In Art, Paper Is Everything

Sarcastic sports nut standing behind a sketcher: “How far can you throw your book?”

Sketcher responds: “That depends on how bad the paper is.”

I’m here to report that I could throw my Clairefontaine sketchbook pretty darn far right now.  Given that I’m old and likely to pull a muscle if I tried, I just slammed it shut and put it on a shelf.

When I started sketching I seemed to be buying a new sketchbook every week, searching for the right format, the right binding, and the right paper.  It’s a problem for beginners because we don’t have the skills to modify our approach to suit the paper and don’t know how to evaluate whether it’s “us” or “the book.”  Most of all, though, back then we didn’t have good choices.

Then Stillman & Birn released the Alpha series sketchbooks and my life changed.  I filled one, then another, and another.  I started buying them 3-4 at a time.  Later they released the Beta series, which quickly became my favorite.  Things got confusing for me only when they started releasing a bunch of different sizes.  Nevertheless, I didn’t worry about paper quality.

But recently I had only one Beta series 8×10 softcover book available and these are my “go to” street sketching book.  But with COVID lockdowns and such, I can’t do much street sketching these days, so while at the student-run coop associated with the art school here, I bought a Clairefontane sketchbook.  It seemed nice enough, but that was deceptive.  Contained within its covers was a pile of paper where one side was “ok” when exposed to water, the other side was less so.  Neither were very good, at least when water was involved.

I struggled with it and had done about a dozen sketches in it, all on the “front” side of the paper.  But yesterday I tried painting on the back side of one of the sheets (two of them had already fallen out of the book) and what a mess.  For what it’s worth, others have reported problems with this sketchbook too.  Here’s the results of my sketch.

These are part of our tomato crop this year and no, the tomatoes are not that red.  My sketch got that way as the paper started pilling when I simply applied a bit of water to get my initial wash to flow.  And every time I put paint to paper, there was more pilling.  I chased it by letting it dry and adding more paint.  Each time I had to go a bit darker to cover spots that formed as a result.  It’s just impossible to work with crappy paper.  The surface of this sketch feels like 80-grit sandpaper from all the pilling.

Artists constantly plead with students to use good paper.  Students constantly say they don’t want to use good paper because they’re “just getting started.”  I say throw the crappy stuff away and buy good paper.  Use cheap paint, cheap brushes, cheap paper towels if you must, but don’t use crappy paper.  BTW, this sketchbook cost me $20 so money isn’t always the object here.  For the same money, though, I could have bought a good, Stillman & Birn sketchbook, but the coop doesn’t stock them.

Today, though, I wanted to redeem myself and grabbed my one blank S&B Beta sketchbook off the shelf and set up three tomatoes to draw.  This was soooooo much more fun.  Just for kicks I grabbed a cheap box of Munyo watercolors, a $4 Princeton synthetic brush and a napkin left over from a Subway sandwich from the day before.  That’s what I used… with good paper.  I was stuck with the same limited skill set I had the day before but the enjoyment and, I think, the results were much better.  I’ll let you decide.

 

Pointy Devices Do Weird Things Sometimes

As a street sketcher I feel more than a little lost in our modern COVID world.  Our plein air group had to cancel its season of outings and the portrait group has moved to Zoom (my French isn’t good enough for that), and cancelled their outdoor sessions as well.  I try, very hard, to get excited about drawing at home but I guess I’m just not built for it.  Mostly I’m dabbling with watercolor, gouache and even oils, trying to learn something about paint while largely not producing anything of significance.

The portrait group decided to do monthly prompts just to get us doing something and this week the prompt was “chair.”  Most of the time, when one of my pointy devices gets near paper, I draw something that is in front of me.  Somehow, this time, this dripped from my pen.  Maybe it was because I was using my Kaweco Lilliput that has a high cute factor.  This was a lot more fun than I thought it would be so maybe I should do more of it.

Hahnemuehle Cappuccino sketchbook, Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

Drawing Leaves In The Park

I had fun at the park this week.  I sat down to enjoy the fresh air and all the greenery and noted that in spite of the end of September date, our leaves have ignored the day length changes and had not started to change colors yet.  It has, indeed, been an odd weather year.  It was 25C as I sat in the sunshine.

But I noticed a couple red leaves on the ground.  There must have been blown there because I couldn’t see where it came from.  It gave me a leaf to draw so I put it on the bench next to me and quickly sketched and painted it.  This motivated me to look for more and while I did find a couple more red leaves on the ground, what caught my eye was a tiny little maple tree, sticking out of a garden area.  I decided to sketch a few of its leaves and add a splash of red to them as well.  If I were a real nature journalist I’d write stuff on this spread.  I guess I am not a nature journalist (grin).

I’m becoming quite fond of the Hahnemuhle Cappuccino sketchbook.  It’s definitely not a watercolor sketchbook but it’s a dream to draw on with pen and as long as I don’t get carried away with the water, adding watercolor works pretty well.  I suspect I’ll buy another when this one is full.

lHahnemuehle Cappuccino sketchbook, Platinum 3776, DeAtramentis Document Black

I’m A COVID Victim… Sort Of.

Today is Sep 22nd.  I’m supposed to be in an operating room, getting my bum knee overhauled.  It’s not happening.  The reason it’s not happening is that some Quebecers felt that having Karaoke night at a bar while others were having large group parties was more important than keeping the COVID case numbers low in Quebec.  We even had a bunch of anti-masker idiots protesting in Montreal just to add some spice.

The result?  We’ve got a couple hundred cases a day of COVID in a province that had successfully suppressed COVID transmission (lockdowns, slow_openings, and mask mandates were doing the job) to almost nothing.  We were having day after day of zero deaths…and then the parties began.

How does this affect me?  Well, I was supposed to have surgery in the spring, but COVID came along and the province shut down all elective surgeries.  That was understandable – they needed the bed space.  But we “flattened the curve” as the media are fond of saying and, just a while ago the surgery troops started working again.  My operation was scheduled, until it wasn’t.  The province has shut down surgeries again and thus I will continue to hobble my way through life.  I take some solace in the fact that those who believe that masks are too much of a bother and cancelling a party is hard on their libido have now given me nowhere to go either.  What is wrong with humans?

But it was apple-picking time here in Quebec and Chantal and Jodie like to pick apples every year so we went last week to pick some.  I confess that I find it a bit odd that you pay a premium to pick your own apples, but they tell me it’s fun and so I go along.  I don’t pick apples, however, I draw them.

A Visit To Baie St. Paul

Shari Blaukopf recently spent several days in the Baie St. Paul area painting up a storm.  As I read her blog posts I thought of times when Chantal and I had visited the area and how much fun it was.  While we couldn’t go for several days, we decided to do a day trip there and back.  That meant a two hour drive in each direction so we wouldn’t have much time there but heck, it would satisfy our wanderlust.

The drive was enjoyable.  Just getting out and driving through forest and field was a treat.  When we got there we hunted down the place Shari mentioned that made 100% cotton paper.  It was nice, but I found the papers too thin (seemed mostly for writing) and too expensive.  So, we walked across the street to the Maritime Museum of Charlevoix, another of Shari’s stops.  It’s an interesting place, a place where cargo ships were stored during winters.  Since the display ships are all out of the water and sitting at an odd angle, I didn’t draw any of them (excepting a small, quick sketch of the tugboat that showed up in a previous blog post).

Instead I was thrilled to find tractors and stationary steam engines on display.  These provided power to move the ships around.  And so I drew one of the steam engines.  The sketch isn’t my best.  I found the subject more complex than I thought it would be and didn’t devote enough time to blocking in its proportions and relationships.  Oh well.  We had a great time anyway.

I’m both fascinated and frustrated by the effects the COVID scourge has had on my feelings and decision-making.  One of the really fun things to do in Baie St. Paul is walk down Main St. (don’t think it’s called that), visiting the high-end boutiques and art galleries.  Of course we had to do that – or did we really.  As we were wandering I felt that I shouldn’t be there.  The very notion of being in a store “just to look” has left me and all I wanted to do was get out of there.  Chantal felt the same way.

Ultimately we had our first meal in a restaurant since February and I had to chuckle over the fact that our choice of restaurant had little or nothing to do with what they were serving and everything to do with how few people were in the restaurant.  Such is life these days.  Hope COVID is treating you well.