Above, three different papers, three different journals. Left to right: the new Folio paper, pen and watercolor, Annigoni Designo with Pentel Color brush and gouache, and Fabriano Artistico hot press with pen, ink and gouache.
Two weeks ago about 20 visual journal keepers met to discuss PAPER at the MCBA Visual Journal Collective. As we went around the room sharing what we liked to do with paper and what we hoped a paper would do for us (support collage, take wet media, etc.) more than half admitted they were paper “addicts.” We knew we were in good company.
Some attendees admitted also that they loved any type of paper and were paper “magnets” always finding paper on their outings and returning home with scraps of this and that to use in their artwork. Only a couple members had made paper, but everyone agreed they loved to collect it and plan projects.
Group members were asked to share a little about what they looked for in a paper and what their favorite paper was. While one woman admitted to having a stash of the elusive and now discontinued Daniel Smith Drawing and Framing (the hands down best all-media paper ever), others remained loyal to Fabriano Artistico (perhaps because they were still using old stock, or because the changes didn’t matter to them—see my earlier note on Fabriano Artistico, surface tests on the new paper have shown disappointing results). Most of those present, however, were interested in finding more options for their book binding needs.
Where Can We Learn about Paper?
First you need to ask people whose work you like. Also you also need to research by reading catalogs (the old Daniel Smith Catalogs from 10 years ago when they were carrying just about every type of paper imaginable are fabulous reference books; even their current catalog provides great info on current offerings).
The best way to find out about paper, however, is to test it yourself. I have tested over 80 art papers for bookbinding and through that testing process I have found papers that work for certain structures and not others, work for certain media and not others. Of course there have also been discontinued papers (more than I care to remember; and I remember them each fondly). As a binder of your own journals you have to be on the look out for new or substitute (new to you) papers all the time.
It also helps to be clear with yourself on what type of work you want to do in your journal so that you pick appropriate papers.
I have a friend who loves Biblio. I find the paper too light weight and a bit soft for the type of work I like to do with the pens I use. So what works for one person isn’t going to work for another artist necessarily. As I wrote earlier you need to test it yourself.
Don’t Buy Pads
Several in the group talked about buying large sized pads of paper and then cutting the pad pages down for their journals. I encouraged them to avoid pads and buy sheets instead. In the long run buying full sheets is more economical. With pads you’ll be limited as to size of a final book page because odds are the grain direction of the padded paper will run with the long measurement and when folding with the grain you’ll get a very narrow page size (e.g. 9 x 12 inch page with the grain direction running with the 12 inches will yield a 4.5 inch wide page maximum). It leads to more trimming and more waste. To bust out of this pattern you really need a large sheet for folding and planning.
Another reason I don't like pads is that I’ve found padding tends to change the surface of a paper. Strathmore Aquarius II and Magnani’s Annigoni Designo are just two papers I’ve used where the padded paper is a totally different animal than the full sheet. Padding in these papers seems to make their surfaces harder and more compressed, smoother and less yielding. While I will buy, upon occasion, watercolor blocks and pads of Strathmore 500 Series Bristol, I won’t buy pads of anything I’m going to use for binding purposes.
If you do want to buy pads at least also buy a sheet and compare to see if you are missing out on a better version of that surface for your purpose.
What Do You Look for in a Paper for Visual Journaling?
Most people at the meeting were looking for a paper that would take mixed media. Other than that they were there to find new options. Some wanted papers that didn’t buckle when wet. Some only wanted hot press papers for their writing. Others wanted cold press papers so that their paintings would have texture. Still others needed thicker papers to stand up to heavy collage work. One woman shared with us that she used any “crappy paper” and then covered it with gesso. Another member professed a partiality to Chinese papers. And still another member brought a plain paper bag of no distinction and showed how it had been transformed with a Gaylord Schanilec print on it.
I shared my criteria with the group. I look for paper that folds well with the grain and doesn’t crack when folded with that grain. I want a paper that tears easily with a bone folder because I don’t cut my papers. I need a paper that is fairly opaque because I like to use some heavy duty black inks—and of course the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. I also need a paper sized sufficiently to take watercolor: this sizing could be internal, external, or both. Ultimately the paper must be foldable so I can make signatures out of it and sew it into book form.
Sample Packs of Paper
When I am teaching colored pencil drawing or paper selection for bookbinding I have sample packs of paper made up. I like to include pieces that are of sufficient size that the students can do a reasonably sized drawing on the piece, but also have a bit extra to cut off as a test strip to use first. Taking full sheets and cutting them into quarters or into 1/6th of a sheet size usually does the trick. It also makes the packs affordable with everyone splitting the total cost but not having to buy full sheets of paper to which they may not warm up.
I recommend you get some friends together and have a paper testing party.
If you live in the middle of nowhere, or have no art friends living nearby, note that some vendors sell pre-made sample packets.
Years ago Daniel Smith had the most wonderful packets. The samples were small (about 2 x 6 inches) but plentiful in each packet. For very little outlay of money I quickly identified papers that were worth buying in full sheets. Sadly they don’t do this any more, but they do offer full sheet sample packets at a discount. They offer a printmaking sampler of 32 sheets for $79.95; a watercolor sampler of 16 sheets for $69.95; and a Japanese paper sampler of 16 sheets for $59.78. The Daniel Smith catalog lists the papers included in the sampler.
Locally, in St. Paul, Wet Paint carries a watercolor paper sampler. This packet consists of 14 partial sheets, but all pieces are a fair size and useful for real experiments and artwork. Price varies depending on the sheets contained, but I think it runs about $20.00 and is a good deal.
If you are interested in Chinese papers I noticed that Art Supply Warehouse has a Golden Panda Sample book of rice and silk papers. The 5 x 5 inch sample book has 11 sheets and costs only $1.99.
If you are aware of other venders that sell sample packets (not the digital sample packets which are available everywhere, but a variety of art papers) please let me know so we can post them!
Visit tomorrow for part two of this post. I'll give you some paper suggestions.