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Canson’s Mixed Media Paper—I Don’t Think So

August 22, 2011

See the full post for the review.

110819CansonMixedMedia Left: Test page of Canson Mixed Media paper. Click on the image to view an enlargement. Read below for details. (Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and gouache on a 9 x 12 inch sheet.)

It seems to me that the more papers I test the more I like my old favorites. But since companies get taken over and felts burn in fires (or simply wear out) and for 10,000 other reasons I have to keep looking.

So despite the fact that I've tested more papers than I care to this past 12 months I plunked down my money for the Canson Mixed Media XL Series wirebound sketchbook. I got the 9 x 12 inch version. (I frankly don't recall if it came in other sizes and I dislike the paper so much I'm not going to waste more of my time looking it up on the internet to see. You'll have to find that out for yourself. I will provide you no links today.)

It cost $13.55 for 60 perforated, wirebound sheets that are 98 lb. weight. The covers are stiffer than most sketchbook covers, but they are covered with ugly packaging logo and type.

Let's get right too it. See all that shadow area throughout the image? I tore my test page out and put it on the scanner with weights on top of it and it still was severely buckled.

I wasn't even using a lot of water.

ISSUES:

• So besides buckling severely, even when I don't use a lot of water on it, the paper performs in the following manner:

• Washes settle where you first touch and don't move easily over the surface. This surprises me because the paper is rated as a Mixed Media paper for acrylics, watercolor, and pen and ink and pencil.

Let me pause for a short rant: It seems to me that paper companies are so used to artists making due with inferior papers so we can make our journal art, that they have come to believe we'll work on anything. What they really need to do is realize that what we want is a high quality paper with watercolor capabilities. Start there, work from there. Give us something that is a joy to use. Frankly I have already adapted a whole pile of other non-watercolor papers to my wet media and bookbinding use and I don't need them to make inferior papers they push off on us as "meeting all our needs." As artists we need to be very vocal about what we think mixed media papers should be able to do. And if any mixed media papers (from any mill) don't meet those criteria we shouldn't reward them for producing an inferior product by buying it. I will have more to say on this at a later date. Canson is not the only company doing this.

At the same time I think artists need also to instruct themselves on what a great paper is, and what they can do on one, so that they can adapt their working methods to alternative papers (great papers, fine art quality papers such as many print making papers, which nevertheless can stretch to the demands of the artist's technique), or even, upon occasion inferior papers. It means expenditure of time and effort and also money to buy great paper, but if you don't take yourself and your work that seriously to do that then you probably have picked the wrong media to work in. But that's a whole other rant perhaps.

If artists don't start being this vocal we will soon be presented with shelves full of paper created by non-artists with only economy in mind. I really don't want to become a paper maker in my lifetime. I want to paint. If you don't want to become a paper maker either, wake up and speak out.

• Repeated washes on an area, wet on wet, wet on dry, leads to pilling, without any great friction.

• Washes look dull and flat, absorbed into the paper.

• Washed areas on one side led to heavy puckering on the opposite side of the sheet.

• The paper, when wet, smells like wet sheet rock, a clayish heavy smell that is unpleasant. Also there are tones of wet wood in the aroma. Not a paper for people with allergies or asthma. (It actually doesn't smell that nice dry either.)

• The opacity of the sheet is marginal. Brush pen and watercolor clearly show through. Writing with a Staedtler Pigment Liner did not show through to the same extent. I'm talking about work being VISIBLE on the flip side of the sheet, not bleed through.

Bleed through is when ink or paint wicks from one side of the paper to the other. I didn't experience bleed through with this paper, that's something in its favor. 

• Crummy cover graphics, wirebinding, and perforated pages make this a sketchbook with no pretentions for journal work. I don't like perforated pages in my sketchbook. If something comes out of my sketchbook I can trim it neatly. Perforations always fail at the oddest of times.

POSITIVES:

• Heavy weight (if ugly) covers.

• Working with the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen on this paper is fun, if you like a bit of drag on your brush tip and like to get dry-brush effects. (See "Issues" above, however for opacity issues.)

• Writing with a Staedtler Pigment Liner or other similar type marker is pleasant on this paper. Sketching with markers might pose problems for marker artists used to a smoother surface and a less absorbent one.

• The slightly textured surface is receptive to dry media such as graphite and colored pencils.

CONCLUSIONS:

I won't be purchasing any more of this paper. If you want a mixed media paper in wirebound form that really will take wet media I recommend you try the Strathmore Journal Series' Mixed Media Journal. At least it will allow you a little fun with your watercolor, smells nice, and you can tear off their garrish "journaling" label packaging and have a plain (if oddly textured) cover. I think the price is comparable, though I can't find a price tag.

The Great Canadian Sketchbook also contains superior paper which will take light wash work well. I recommend it, though its cover is wimpy—it is just a sketchbook. However they have an even heavier weight paper version that comes with two heavy black board covers. Look into that. I use this type of sketchbook in life drawing as it allows me to use pencil, pen and ink, and also add watercolor washes if I choose. Alternately I can use watersoluble colored pencils to sketch and then bleed out some shading with a Niji waterbrush.

I think that if you're looking for a SKETCHBOOK to take to life drawing and you like to work primarily in dry media with a little bit of wash, and you don't mind perforated pages and want the convenience of wirebinding for folding your book back on itself, and how your paper smells doesn't matter to you, then this might be a useful book for you. If you're looking for anything else, skip it. Keep looking.

Related Posts

    • Miss T
    • August 22, 2011
    Reply

    Roz, I agree with you about this paper. I was working in a journal made from it (not made by me), and hated it for the same reasons. On top of that, the binding was so loose that I got irritated and abandoned the book halfway through and started another one. I’ll probably finish it with quick sketches (like you said, the PPBP is fine on this paper), but I certainly wouldn’t buy Canson MM again.

  1. Reply

    OMG Roz, I totally agree with what you said. I am so sick of looking for a sketchbook that will take watercolor washes and anything else I want to throw at it. The Strathmore Mixed Media Visual Journal comes closest at this point for me unless I am using a watercolor sketchbook. And while we are ranting, why in the hell can’t anyone give me some WHITE paper in a sketchbook. There is another shade of white besides off-white! I love brilliant white paper with ink and watercolor and I want this in a sketchbook! (I am hoping that some manufactures read your blog–they should). There, I am through now and feel somewhat better.

    • Miss T
    • August 22, 2011
    Reply

    You’re correct, Roz, that I have a few purchased books to use up, plus I’m not very fast at making my own yet (even though I enjoy doing it). I seem to be using books much faster than I’m making them!

  2. Reply

    Roz, thanks for your thoughts on this book. I haven’t tried this one, but I’ve tried so, so many and continue to look for something that works for me. Oddly enough, I had the PERFECT journal when I only worked in acrylics. Now that I’m playing with watercolor books, my old favorite isn’t so great anymore. Like this book you reviewed, the watercolor just sticks right where you put it, and don’t move around at all!

    The search for the Holy Grail continues…

    • Diane Wesman
    • August 22, 2011
    Reply

    You said it all, Roz. I tried one of these Canson Mixed Media sketchbooks a while back and will never buy another one. The paper is so unworkable for a wash that it is worthless. Who at their company thought this was a good idea?

  3. Reply

    Chiming in to agree with everything else that’s been said. The paper stinks. And as you know, Roz, after kindly listening to me rant about the ring bindings, the ring bindings reeeeaaally suck. With even moderate use the book starts to unbind itself because the rings are cheap. To its credit, the company did respond when I complained about the binding. They kindly sent me two new 9 by 12 books — bound in exactly the same way. They need to rethink everything here.

  4. Reply

    I’m another one disappointed with Canson; for all its twice the price of our local home-grown Aussie products, its only half the quality. Lesson learned.
    I have another beef about the wire binding. Unless the wire is actually a single wire that spirals and so encircles the paper, it eventually falls to bits! The so-called coil-bound journals (and text-books, grrrrr!) with their doubled wire coils do not join, they only sort of meet and will not stand up to much wear and tear unless you re-enforce them before you start using them. I join the coils with strong linen thread, up and down, and make it an embellishment, or a place marker. A journal that has to be used with kid gloves is of no use to anyone!

  5. Reply

    Donna, I feel your pain. The Strathmore Mixed Media is pretty white. The Canadian Sketchbook paper is also a brighter white. (Get the one with a heavier cover as mentioned, if you’re going to journal in it.) And if you’re just looking for white paper that’s quality in a sketchbook, Robert Bateman’s sketchbooks have smooth bright white paper (compared to most of the others).

    Glad the opportunity to vent has helped you too!

    And paper companies are reading the blog. I get notes from them all the time. (Sometimes they aren’t happy with me, other times they have explanations for things.) It’s going to take people being vocal to change these things for the better.

  6. Reply

    Arika, I had the Holy Grail of papers in my hands and let it pass me by (sort of, there was a limited supply so I would have exhausted it by now). I bought 4 sheets, made a book, didn’t use it for a couple years and when I did and discovered how wonderful it was the paper was all gone.

    It’s Barcham Green’s Turner’s Blue Wove.

    I miss it every day. Damn, what a delight.

    Twin Rocker’s Simon’s Green is an homage to that paper and a pretty fine paper. I intend to make a couple more books out of it next year and also skip looking at these distracting papers that keep appearing!

  7. Reply

    Diane, next time there’s a paper we both want to try let’s coordinate our efforts that that we both don’t have to spend so much! Sorry it didn’t work for you either. But use it for thumbnail sketches and such, and making lists of print ink printing order and such.

  8. Reply

    Karen, I suppose Canson thought the other two wouldn’t fall apart on you. So we have to give them a little credit for trying to make you happy, but they lose all that credit by failing to make a binding that can hold up to some work.

    Sigh.

  9. Reply

    Caroline, I’m so sorry I didn’t see it sooner so I could have tested it sooner and warned you off. I know that you’re paying a premium for anything shipped down there!!

    I agree that a journal that can’t take use is worthless.

    I’ve had really good luck with the coil bindings on my Strathmore journals and the Stonehenge journals. Both products have held up to me lugging them about in the field as I test them. I don’t know what corner I threw the Canson into so I can’t immediately compare them. Perhaps the wires of the previous two products are stiffer or I put different stresses on my books.

    In general I’m not a fan of wirebindings of any sort for a host of reasons you’ve heard me rant and rant about.

  10. Reply

    Roz- that’s a heartbreaker, to have had perfection and lost it! lol

    I know I should take the leap and learn to bind my own books, but I just really have no interest in doing it! It would just be a means to an end. But I’m also tired of settling. I can find paper I like, but not bound in a book that I like. I can find plenty of bound books, but with sub-par paper. Why must it always be a compromise? ugh.

  11. Reply

    I totally agree with you, Roz! I have had one of these journals for quite q while. I have been trying to like it, and trying to make it work for me, but the only thing it seems to be good for is dry sketching. I’ve resorted to using it as protection between my art journal pages!

  12. Reply

    I have a Canson Acrylic mixed media paper which states it is suitable for acrylic and gouache. It can’t be the same as the mixed media paper you mention though because it doesn’t say it’s suitable for watercolours. I do love it for acrylic work though. Thanks for the review, Roz.

  13. Reply

    Thank you for “pausing for your short rant”! I so agree! Art is not for the fainthearted, and if, for whatever reason, we don’t speak up, then all of us suffer. The absolute worst, but most frequent excuse I hear from people who are too timid to speak up is “it wouldn’t do any good anyway”, which is exactly what feeds the statistics marketing consultants use when advising companies to take the cheap road rather than provide quality products.

  14. Reply

    Barbara, keep speaking out!

    • Dusty
    • September 24, 2011
    Reply

    I find it pretty much unglueable as well.

    • Louise
    • January 6, 2012
    Reply

    I received an art supply catalog today and saw Canson’s XL Mixed Media Journal. In spite of the horrid cover, the description made it sound like a good possibility.

    Thank goodness, I now know to look on your blog for the truth about paper! Thank you, Roz and everyone who posted a review of this paper. Looks like making our own journals is best. Maybe it’s like cooking. Products which are prepackaged for the mass market and formulated for shelf life are not as good as those we make ourselves with select quality ingredients.

    Speaking up is important. Companies do adjust to their customers when the customers make enough noise about something. Thanks to all who spoke up and saved me from wasting my money.

  15. Reply

    Louise, I’m glad you found the review helpful. Try the two brands I recommend at the end of the post if you’re looking for something in a wire binding the will work for mixed media. And the Stonehenge wirebound journals might work for you too. I’m very partial to the Fabriano Venezia, using a 9 x 12 inch for in-studio journals. They are case bound so I can work easily across the gutter.

  16. Reply

    I bought the Canson XL Watercolor paper a couple months ago and I have the same complaints about it. Though my experience in watercolor paper is limited to Arches CP, Strathmore 400, and Canson Montval, I knew right away I really disliked the Canson XL paper. My complaints echo your review of the Canson XL Mixed Media paper; I found the watercolor paper too difficult to work on, and it seemed to absorb the colors too much, making them look dull.

  17. Reply

    Stacy, sorry you had to find this out with spending the money. I hope you can use it for doing pen and ink brush studies or something like that.

  18. Reply

    Actually, Roz, thank you! You gave me an idea. I have lately been exploring drawing with water-soluble black ink and wash, and wondering where to “put” these studies, as find I don’t care for having monotone paintings interspersed with the colored paintings in my regular watercolor journal. I just tried an ink & wash painting on the Canson XL watercolor paper, and it was fine! Actually, the ink goes down quite smoothly on this paper. And the super-absorbancy of this paper actually kind of softens the lower-valued areas where I have washed the ink.

  19. Reply

    Great Stacy, I’m glad that you are going to use that book for those types of sketches and that it felt good with it. Have fun with your sketches and use that paper up. Sometimes we find papers that are good for one medium and not another and we can decide to use it just for that one medium. It helps to move us away from the construct of a “perfect paper.” And gets us working on the paper at hand!

  20. Reply

    I wish I had seen this entry before I bought the same thing in Michaels a couple of months ago. I use it for junk stuff now. Does Canson know that a customer will avoid all products made by them after such a disappointing experience?

  21. Reply

    Molly, the best thing you can do is write to them and complain. Let them know that you routinely buy such products and how disappointing this one was. They will get the message. Some paper makers don’t seem to care, but it never hurts to let people know.

    • Alex
    • December 6, 2012
    Reply

    I use the FABRIANO, Studio Watercolor, cold press, 25% cotton, 140 lbs 11″x14″
    That is my fav.
    Hope this helped.

  22. Reply

    I agree with you about the Canson paper. I had much the same experience with the watercolor paper. I will take your advice and stick with watercolor pencil and a tiny bit of water.

  23. Reply

    Just wanted to let you know I linked to this post on my blog together with a little rant about this sketchbook. Wish I’d seen your review before I bought it. Sigh…

  24. Reply

    I’m sorry you got stung by it, but I’m glad you can spread the word. Some people enjoy the qualities of this paper, and I don like working on it with the PPBP, but it’s not mixed media paper.

    • Diana Ramsey
    • April 29, 2014
    Reply

    I have the same problem- in that I just bought a pad of the Canson Mixed Media, and it takes water colour like nothing else, and that’s the problem! I was using Big Brush Markers and before I could get my water brush to it- the ink had pretty much soaked in. A friend and I had gone to a local Michael’s and saw it there and I thought it was a bit thin, but I had a 50% coupon , so I thought it would be all right to try it. WRONG. Very disappointing. Even at half price it was certainly not a bargain. Wish I had seen your “rant” about it first. Will now look for the Strathmore Journal Series Mixed Media Journal. Thanks a lot!

  25. Reply

    Diana, I’m so sorry you had to find out about this paper the hard way. It isn’t worth it at any price as you know. I think you’ll really enjoy the Strathmore 500 Series mixed media journals. The make a ring bound with that paper (as well as some other papers, but I like the 500 series Mixed Media paper best) and a hardcover journal with the same paper and they have recently released a soft covered journal with the same paper. I used one of the latter for a test for the first journal of 2014 and it held up very nicely indeed and had the advantage of being easier than a hardcovered book to stuff into a pack. So there’s something for everyone.

    I typically buy the Strathmore 500 series Mixed Media paper in sheets and bind my own books. If you go to the category cloud and look for those key words or enter them in my blog’s search engine you’ll find a ton of posts on this paper.

    Good luck.

    • Carrie
    • August 17, 2014
    Reply

    Thanks for this review, Roz. I am a newbie and just finished SBS Beginnings 2 (LOVED your Klass!) and filled up one of these Canson XL M.M. Sketchbooks. Hated the ugly cover, but bought it anyway.
    I had totally given up on Prashant’s “Paint the Sky every day this week” SBS assignment because it never WORKED. I would carefully follow his washing techniques and it would always end up a buckled, pooled, blotchy mess. Being a beginner, I thought it might have been my shortcomings, now I am realizing more and more that quality art materials will make a difference in my results. I just bought the Strathmore 500 series m.m. softcover book. I’m excited to start using it!

  26. Reply

    Carrie, sorry you fought the paper and doubted yourself. You’ll find Prashant’s exercises much easier to do in your Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media journal. And try them also on some regular watercolor paper just so you can get the feel of the difference papers make. You’ll love making skies!

    Glad you loved the klass. Keep sketching!!!!

    • Joel Barish
    • October 30, 2014
    Reply

    Wow that was a surprise. I’m just new at watercolor and my I did my third paint on this paper, but the 140lb version. Painting was very pleasant and I was very happy with the results… but now I understand why my watercolor paint doesn’t look so much “watercolor”, lol (I don’t care anyway, I love my paint). I’ve acquired a lot of Fabriano paper, but nevertheless the Canson, for me (just for me), it’s not bad, just different.

  27. Reply

    Joel, I’m glad you love your paint, and your paintings on this paper. I try to point out the good things and bad things I find when I test a paper so that people can replicate results or not be frustrated with what they aren’t getting from a certain supply.

    But I am a huge advocate for everyone finding what they love and enjoy working with. If you are enjoying the Canson and what it does for you, keep using it.

    I have so many other papers that do what I want, and allow me to have real fun in the process (don’t make me fight all the way) that this paper from Canson isn’t something I will every buy again.

    If you like this Canson paper and are working in watercolor you might also try their Illustration paper which comes in wirebound pads and is fun to paint on with watercolor. It’s not “watercolor” paper either but it’s fun for a lot of different media if you like a mixed media paper.

    http://rozwoundup.typepad.com/roz_wound_up/2014/08/brush-sketching-on-canson-illustration-paper.html

    Good luck with your painting.

    • Joel Barish
    • November 3, 2014
    Reply

    Thank you very much for your understanding and thanks for sharing your knowledge. I’m just new at this and think it’s a fascinating world. BTW, here my paint: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-wI69Ci8Np-U/VEqThk-wA4I/AAAAAAAAABc/hDucwN5_xE4/s1600/Acuarela-03-Cute_Girl.jpg (the real one looks far better). It embarrasses a bit to me to share this.

  28. Reply

    Joel, don’t be embarrassed, that’s a lovely painting. I do think that you will find at some point that you prefer working on “real” watercolor paper to the Mixed Media paper (of any sort) because it looks to me like you are interested in achieving smooth blends. While this is possible on some Mixed media papers it’s MUCH EASIER to achieve on real watercolor paper. Keep that in mind as you go forward. You’ll find that some days you want to do one thing and will work on a certain paper because of that and other days you’ll want a different approach and work on a different paper. Have fun.

    • Idyllis
    • February 15, 2015
    Reply

    Excellent article. But also, this is canson XL. It’s an economy paper for students.
    Mine came apart, so I guess it isn’t really fit even for students who run around with their sketchbooks in their bags.
    At least certain pencils don’t make a permanent indentation in the paper like strathmores.

    • James
    • May 28, 2016
    Reply

    Have you tried out Canson Artist Series Mix Media? It’s 138lbs/224gsm. It has a medium surface on the front side of the sheet and a fine surface on the back of the sheet. It’s much thicker like watercolor paper and would almost have one fooled that it is if they didn’t see the book’s cover.

    I haven’t really had time to try it out. Canson sent it to me (a full size retail wire bound pad) along with other samples. The medium surface took my Papermate Ink Joy Gel black pen beautifully. Other than that I can’t really comment.

    • Bob
    • August 11, 2016
    Reply

    I wish I had researched this paper before I bought it! >sigh< I'm new to mixed media and these were on sale. So I bought two 'cause you know I was going all in! I had ideas in my head screaming to come out. Buckling and pilling make me sad! At first I thought I was to heavy handed with products, especially the watercolor pencils. I rubbed and rubbed trying to get that nice consistency! NOTHING except pills! My inks for stamping ... maybe I was pressing too much. The only thing that took was the texture paste through stencils, and that buckled a little bit. But I can't leave white pages, and with the different sprays that buckling magnified! Completely believing I was doing it all wrong. I got a book and a half remaining and I'm not buying another until I use what I have. Thanks for this, I feel better and will get back to practicing and getting better. Thanks Roz. -Bob in NY

  29. Reply

    Bob, I’m sorry you have so much more of this paper left.

    I believe in using what you have on hand but I think that since this paper is so unsuited to the techniques you want to use you might consider setting it aside for use with dry media only, and buying a book with paper more suited to what you want to do so that you can enjoy all your mixed media art experiments and get back to practicing and improving with paper that really works for you.

    Use these remaining pages for making thumbnail sketches to plan ideas and experiments, to take notes on tutorials that you might watch, etc. These will be useful for that. And then dive into your mixed media experiments in a book that will keep your fun level and joy level up and support your practice, not drag you down.

    Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper is excellent and comes in sheets (if you bind your own books ever) as well as a variety of soft and hard covered journals. I recommend it for mixed media work.

    I have used Fabriano Venezia journals in the 9 x 12 inch size for studio journals for years and the paper is great—the glue on the binding does give out over time and I’ve written about that on the blog, use my search engine to look up posts about it. If that doesn’t bother you it’s a way to go and have better paper. Cheap Joe’s usually has a good price on them.

    Good luck and have some fun!!!

  30. Reply

    I’m so glad you wrote this. I got two for $13 at Aaron Bros and almost till then back after using pencil on it. Figuring it was not worth the gas to take it back I figured I would use it up with quick sketches using the reverse side since the texture is awful. Fountain pen as been ok but the structure is on par with Kleenex. At least newsprint does not pretend to be something it’s not. I’ll have to see how well it works with a match when winter arrives. 😡

    1. Reply

      You’re too funny. But yes I don’t care for this paper at all. That said, whenever I find paper I don’t care for it gives me the perfect opportunity to burn through it (not with a match) but as fast sketches in life drawing or for preliminary sketches for illustrations, or for making paper models of boxes and such I’m going to make. So it all gets used. Getting two for $13 isn’t too bad so You have a lot of “waste” paper to play with!

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