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.

 

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

My Daughter’s First Teddy Bear

Every collection must begin with a first and this teddy bear was the first of what would become a huge collection of stuffed animals that my daughter acquired (cuz her dad liked to buy them so much).  There’s nothing special about this teddy bear except that it was her first.  I guess that’s enough.

Drawing A Giraffe In Quebec City

We’re finally experiencing outdoor temperatures.  Normally this would mean that I’d be wandering the streets every day, drawing my old-man heart out.  That behavior has been derailed by my bad knee.  Just this morning I started out with the idea of taking the bus downtown to sketch, but I quickly realized that, today, my knee wasn’t going to allow that to happen.  So, instead, I’m writing this blog post and thinking that maybe I’ll sketch a pepper plant we bought last weekend.

Last week I got to go to our Musee de la civilisation to see the new Curiosities du monde naturelle.  This exhibit is reminiscent of the old natural history museums, before all the fancy displays and such intruded on a simpler time when museum managers thought people were more interested in seeing actual items than they were pictures and videos of them.

Our museum seems to have a new to this.  They put everything in the dark.  I’m not sure what that’s about but we have to draw with a light on our paper and half the items are too hard to see to draw at all.  This is supposed to be good?  We have two exhibits that are like that currently and it seems to be a trend.  Anyone else seeing this in their museums?

Part of this exhibit is the head of a young giraffe and I decided to draw it.  Where I had to sit was too close and I was looking upward at the head such that I couldn’t see things like its left ear so the sketch is a bit odd.  Still, I had fun finally being out sketching and I enjoyed drawing this guy, or girl.

Stillman & Birn Alpha (4×6), DeAtramentis Document brn/blk, Platinum 3776

I Went Sketching – Yippee!

As I look out my window I can only barely see the house across the street.  This is because we’ve got a rip-roaring blizzard going on.  This winter has been a doozy thus far.  We’ve already had 11-12 feet of snow and it’s only mid-February.

Many of us have gotten some chuckles listening to the people in Seattle and Vancouver try to deal with snowfall and I include myself among them.  Sure, they’re not used to it, aren’t equipped for it, and are even somewhat surprised by the snowfall, I suppose, but it’s fun to poke fun at them nevertheless.  I’m just glad they took some snow off our hands as we’ve got so much my snowblower is having a hard time throwing the snow to the top of the snowbanks that line my driveway.

But it wasn’t snowing on Monday and Yvan and I headed for the Quebec Federation of Hunters and Fishermen offices.  They have an amazing exhibit of taxidermy animals and it’s a delightful place to sketch.

My hand was hurting a bit, but my real problem was that I’d lost my ability to “see.”  Nothing was automatic and I struggled to see the shapes and volumes of the coyote skull I decided to draw.  I should have chosen something more simple.  I guess I should have known that “out of practice” would include all aspects of drawing, but I figured that once I trained my brain, it would stay trained.  Then again, I forget where I put my keys so…  Anyway, here’s my version of a coyote skull, which has an eye socket drawn way too small.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5), Pilot Metropolitan, DeAtramentis Black

I took a short break to get a drink and rub my hand a bit.  Then I sat down to draw a duck.  I felt a bit more confident by this point and I didn’t need to second guess myself so much.  We’d decided to stop at noon for lunch and so I rushed a bit to finish this one but I was happy, and a bit tired.

Stillman & Birn Nova (5.5×8.5), Platinum 3776, diluted DeAtramentis Document Black

We ate lunch with the idea that we would return to sketching but we didn’t.  My hand was hurting and Yvan suggested that we call it a day since it was my first day back to location sketching.  Instead, we decided to go have coffee where we talked about composition, tactics for blocking in drawings and identifying simple shapes in a scene.  We topped off the day with a stop at an art store and then I got to look over a bunch of Yvan’s art.  The day couldn’t have been more perfect.