Paper Choices: Strathmore Illustration Board for Wet Media

August 27, 2009

090820PigeonStrathIllBoardS Left: Pigeon test sketch on the new wet media illustration board from Strathmore. Approx 5 x 7 inches. Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer Watercolor Pencils. This is a pigeon I met at last year's State Fair. I drew it using sketches made at that time for reference.

The Minnesota State Fair starts today!
Go Sketch!

One of the fun side effects of getting yourself organized for the State Fair—and no I don't go on Opener (as I like to call it to the consternation of fisherman everywhere) because I like to let the food vendors get the kinks out before I show up—is that you have the perfect excuse for trying out new paper. (OK, I don't really need much of an excuse. It just has to be a paper that might prove useful to me.)

Strathmore creates some excellent papers that literally make my work possible. I love their 500 Series plate Bristol for pen and ink work (2-ply) and for painting (5-ply). Many of their drawing papers are suitable for binding into journals used by visual artists. Their 500 Series is their top of the line paper. Now they have an addition to this series: Illustration Board for Wet Media.

What's the big deal? Didn't you just say you painted on their plate Bristol? Yes I did, but I paint on a lot of papers that aren't intended for paint, and I work around the paper's qualities (and with those qualities) to get what I want.

Now I really don't have to do any work at all. I can just paint and have fun. This board is a fantastic product that I am already planning projects for.

Specs: This board is 100 percent cotton, with a vellum surface (so there is a bit of a tooth). It's heavyweight (78 pt.), and acid free. It has been sized to accept all illustration media. You can use it for light washes or really have at it with wet-on-wet applications.

I had a 15 x 22 inch sheet of this board (it comes in a plastic sleeve to protect the surface and this size runs just under $9. There is also a 22 x 30 inch sheet that costs about $14. When you compare costs to 300 lb watercolor paper it's just a tad pricier, but it also comes with different capabilities.

When I was making my wild turkey journal card tests this illustration board called to me from the other side of the room. I really had to test it, even if it meant buying more of it so I could use it at the Fair. (I knew I could use up the 300 lb. watercolor paper I'd purchased to make journal cards out of, for paintings.)

This is what I discovered in my test. The board is lovely, and by that I mean it is a dream to work on. I know I'll be using it for a lot of things, especially painting with gouache when I want a little bit more tooth than the 300 lb. hot press watercolor. For instance, gouache paintings that I'm going to work over with colored pencils would be perfect on this board. Gouache needs a stiff surface so that heavier applications of paint don't crack. It's great to have an alternative to 300 lb. watercolor paper.

For my immediate Fair needs I found the board is too toothy, so I'm going to stick with the 300 lb. Fabriano. The vellum texture of the board broke up my pencil lines a little bit more than I wanted. I was going to have to work a little harder, under time constraints with moving models, to build up the density of line I wanted. Other folks might have made the decision call the other way—it was pretty close.

This toothiness, however, is not a liability. It will be fantastic for other things, as I said. And married to the toothiness is a rather slick overall surface, because of the sizing for wet media. This means that while I can't get the sloppy, drippiness I get on plate Bristol, I can get some interesting runs and paint effects simply by tilting the board.

Even more fun is the hardiness of this board, you can keep on putting on the layers and the surface stands up to it. You can wash out your watersoluble pencil strokes to watercolor puddles, or leave the marks—both are simple and easy, and that's not true of all paper surfaces. This board is just plain fun to use.

Strathmore is marketing it to cartoonists and comics artists, but any mixed media artist is going to need to try this board and see what it can do for her, where it can take her. The fact that it is 100 percent cotton and acid free should remove any qualms about using it for fine art applications.

If Strathmore had asked me what I wanted in a wet media illustration board to suit the way I work I would have asked for exactly this. You owe it to yourself to try a sheet out and see if it suits your working methods too.

Note: Wet Paint carries this wet media illustration board.

    • Andi
    • August 27, 2009

    Thank you for posting this, my dad has been looking for something to paint on. He picked up some Yupo paper at Blick when he was here last fall, but this sounds like he will like it as well. (Me, too 😀 )

    • Roz
    • August 27, 2009

    Andi, I paint on Yupo too and enjoy the slickness of it. It has some issues that have to be mastered as with anything.

    If your dad likes a REALLY slick surface, but something not as slick as the Wet Media Bristol, I recommend that he order some 5-ply PLATE Strathmore 500 Series Bristol. I paint on this. I tape it down to a board and then paint away with no wetting and stretching. I get nice drippy effects. You really need the 5-ply, however, for the thickness, since this isn’t what the Bristol is made for.

    The Wet Media, is as I’ve said, fun and fabulous surface to paint on, but if your dad is coming from the range of Yupo, he’ll enjoy the stop at the plate Bristol more.

    • Roz
    • August 27, 2009

    Elizabeth, I don’t recommend trying to draw when out and about with children in public places, or actually any place (e.g., the backyard, poolside, etc.) when you’re in charge of them. Whether you draw fast or slow things can happen in an instant, an instant when you focus on your sketch instead of the child. No drawing is worth that.

    I hope you can work with your spouse or significant other to schedule time when you go off to draw on your own, to life drawing, to drawing class, to the mall or zoo to sketch; all times when you leave the boys at home. You’ll make progress much faster in your drawing skills, but also you won’t have your attention called to two (well 3) places at the same time.

    Later when the boys are older and can sit and draw with you, you’ll have developed the skills necessary and you’ll be able to teach them and help them sketch. (Age 7 or 8 seems to be a good time for this for some kids, though then the focus is still on watching them more than doing your own sketches. Kirsten wrote in that she went to a local Fair with her 10 and 13 year olds and didn’t have much time for sketching but did have fun—so it’s really going to depend on the age of the children.)

    Taking a non-sketching friend along to watch the kids is also a possibility, but I guess the most important thing is to develop a plan now so that you can build your skills and be ready to share them when you can all be out and about together safely.

    Thanks for the good wishes about the pigeon and the Fair. I am really looking forward to it. It started today (Thurs.) but I can’t go—I’m at my desk working and taking a lunch break! I’d rather be at the Fair, but that will happen soon enough. And I’ll see many, many pigeons!!!

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