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.

 

Halloween In Sketches – Day Four

This is day four of my warmed-over Halloween/Thanksgiving sketches.  It’s also Halloween and I hope you all have a Happy Halloween even if you aren’t out trick-or-treating and/or scaring other people or yourself.  Here’s another couple sketches I did last year at this time.  Hopefully by October 2021 things will be a bit better for all of us.

I got lucky with this sketch.  Anyone who has tried knows that sketching moving people is hard.  In this case there was a very long row of kiosks and this mother was enjoying (??) some time with her son.  He wanted to touch everything, of course, and so it was fun to watch the interaction as they looked at pumpkins.  I was lucky because I started grabbing the people shapes as they stood in front of one kiosk and they took up a position that was almost identical, in front of another kiosk and stood there for a while.  I drew them and then the the first kiosk full of pumpkins.  One thing about pumpkins, they don’t move.

This is my best Halloween sketch ever, though the credit must go to the people who mounted a huge spider on their house.  I was riding the bus home from a doctor’s appointment when I first saw it.  The next day I went back, sat across from the house on a very busy street and drew it.  Isn’t it amazing?

Halloween In Sketches – Day Three

This is day three of my Halloween celebration.  I have to confess that I’ve been a bit sheepish about presenting the sketches that I did many years ago.  I’m not very good artist but I used to be much worse (grin).

I did this one in 2019 and I guess it’s really more of a Thanksgiving display.  It was just outside the large farmers market near my house.  I sat at the edge of the parking lot as I drew it and there was a steady stream of people stopping to take a look.  I really enjoy those interactions, though I struggle with my French.  People in Quebec are nice, though.  Nobody laughed.  This was a “take my time” sketch and I took a lot of time.  I was also quite frozen when I finished.

This is another 2019 sketch. Given the synchrony of Canada Thanksgiving and Halloween, lots of pumpkins are sold at this time of year.  I’ll post a couple more tomorrow.

 

Halloween In Sketches – Day Two

Yesterday I started celebrating Halloween by posting sketches I’ve done during past Halloween seasons, you remember….before COVID.  Here are a couple more.  This one I remember well because I “knew” that someone was going to get upset with me standing, almost in the street, sketching their front door.  This was done in 2013.

This one was done in 2015.  It’s of a display they put up in front of city hall.  And yes, the manikin looks that stiff (grin).  More tomorrow.

 

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