This post continues yesterday’s discussion of paper from a visual journaler’s perspective.
This post was last revised on February 28, 2019—because things change.
Some Paper Recommendations
Below are some papers that we discussed as a group at November’s meeting of the MCBA Visual Journaling Collective. I have provided my thoughts about them. Because these are my thoughts I encourage you to try the papers yourself before you dismiss them or before you make a bulk purchase. (You might want to buy sample packs as suggested in part one of this topic.) I’ve tried to be accurate in my info, but always double check before you buy. (Note that I couldn’t find a way to make a superscript 2 for the weight fraction: gm/m2—the 2 should be a superscript. When I do it with Typepad’s text controls the leading between my lines is messed up and that’s a greater evil. Just read and imagine a superscript; you can do it.)
If a paper is readily available I have not listed a vendor. You should be able to find it at Daniel Smith, Wet Paint, Talas, Jerry’s Artarama, Cheap Joe’s, and so on. If I only know of one vendor I have provided a link. Also if I’ve been able to quickly think of an example from one of my journals that is already scanned and on my website I’ve provided a link to a journal page using that paper, so click and see some extra work.)
Buying Sheets Not Pads, If You’re Binding
Before I get into the papers I just want to stress that for the most part I purchase papers in loose sheets rather than in pads or blocks, if I am going to BIND that paper.
I find that the binding and padding process tends to flatten the paper texture and tooth a little and I don’t like that. Blocks and pads have their usages, but not as a source for paper you want to bind into a journal. For me, buying a block of watercolor paper now and then is useful for onsite sketching, but 95 percent of the work I do is on loose sheets that are used full-size, trimmed to a size I want to work on, or bound into books at a page size I desire. You’ll find your own preferences as you test and use paper.
Mixed Media Papers
My current (2019) paper for binding is Strathmore’s 500 Series Mixed Media paper. It is a 100 percent cotton paper that is sized for wet media. It doesn’t work exactly as a watercolor paper, but the sizing takes watercolor brilliantly and it is also suitable for watercolor pencil, water-soluble crayons, inks, pens (including dip pen), acrylic markers, stenciling, collage, gouache—you get the idea.
Be sure you are purchasing the 500 Series. (You can read about the 400 series by using my blog’s search engine.)
This paper is great for binding!
Drawing and Printmaking Papers
Always buy a tester sheet and try your media on it. I’ve found that many printmaking papers, while wonderful to draw on, don’t take watercolor washes in the same way, and often not in a useful way. They simply aren’t sized like watercolor papers.
Sizing is the liquid treatment added to a paper during and after manufacturing (depending of if a paper in internally or surfaced sized or both) to ensure that ink and paint isn’t simply sucked up into the paper.
Printmaking papers are sized to keep printing ink where it is wanted, not aid in the floating of watercolor paint here and there as watercolor paper sizing does! The following papers have yielded good results for me in my journaling.
Rives BFK: A 280 gm/m2 printmaking paper that folds easily, tears readily, and comes in white (250 gm/m2), cream, gray, and tan. The sheet sizes vary. I love the tan 30 x 44 inch. The larger paper gives me more leeway when planning unusual book sizes. This paper is great for pen and ink, will accept watercolor washes, and is thick enough for most artists’ needs. Colored pencil pops on the tan!
Stonehenge Printmaking and Drawing Paper: a 250 gm/m2 paper available in a couple different sheet sizes and several neutral colors (whites, creams, tan, gray, etc.). Fans of this paper love it not only for printmaking but for drawing. I like to watercolor on it.
Update 2019: If you read some early posts on this paper from 2008 to maybe 2014 I have mixed feelings about this paper. I find that the surface is stiff and the pencil early on moved with difficulty for me. But over time I’ve transitioned away from the photo-realistic approach I had to color pencil work and I have adapted my color pencil still to a looser approach and find that is well-suited to this paper. It’s now one of my favorite papers for color pencil drawing and one of my favorites for graphite drawings as well. I am also fond of working on this paper with gouache.
Beware of the new colors released with the Kraft Brown a few years ago. It cracks when you fold it even with the grain and therefore isn’t suitable for book binding projects. (I have not had this trouble with the original white, cream and light tan.)
Despite the fact that the Kraft Brown and other new colors crack when folded with the grain I enjoy working on this paper in loose sheets with pen and ink, the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, and gouache.
It is an extremely affordable art paper that teachers can find readily available.
Folio: Caveat—this is not the same paper sold under this name before 2000. A new mill makes it to different specs. If you can get past that memory of a great paper you’ll find much to enjoy about this new paper. This 22 x 30 inch, 250 gm/m2 sheet is made in the USA. It is 100% rag, has a neutral pH and has two attractive deckle edges. It comes in a white and antique white. The latter is slightly buttery in color and I prefer it. Folio has a slight vellum surface, is easy to print on and is an excellent drawing paper. I also enjoy working on it with watercolor. (I adapt my approach by using less water.)
Johanot: Someone asked about this printmaking paper at the meeting. I don’t have current information on its specific weight but it is hefty enough for collage and is an acid free, 75% cotton sheet with 4 deckle edges; bright white in color. It has a pronounced, toothy texture and a very soft, absorbent surface. I found that it sucked ink out of pens, and was best with dry media. It was rather stiff to fold. The biggest problem I had with this paper is that when making a casebound journal the glue between signatures didn’t hold and the paper delaminated. If you are doing a sewn-on-the-spine construction where this wouldn’t be an issue you might enjoy this paper.
Gutenberg: a 180 gm/m2, 31x 41 inch sheet which is a creamy sand color (not yellow), with gray flecks. The sheet has four deckle edges and a laid texture. It is also pebbly in texture. This is a lovely all round paper. (There is a 130 gm/m2 sheet but I find that too lightweight if I am going to do a lot of collage.) There is a slight difference between the front and back of the sheet so you will want to collate signatures so same face is on both sides of the page spread.
February 2019 Note: This paper was discontinued by the mill in 2016 and brought back at the end of 2017. I found the new release not suitable for my visual journaling work and mixed media work. I currently don’t recommend any of the weights available.
Magnani Annigoni Designo: a 32 x 40 inch, 250 gm/m2 sheet, that is smooth, with enough tooth for drawing and colored pencil. It takes watermedia well (and is sized to do so). It has a lovely tan color with dark flecks. Glueing between sigs tends to come apart because of the paper’s softness. You decide what you can live with.
Hahnëmühle Biblio: This is a 41.5 x 31 inch sheet that I don’t have a weight on, but it is probably around 120 gm/m2. It’s acid free, light weight with a pebbly surface, takes wash OK (though I have one friend who does the most wonderful ink and Caran d’Ache NeoColor II work on it; so she definitely loves it for watermedia). It’s not as opaque as I like papers to be and the very ragged fibrous tears make turning pages difficult (if you cut your paper, or have longer fingernails this probably isn’t going to be a problem). It folds and tears great.
Velin Arches (Arches Text Wove): New name same paper. A 120 gm/m2 paper that is 100 % cotton, has 2 natural and 2 tear deckles. It has a slightly cold press, pebbly texture. Maybe it’s the internal sizing but I find this sheet very strong and a delight to work on with watercolor and pen and ink. It isn’t as opaque as I typically like and you can see this on some of my journal pages, but it is so fun to work on that I just have to keep using it.
Much to my distress and that of my students we discovered that in about 2016 Arches started calling everything Velin outside of the US and dropped the Text Wove portion of the name. I still use it in my own binding and in my Simple Round Back Spine online binding class (it’s one of the suggested papers), but I need to caution anyone purchasing this paper outside of the US to be sure that they are getting the same paper. The weight is the biggest clue!
Zerkall Nideggen: A 120 gm/m2, 25 x 38 inch paper that is light sand in color, with subtle gray flecks and a pronounced (very pronounced) wavy laid pattern. (It is also available in 22 x 30 inch sheets, but I like the larger sheet which gives me more options.) Against all preconceived notions of what paper I might adore, I love this paper even though it isn’t thick or smooth. Oddly it is very OPAQUE! I find it suitable for light watercolor washes (gouache looks spectacular on this sheet), colored pencil, and pen and ink. Collage and cut outs proved to be no problem for me though heavy collage enthusiasts might find it a bit lightweight. (The pigeon on Nov. 29, 2009’s post was on this paper as it is the paper in my current journal.)
February 2019: I believe that the 25 x 38 inch sheet has been discontinued. I haven’t received confirmation yet. It’s still available in the 22 x 30 inch (sometimes listed as 21 x 30) and I use it a lot in my binding projects.
Magnani Pescia: A gorgeous, lightly sized, printmaking paper with a smooth, even tooth that is a delight to draw on. It takes light washes (but not really well; you’ll have to find a new way to paint on this paper and it may not be what you enjoy). Even though it is 300 gm/m2 it tears and folds nicely. It comes in white, cream, and a beautiful robin’s egg blue (a truly stunning color to see and work on). The glue between signatures in a traditional case binding does not hold well (the paper is too soft and it literally detaches from itself, exposing the recesses of your spine). If you are making a non-adhesive binding with signatures sewn-to-the-spine with exposed stitching the problem with gluing is gone and I recommend this paper.
Many pastel papers are suitable for bookmaking. The bright tones available will delight the colored pencil artist. Since most sheets have a different texture front and back, I find it helpful to take a moment to collate my folded sheets so that the same surface is facing the same surface in a signature. Drawing across a page spread I then have the same uniform surface on facing pages.
Hahnemühle Bugra: At 33 x 41 inches this sheet yields some wonderful book sizes with little waste. At 130 gm/m2 it is still stiff enough for collage work. Wet media is very iffy on this paper because of buckling and absorption, but try it. There is a laid texture that is more pronounced on one side.
Fabriano Ingres Cover Heavyweight: A stiffer, slicker, more resistant surface than Bugra, it takes most media (watercolor buckles the surface, but again, experiment). The sheet is 19.75 x 27 7/8 inches, 160 gm/m2, with a laid surface, and comes in a variety of colors. Great for accordion fold constructions.
Hahnemühle Ingres: A 90 gm/m2 paper that is 18.75 x 24.75 inches. There is a laid pattern; it’s softer than Bugra; it’s economical; lots of colors. The inexpensive cost of this sheet makes it a great choice if you are making books with school children who will just be using pencil. It’s also a great choice if you like to work with colored pencil in your journals. Colored pencil really pops on it.
At the meeting everyone was pretty much married to Fabriano Artistico if they wanted to use a watercolor paper. Sadly this paper has recently changed. (See my page on tearing down this paper for comments about its change.)
When selecting paper for books making my concern is for a paper that folds without cracking! I do not, therefore, use any Arches watercolor paper. It all cracks badly. Even the 90 lb. weight! The same wonderful sizing that makes it the choice of so many watercolorists causes a horrible folding problem. Choose one that meets your criteria.
Fabriano Artistico: This 22 x 30 inch, 140 lb. (or 90 lb.) watercolor paper comes in a creamy “traditional” white and an “extra” white variety (which is bright white). The HP is particularly good for pen and ink and detailed watercolors (e.g., botanical illustration). Because this paper has changed I’m using what I have in my flat file (old stock) and looking for alternatives. Currently I’m testing T.H. Saunders Waterford and Winsor Newton.
February 2019: Please note that around 2000 the sizing on this paper also changed. Instead of using gelatin sizing they now use a vegetable/starch sizing that is much more draggy on your brush. I still use this paper (both cold and hot press) to bind into journals, but it is not the favorite it was 20 years ago. I prefer working with Strathmore 500 series Mixed Media paper, or using TH Saunders/Waterford.
TH Saunders/Waterford: This 100 percent cotton paper is gelatin sized, neutral pH, and comes with two natural deckles and two tear deckles. It comes in a cream white and a high/bright white. You used to be able to find it in a lot of places in both 90 and 140 lb. weights. I will bind with either. It’s my favorite watercolor paper.
Kilimanjaro: This watercolor paper is available in a bright white and a natural white. It is 140 lb. and made by Cheap Joe’s. You can read more about it on that company site. It has a vegetable/starch sizing so it works a little draggy. It is only available in cold press. It binds up well.
Strathmore Aquarius II: The most unusual watercolor paper saved for last—this 22 x 30 inch, 80 lb. sheet has a cold press surface. It is made of synthetic and cotton fibers. The synthetic fibers keep the thin paper from buckling. It’s true. Even sloppy wet washes dry to an almost flat paper! It’s amazing. You may also like the weight because your pages won’t be as stiff as the thicker watercolor papers. Also, you can get a lot more pages of this paper in the same spine width space as a thicker paper.
Canson Heritage: This is a 100 percent cotton paper with a non-animal sizing that isn’t as draggy as others with similar sizing. I have just recently (fall 2018) begun testing this paper. You can use my blog’s search engine to find posts about this paper. I’m including it in this list because I’m hopeful it might be useful for binding. I enjoy working on it as loose sheets. I’ll report more when I’ve been able to experiment more. Available in 22 x 30 inch sheets it is at the higher end of the price spectrum.
Tyvek: I used the variety called Tyger Rag, but it is discontinued. Basically Tyvek is made up of non-woven fibers (visible!). Yes it’s the same stuff used to make indestructible envelopes. I liked to paint and dye it, but with Tyger Rag the paint didn’t rub off later. Recent samples from stock at Talas and other vendors did have a rubbing off problem. I suggest you write to Dupont for a sample card and test the samples, then look for a vendor that carries varieties you find suitable to your methods. Try dyeing it by rubbing it with acrylic inks and paints. Tyvek creates interesting puzzles for the experimental book artist. Think sewing, melting (with ventilation, a respirator, and fire safety precautions!), draping, etc.
February 2019: I have found that some books I made with this product during the transitional period before it was discontinued (so I might not have had the same variety) did not bind well—i.e., I used some for covering book board in traditional case bindings. (The non-woven structure of this material made it suitably strong to resist cracking at the cover hinges.) However, I discovered that in about 6 years time sample books I had stored showed that the Tyvek was pulling away from the book board. I’m pretty fastidious when it comes to gluing down cover material so because of this concern I discontinued using any Tyvek in my book arts projects.
Yupo: A plastic sheet (size, weight, and cost varies) sold by in catalogs and locally everywhere. One “paper” I don’t mind buying in a pad. I love slick surfaces for drippy watercolor effects. It doesn’t get any slicker than this! And if you really don’t like something, just wash it away. Worth looking into for special journals and effects. You can’t tear it with a bone folder though!
Papers Beyond My Budget
Twinrocker Handmade Papers: This mill makes exquisite all purpose and watercolor papers, but at prices I can’t afford with my journaling habit. I have made a few journals with Simon’s Green, when I’ve been feeling flush. The paper is a delight to work on and its light greenish color makes it a delightful choice for gouache. (The paper color is more accurate on the second posting’s scan.)
Papers I Avoid
We all have our pet peeves and by now you know one of mine is paper that cracks when folded WITH the grain. I won’t use them for books. I’ve had problems with Coventry Rag and Rising Gallery 100. I also avoid these papers because I don’t enjoy drawing on their surfaces. It’s a personal thing. Try them out. You might find the surface compensates for the cracking; or maybe you have more moisture in your environment and the cracking is less.
And finally I don’t use Crown Vantage, Mohawk Superfine Text (or Cover Weight) because they are too thin for what I want to do. If you mostly write in your journal, all three are fine papers.
So What Papers Do You Enjoy as a Visual Journal Keeper?
As I mentioned in part one of this paper article, don’t forget to let me know if you know a vendor who sells sample packs of art papers (not sample pack of paper prepared for digital work which can be found everywhere, but art papers). And let me know what papers you absolutely hate or love, and specifically why, so that other people can cling to it if that characteristic appeals to them or avoid that paper!
Remember to keep testing. You never know when some company is going to buy your favorite paper company and change how they make your favorite paper; or when the craftsman responsible for that paper retires or simply leaves, or…well you get the idea. Keep testing.
And don’t leave your paper in your flat file. Use it. You might find that it is just the paper you have been looking for all these years and the sooner you use it the sooner you can start enjoying it and buy more. And use more. Until of course they discontinue it. At which time you’ll have found a new favorite. Be flexible. Keep journaling.