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February’s Bell Museum Sketch Night and Trying Out TH Saunders Waterford Watercolor Paper

February 20, 2012

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Above: Sketches in a journal I made with TH Saunders Waterford 90 lb. Hot Press High White watercolor paper. Size: approx. 8 inches square. Left edge you can see some of the hand painted decorated paper I used on the book's cover. The sketches were made with a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Calligraphy pen and then washed with watercolors from one of my mini travel palettes (Daniel Smith Watercolors) and a Niji waterbrush. (Some text at the base of the recto page obscured for privacy.)

First, My Day and the Sketch Night

February 2 was invertebrate night at the Bell Museum of Natural History's Sketch Night. That Thursday was a draining day for me. I rose early, completed an indoor bicycling workout, ate a quick breakfast, and got over to MCBA 90 minutes before class to set up. I had 16 college-aged students coming in to make a large (8 x 10 inch) sewn-on-the-spine journal in a five hour class (which is cutting it pretty close because of the size of the class but also glue drying time).

I'm typically game for such challenges, and the two teachers who were bringing the college students in for the class did request the simplest stitch (that saves about an hour of class time and struggle on the part of the students). The group worked well, allowed me to push them hard, and while they took a half hour lunch break I cleaned the brushes we'd just used to glue our cases and cut all the templates for the hole punching (it just seemed quicker than dealing with different rates of cutting and skill levels and passing out rulers and cutting mats only to pick those tools up again—you really have to think about minimizing any expenditure of time when given a task like this; they all received additional untrimmed templates to take home and use on their next book).

I got them all finished about 15 minutes before the class was scheduled to end. They all seemed pleased and excited with their books. I was happy to know that they would soon be filling them as part of the course of study they were embarked upon. But I had 45 minutes of clean up in the studio and by the time I got home, with transit time and car unpacking, I'd been going full bore for over 7 hours. I had to quickly catch up on work fires that had started while I was out.

It was with mixed feelings then that I went off to sketch night at the Bell. It would have been pleasant to remain at home and recoup. But I mention all this for reasons you already know—even when you feel pretty wrung out, if you get out and sketch, even if the sketches aren't the exact way you see things, you will feel so much better when you get home! 

So the next time you think you can't stand up another second, and certainly can't talk to another person for 30 seconds, go throw yourself back into the fray and sketch. It's like training for a marathon. You get stronger with each workout.

If you're ever so fortunate, as I am, to have a great friend like Marsha, she'll suggest that you go out for Chocolate Chocolate (not a typo) Cake afterwards—and you will, and they will give you the LARGEST slice you have ever had (because it was the end of the evening I suspect and they didn't think it would all sell), with the MOST frosting ever (ditto the reasons). About one third of the way through you will realize that if you take one more bite of the chocolate goodness you will probably faint, but it doesn't matter because Marsha is driving! (Eating CCNAT Cake also requires training!)

TH Saunders Waterford 90 lb. Hot Press High White Watercolor Paper

I didn't forget—yep, this is the new paper with which I'm currently experimenting. It seems that people are dropping the TH and simply calling it Saunders Waterford so I suggest when you search you do likewise. For me the TH is kind of sentimental. This is the FIRST watercolor paper I used as an adult when I could purchase my own supplies. I used it for a number of years, in love with its super smooth hot press surface which still loved colored pencil. At that time they didn't have a "high white" version (which is new in recent months).

Then I couldn't track any down for a brief period and tried some Arches watercolor paper one time. The sizing on the Arches was off (it smelled rancid when wet). I ended up with Fabriano Artistico Watercolor paper on the advice of a friend. I stayed with that through the glorious soft press years until a couple years ago when Fabriano shook up their product line. Then I shifted and started using different brands of 90 lb. watercolor paper in my journals. It's difficult to find 90 lb. watercolor paper of any brand. I still use Fabriano's 300 lb. hot press watercolor paper for painting my rock series, but I test other papers as I feel the urge depending on what I'm going to be painting.

I was interested in revisiting the TH Saunders Waterford because of the "high white" sheet they released last year. I struggled to acquire some. Special orders would come in as regular and not high white, or as cold press and not hot press. Finally I managed to buy some 90 lb. hot press high white. All I can say is you are going to have to look around to find some of this in the 90 lb. weight. Check with your local art paper merchant and see if he can get it for you and work out from there. With luck it will become something he'll regularly stock and you can walk in any time and get it. (Wet Paint in St. Paul helped me out with a special order.)

If you do find some of it you'll have a fine paper for binding your own visual journals. The paper is of course, as a watercolor paper, sized for painting with wet media. When wet it smells delightful (you know this matters to me). You can move the paint around nicely on the sheet, just as you can on other high quality watercolor papers. There are nice lifting capabilities; washes apply easily; and glazing works just fine. Gouache is just as fun as transparent watercolor on this sheet. The paper doesn't buckle much for a 90 lb. sheet. (You can work on the flip side page without any difficulty once the page is dry.)  It folds and tears easily for binding. The folds with the grain don't crack. The glue seams in a western casebinding hold firm and don't delaminate.

Note: I routinely will make books using 140 lb. weight watercolor paper. Those papers buckle less when wet and then dried. But the 140 lb. does add more bulk. In the past several months I've been using lighter weight papers when binding so that I can fit a large number of sheets into a journal with a narrow spine (less weight to carry around). While I can't guarantee that the 140 lb. paper of this line will bind up great in western case bindings I have a strong hunch that it will. I will be purchasing some at a later date to verify it. I make this note now so that you don't shy away from the 140 lb. because you think I have something against it. I just wanted to use the lighter weight paper. But I would only buy a small amount of the 140 lb. paper if you are going to make a western case binding, to test how it holds up to your binding methods before you indulge completely.

Best of all, my favorite waterproof pens (Staedtler Pigment Liner, Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Calligraphy Pen, and the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen) are all pretty much waterproof almost immediately on this paper, so that I can start applying my washes immediately. There is a little bit of bleeding with the SPL and the PPBP if you go in immediately, under 30 seconds or so, and scrub a bit. The F-CPAC didn't have any bleeding. But what little bleeding I can generate in regular, non-scrubbing usage over the other pen lines doesn't interfere at all with my washes. And I can wait an additional 30 seconds or so and it won't be an issue. (The 90 lb. sheet also has a good opacity for a thinner sheet, even when you use the heavy ink of the PPBP.)

If you would like to view the front of this book it is shown in the picture with this batch of books from December 24. It is the book on the front right. The book beneath it with blue and orange on the decorative paper is also made with this paper.

You've guessed it. I LOVE THIS PAPER. I have a bunch of sheets of it that I have not made into books yet. (That past binding goof where I tore down massive amounts of Stonehenge Kraft paper before making one book and finding the paper unsuitable at all was to be avoided!) I also have some of the regular white because I was so desparate to get some of this paper and test it I didn't return a shipment of that sent in error since at least it was 90 lb. At the time I was also told the my "next" order of high white might not come in until this year, and yet it arrived in December! Let's just say I'm papered up for 2012.

The regular white is a creamy white that next to most papers would read as white, but next to high white looks creamy. High white is dazzlingly white.

I wish you success in locating a constant and reliable source for this paper because it is a true gem of a sheet for anyone who wants to make his/her own books and then use pen and watercolor (or pen and gouache) in them. I have to add that writing on the page with pen is simply a lovely experience. There isn't the resistance to the pen that you find on some heavily sized watercolor papers. All in all simply a joy. Enjoy it where and when you can.

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