Saturday, January 5, 2013

Paper- From Blue Jeans to Onion Skins

What paper to use? Often we grab something from a file or a shelf, a pad, a sheet without considering the quality or the provenance of that  seemingly humble base for our next ouevre. If you are interested in cheap paper, this article is not for you. I have found some relative bargains- but if I am to spend hours or weeks on a drawing I want as much care put into the paper as  I put into my work.

 It seems so blank- yet it contains the world, as revealed by Thich nat Han in this excerpt from his beautiful essay:

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud there will be no water; without water, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in here. The existence of this page is dependent on the existence of a cloud. Paper and cloud are so close. Let us think of other things, like sunshine. Sunshine is very important because the forest cannot grow without sunshine, and we humans cannot grow without sunshine. So the logger needs sunshine in order to cut the tree, and the tree needs sunshine in order to be a tree. Therefore, you can see sunshine in this sheet of paper.  And if you look more deeply, with the eyes of a bodhisattva, with the eyes of those who are awake, you see not only the cloud and the sunshine in it, but that everything is here; the wheat that became the bread for the logger to eat, the logger’s father – everything is in this sheet of paper.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Paper in every form has been made almost in every culture and country. The earliest known paper was made in China in about 140-87 BC. Just about anything thinkable has been used in paper making- old rags, blue jeans, dung, onion skins, tree bark plus the usual suspects of wood pulp and cotton.

One book I highly recommend is Silvie Turner's exhaustive and fascinating book "The Book of Fine Paper". it is still in print and you can buy it new for about $98US or used for a little as $23US.
 It has a very useful guide what papers to use for various purposes. Every country that currently makes paper is discussed and explored. Paper making methods from Asia, Europe, America, etc. are documented. There is a list of the paper makers current at the publication of the book in 1998. Also there are actual paper samples tipped into the book. Sadly, some of the specialty mills that made some of the finest hand-made papers have gone out of business. Good quality hand-made paper in various colors and sizes are harder and harder to find. Yesterday, when I went through my stock to reorder, some of my favorite go-to papers I found were being discontinued or not in stock anymore.

Why bother with quality paper? The best paper retains, like a Hollywood actress it's youthful appearance way beyond its years. It is low in acid so it doesn't fox (turn yellow) like a pile of old newspapers. Also good paper can be reworked again and again while retaining its integrity- it is easy to tear up the surface of cheap paper. Hand-made deckled edged paper makes a very classy presentation framed. Colored papers are pigment dyed or aniline dyed. The more expensive papers are pigment dyed. At the turn of the century many artists Mary Cassatt tried the new dyed papers with unfortunate results. Many papers used for art today are still dyed- avoid them.

Ross Merrill, conservator at The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC talks about the fugitive nature of color in materials and paper and how to avoid them. I have had even expensive paper fade, but that is rare and in the higher value, more brilliant colors.

What surface to use- I love laid paper for charcoal drawing - it has a fine vertical pattern from its mold.  My favorite was the Fabriano Ingres- now discontinued. It came in about a 27.5 x 39.25 and it was less than $2.00 per sheet. It was a real workhorse and stable. You can it at Legion Paper- link below.

It used to come in a variety of lovely colors, but my favorite is the grey. $1.76 per sheet- well worth it.

Another favorite paper, sadly discontinued is the Twin Rocker Cornflower Blue, a wove paper (smoother- no raised lines).
There used to be a link, but that is not available either. "Natasha, dans le Foret" is a recent drawing done on that paper.
I bought the last 7 sheets- they used to make it in a variety of sizes.
The reason I adore this paper is it reminds me of the blue of Prud'hon's drawings.  It is a hard to find,  rather lavender blue. I have tried tinting paper, what I find is that the tint always comes up when I erase unless I use an airbrushed acrylic liquid paint which I have employed in this picture. (no Prud'hon mind you- this is the 21st Century). Here is the link to the image. I just noticed the paper attribution is wrong- It is a 36"x 48" piece of hot press TwinRocker watercolor paper.

"Natasha dan le Foret" 22"x 30"
TwinRocker conflower blue cold-pressed wove paper

TwinRocker is the Cadillac of American papers- not cheap but a tad less expensive than some of the hand-made European imports. The Simon's Green is lovely as well, an elegant medium celery color.  If  you win the lottery you can have them custom make you anything you want. They make up to 36"x48". Beautiful paper, beautiful colors. Order one of their sample booklets.

Some good colored paper:
Bugra, reasonable large format, lightweight  but ostensibly lightfast- reasonable, beautiful pigmented colors.

I would avoid the ubiquitous Canson Mi-Teintes as to some doubt about its lightfastness. I bought a piece to do a quick study for a painting. I took the price sticker off and the paper around it had faded.
Use Fabriano Tiziano instead:

Another place that has a superb collection of international papers . New York Central Art. It is closing but still is taking orders for paper until the end of the summer 2016.

Try different sufaces- I love the large format and the creamy surface of a BFK Rives. Great for pastel and graphite. Vellum papers like Fabriano Tiepolo are good for very tight work that need a subtle range of greys and deep dark blacks. The Arches MBM is another beautiful laid paper that comes in different warm tones- I like the chamois because you can use a white highlight.
This is the tip of the proverbial iceberg on paper. I have not done a great deal of watercolor, so I am no expert there- but I can tell you TwinRocker is wonderful. Whatman is unparalleled but not being made anymore.

Japanese papers are in a world of their own and each piece of handmade  paper is a work of art. I have ordered them but have not had much luck  using dry media. The colorations are so subtle and exquisite.   in Montreal has an amazing selection of papers from Japan papers as well as from the west and their samples are tres genereux. They speak both French and English.
Try this well regarded  Australia company ( I guess they moved back to England) for hand-made paper- I was informed that their colored paper has tiny thread inclusions to give it color-
I will let you know as I am getting some samples.
I love Cornelissens in London- and old firm with a decent stock of paper. Actually I raid them for pastels when the dollar is high- and the pound is low- you'd be amazed at how much you can save.
John Purcell in The UK is another fine paper resource.

I try to keep a stock of various sizes of papers, in many colors and price ranges to have ready when I am going to work.
So explore the world of paper, support some of these fine mills that make quality paper. Making paper is hard work. One cheeky, hilarious Englishman, told me how difficult and miserable it could be, especially in winter when you are up to your armpits in cold water all day. I wish I had recorded that conversation as I think he has retired.

Take advantage of the samples to see if your  technique works well on a particular sample of calls for another approach. I have tried all the papers I have mentioned on this blog plus many more. I have some rare paper in unusual colors from places that no longer serve the public- like Dieu Donne in New York.

The paper that the pastel above "Vanessa and the Butterflies" was painted on is now discontinued. It was a beautiful 36" x 48" piece of ultramarine paper called Pastel Deluxe. I have one sheet left. $45. Worth every cent.

Here is a link I have used in the past to ferret out great paper around the world. So many that are linked have gone out of business- but there are a few new ones.

As time permits I will post handmade paper mills or other uinique and useful sources below from as many places around the world as I can.

If you have major bucks as I have said, you can have paper made by Dieu Donne- a paper maker to the stars. I was at a juried show by Susan Hauptman and she mentioned working on a 5' x 5' piece of paper- probably made here:

I have some of their paper- bought before they went entirely custom. Great colors, rare quality.

Talas is carrying some fine papers, but alas the larger formats are going the way of the dodo bird: The Fabriano Murillo still has a limited large format, The Fabriano Tiziano large format is being discontinued.
United States:
England: Source of unusual handmade paper from small makers.
 Some papermakers are selling online- here Ruscombe- purveyor of paper to Wm, Turner. Lovely paper I have some:

UPDATE July 13 2016. Sadly on July, 11, 2016  New York Central Art Supply announced it was going out of business. I have just spent the morning with my basket of paper samples to figure out what I have to order before some papers I use no longer available- like large sizes of tinted paper and rare hand-made paper mentioned on this blog post. Now what is left of art supply stores are the Walmarts like Blicks and Jerry's. Tant Pis! Paper link:

Some of these links are out of date- if you are having trouble- try this link. It is a paper wholesaler and it will direct you where to buy from  its fairly extensive collection of paper.,

PS: July 20 2016, I try to keep this updated. The supply and availability of really good art paper is diminishing rapidly. Grab what you can now. Support independent papermakers like TwinRocker and places that still sell fine art paper. This was first published in 2013 and many of the papers and links  are gone.

Update: July 21 2016. I went to buy some paper at TwinRocker and found very little in color. Apparently the new owner IS not interested in making colored papers which is a bummer, just more white watercolor paper. The Cornflower blue was a stunner- a perfect medium blue better than the Turners blue which is greener. The Cornflower blue  s like the blue one sees on the Prud'hon drawings. Exquisite. The Simon's Green is a beautiful celadon. You can get custom- but that is about at least $800 for starters and that is an old quote. Email them and ask IF and WHEN  they plan to make  these and other colored papers. If you ask then BUY them when they appear. Lack of serious buyers are the reason these paper makers and serious fine art store are going under and limiting their output.

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