if I need to stretch paper at a show or for a demo and have limited time. WHEN THE PAPER MAY GET DAMP For example, if we are merely going to use watercolour pencils on a small part of a picture and dissolve the pigment to get a good strength of foundation colour under part of the picture. In this situation we just need to ensure we are using a paper with a weight above 200 gsm and if possible tape it down to a secure surface. I recommend 300gsm paper - it is easily found and has a wide variety of suitable surfaces from a huge range of manufacturers COLOURED PAPER The logical place for an item on Coloured paper would be here But who says we have to be logical ? Because there are particular techniques for working with coloured papers, the Topic covering them is buried in the Pencil Skills section, which also talks a bit about the papers themselves. The Coloured Paper link is here