Paper Choices: Fitting the Paper to the Technique

February 5, 2009


Above: Two journals I made this week using a purple bookcloth and decorative papers I made with Fabriano Uno Soft Press 140 lb. watercolor paper (a discontinued paper) and acrylic paints. Right—7 x 8.5 inches, “frost” pattern; left—8 3/8 x 10 5/8 inches, loose swirls of color. Click on the image to see an enlargement.

When I stopped to take a photo for my journal (I like to document book batches with swatches of materials used and photos of the resultant books as a record and reminder) of two new journals that had just come out from drying under weights, I realized they gave me the opportunity to talk about paper choices in a concrete way.

Both of these books use a now defunct paper as their decorative paper: Fabriano Uno Soft Press 140 lb. watercolor paper. Fabriano ceased production of this paper when they melded their watercolor papers into the Artistico line in the early 2000s. I still had some of this paper left (actually I think now I have about 3 sheets left). Like most people right now I want to use things up, rather than spend more money. I’ve been binding up the papers in my flat file to make new journals.

Since I had this Fabriano paper but needed to make some more decorative papers to go with the purple bookcloth I had, I decided to use it in a variety of ways. (The purple bookcloth is one of my favorites and I bought quite a bit of it at the end of last year. Now I need to make more decorative papers that work with it.) (If you click here you'll see another batch of books which contains 3 books bound with decorative paper made with a different blending technique, but the same colors and Fabriano Uno Soft Press paper.)

I have used the same paint colors in different ways. On the left I have put the paint on in a very wet manner and then applied scrunched up Glad Wrap to the wet surface and left it all to dry. During the drying process the plastic wrap (I’m brand loyal and once in a class I was teaching we ran out of Glad and an aid went out to get some more and brought back a different brand and results were not stellar, so if you have problems and have checked everything else, think about going with Glad—I own no stock in the company!) pushes the wet paint around so that it dries in interesting patterns. I like to call this a “frost” pattern because the resultant patterns look to me like the frost patterns that emerge on the tops of frozen puddles up here in Minnesota (and I’m sure anywhere else water freezes).

The book on the right uses paper that I simply sprayed wet with water and then dropped paint onto in a random fashion (the same three colors: orange, purple and teal). The paint was then allowed to roam about and dry on the paper as it wanted.

Same paper, two different looks.

But there is a little bit more I want to point out.


Above: the above strip of painted swatches shows the following papers from left to right—Fabriano Uno Soft Press 140 lb. Watercolor paper; Arches Hot Press 140 lb. Watercolor paper; Fabriano Artistico Cold Press 140 lb. Watercolor paper; Strathmore Aquarius II 80 lb. Watercolor paper (which has a slight cold press texture). Each swatch is at actual size, i.e., none of the textures have been enlarged or reduced to fit in this display. It's as if you're looking at the papers spread out on a table. Click on the image to see an enlargement.

Different watercolor papers will react to the painting techniques you use in different ways. First time painters don’t understand this as they haven’t experienced it yet. People talk to them about the sizing in the paper (internal, external, internal and external), the surface of the paper (Hot Press, Soft Press, Cold Press [or Not in Britain], and Rough). How do these effect your results when using a paper? Well in these examples you can begin to see some of what happens.


Left: close up of the Fabriano Uno Soft Press 140 lb. Watercolor paper (A) and Arches Hot Press 140 lb. Watercolor paper (B) both showing the “frost” pattern. It is clear to see that the soft press texture of A, along with the difference in sizing, allows the paint to feather around much more. There is almost a stippled effect across the entire surface. In example B the Arches paper, with its hard sizing  and smooth texture forces the paints to stay on the surface of the paper longer and create a smooth even texture where there is little whiteness of the paper popping up. Click on the image for an enlargement.

Which is better? Which way should a paper behave? That’s the beauty of working with diverse papers. You get to decide as an artist which criteria you want met when you use a technique, through the choice of your paper. I happen to like both results. That’s good, because I was out of the roll of Arches 140 lb Hot Press that I use to make decorative paper and I didn’t want to buy supplies to make the current crop of books!

If you have a marked preference for a certain result you’ll need to make sure you use the same paper, paints, and approach to achieve it again. Still, if you want to vary it, try it with one variable at a time. Switch out the paper one day. Another day change the brand or type of paints you use. You might even be so bold as to use something other than Glad Plastic wrap (gasp!).


Right: The near example is Strathmore Aquarius II 80 lb. Watercolor paper. The example at the far right is Fabriano Artistico Cold Press 140 lb. Watercolor paper. Click on the images to see enlargements.

But maybe you don’t care to ever create a “frost” pattern, so you think you can use any paper and get the same results? Look at the example of yellows and blues on the far right of the last group of images. Here, strokes of color blend and bleed over a textured surface which imparts character to the line. Also because the paper was only partially wet before painting there are areas where the strokes are hard and visible. You will not get this effect in the same way with a hot press paper, or with one which was totally saturated first.

In the last group of images, shown in the near right we see how Strathmore Aquarius II paper, sprayed lightly and then sprinkled with dots of paint dries in what I call a “shell” pattern. Look closely and you will see areas of drying that overlap each other in a soft and gentle way. It looks almost like a billowing cloud, but it also looks like those areas on shells where the excretions build and build. Strathmore Aquarius II is an interesting paper for a host of reasons. At 80 lbs. it’s light weight. It has synthetic fibers mixed into it to stop warpage when wet. It has its own special approach to sizing. All of these characteristics give you this look, which is different from what you get on another paper. (Being a lighter weight it is also a more supple sheet and easier to wrap around boards; but it wears less well.)

I know it may seem that I’m stating the obvious. Frankly I guess I am. But so many people are always asking me “what’s the right paper to use?” And here, today, sitting around the studio were bits and pieces that I could use to make my points: 

There is no right paper.
You have to experiment.
You need to keep track of your experiments so you can replicate the results.
Make a lot of stuff. (This means that you will get to experiment a lot and get a lot of feedback and it will lead you to your favorites in media, papers, and effects.)

It’s OK to have a favorite paper for a given technique or approach but don’t stop experimenting; you might be missing out on the next discovery which will be your new favorite thing!

Have fun experimenting!

Headband5809 Left: Headband on the small book featured in the opening image. Click on the image to see an enlargement.

And finally, here’s a look at the headband. I couldn’t resist. I’ve been using a lot of orange and red headbands lately. They really make the book pop, just like a well-chosen necktie, or perhaps (and I say perhaps because I don’t wear these, but do wear neckties) a special pair of earrings. Something to set off the whole outfit.

Have fun with your headbands too!

    • Nita
    • February 5, 2009

    I’m loving trying out all the various papers in my sketchy, beginner-painting way. What a difference in how fluid flows, or stops, on the various surfaces. The process emphasizes that in art, one never arrives, one only keeps exploring new possibilities. I love that!

    I found a clearance sale on Fabriano Uno, but I assume this is not the paper you talked about? A later version than the Soft Press, perhaps?

    • Zoe
    • February 5, 2009

    Terrific examples and explanations.

    • Roz
    • February 5, 2009

    Nita, there could be some stock of Uno left somewhere but they stopped making it when they combined the Artistico line. It’s very curious. I think they kept the Soft Press option but I don’t ever buy that.

    Of course there is another possibility, after spending thousands of dollars in publicity to combine the lines into the Artistico line and try to obliterate UNO with confusing adds and odd brochures (I should have saved them they were hilarious from a product info aspect and a design aspect) and then dropping the ball completely while gearing up for making the paper for the Euro they could now be making it again?

    Stranger things have happened. I would proceed with caution. If it is the old paper it’s going to be fun to use. If it’s a new version who knows.

    Good luck and report back!

    • Roz
    • February 5, 2009

    Bill, there is indeed a tool for this activity. It’s called a finishing press and you can purchase them from bookbinding supply places like Talas. They are made of wood and finely crafted and typically expensive. I don’t own one, but have used them at MCBA.

    The finishing press essentially is a vice. I find them useful for holding books when I am rounding spines (but they aren’t necessary). Some folks I know use them for marking and sawing holes in the signatures at the spine (I don’t saw holes, I use an awl, though I’m temped to do this because it would speed things up!)

    At any rate, if you have having difficulty with a vice you might have trouble with this device too.

    Here’s something FREE to try first.

    Sew up your book as you normally would and then pull your tapes tight, or do whatever you do to make it snug.

    Holding the text block in your hands turn it so the tail of the textblock is pointing towards the table and “Knock it up” flat against the table. There shouldn’t be a lot that shifts in this procedure, but anything out of alignment is quickly noticable and you can allow it to shift back into place so the base of your signatures are now all aligned.

    Then holding everything firmly so it doesn’t shift at all, put the textblock down on a table with a straight edge, i.e., no curly carving) and set it down flat with the spine about 1/8 inch out from that edge, pointing to you. Then put a heavy board or art book (because they are always heavy!) on top of the textblock so that 1/8 to 1/4 inch of the text block extends past the edge of the board (or book cover you placed on top).

    Check that you haven’t shifted your signatures at all and then put more books and heavy weights on top of this textblock.

    You should now be able to glue up your spine without any trouble, except that you might get glue on your heavy artbooks, so put some wax paper in there when you are making your stack to protect your “weights.”

    I would glue up the spine and then remove it to do the rest of the backing, but you may have different steps for backing than I use and it may be useful for you to keep it there. If so, just be careful when adding the mull or supper because you could have some heavy books or boards come down on top of you.

    If you have a lot of textblocks to do you can use masonite boards as separators in your stack.

    You shouldn’t have any distortion with this, or with the finishing press, but my suggestion is free and I’d work with that first.

    Let me know how it goes!

    Oh, there is a Dover book, and I don’t recall the name off the top of my head, but it talks about making tools for bookbinding (and maybe art in general?) anyway I think it has plans for making a finishing press. You might want to check that out at a library if you are handy with woodworking.

    I’m a big believer in no special tools beyond an awl and a needle and a bone folder, so I try to avoid all the expensive stuff. Where would I put all that?

    • Roz
    • February 5, 2009

    Thanks Zoe, I’m glad you liked them!

  1. Reply

    roz, you’re fabulous!

    • Roz
    • February 6, 2009

    Ricë, would you notorize that?

  2. Reply

    Thanks for the detailed suggestion, Roz. I’ll give it a try and let you know how it goes.

    • Roz
    • February 8, 2009

    Bill, I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes for you!

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