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!
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.