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Paper Samples and Swatches—and the Colors of Stonehenge Paper

March 9, 2015

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Left: 6 x 6 inch page, sketch is about 5.5 x 4.5 inches, Stonehenge grey toned paper (don't know which grey for sure as you'll learn below in today's post) and gouache. A little bit of rubberstamp ink was used to complete the frame on the left side. (Orange watersoluble colored pencil sketch with Schmincke Horadam gouache.) 

First, let's agree, never ever use the swatch samples on Blick to choose anything. They reflect a vague nod to reality. Find a paper site where they actually spend time on their digital imagery. Legion Paper has excellent digital swatches.

OK, why am I starting a rank on paper swatches?

The other day a student on Sketchbook Skool asked me about the paper I was using for a current project. (The project is one that the MCBA Visual Journal Collective is doing, and I'll have more to say about it when the project is over.)

I had decided to work in this small wirebound book of grey Stonehenge, because I like the versatility of Stonehenge for drawing with different media, and because I wanted to paint with gouache this month, and I love painting with gouache on toned Stonehenge. 

When the student asked me which grey this was (as Stonehenge makes a couple) and told me that he was looking at the Blick site as a color reference I suggested that he and all the students interested in binding their own books invest in some swatch samples for papers they are interested in. And I wrote the following, which I thought would be of interest to blog readers. (And I've rewritten a little of it to make sense.) 

Please note that not all colors of Stonehenge are great for folding. The four most recently released colors crack severely even when folded with the grain (which is essential for binding a sewn-signature book). I write about the cracking issue here. Since writing that post I did try folding the new grey and white papers and experienced more cracking than usual when compared to the other colors in the Stonehenge line. If in doubt, use the samples to narrow down the colors you're interested in and then purchase only a few sheets of each of those colors to test.

If you are binding your own books and you don't live near a store where you can go in and SEE the paper (if color is important to you) it's important you order sample sheets and books. Lots of companies offer these.

There are so many colors in the Stonehenge line that I think it's important, if you  are considering a large purchase, that you have a sampler book on hand. Legion Paper sells one of these. Go to their sample department and scroll down to the bottom of the page where "swatchbooks" are listed. It's only $1.25 and all your confusion will be eliminated.

While you are on that page pay attention also to the other samples offered as well.

In the sheet section that starts the page, there are entire "collections" you can get that are worthwhile. These are boxes filled with 8-1/2 x 11 inch samples (and other sizes) with which you can actually do a decent folding test and also do some drawing or painting testing on.

I recommend that if you're a binder you purchase these swatches and paper samplers to have on hand and to go through for testing with the different media you like to use.

For instance if you like grey paper, on that same sample page linked above, scroll down the page to "Shades of Grey Sampler" and click on the arrow to the left of that heading. It will open up a display of a bunch of sheets that they are including in that sampler.

In that sampler there are 16 sheets of 8 x 9 inch paper for $7.00. That's a good deal for a sampler. And 8 x 9 inch is a good size again, for testing folding and painting/drawing characteristics, if you're systematic.

Additionally, by clicking on any one of those images of grey paper that have appeared when you clicked on the arrow, you'll be taken to a full page where there is a discussion of the characteristics of that paper. Where appropriate, when you click on one of these images, there will be additional colors of that sheet shown.

Legion is also great about giving you a sample enlargement on a particular paper page so that you can move your mouse over it and see the texture, which is important to all of us because of our media and working method needs.

I've actually written a post about buying and using samples and some places to get them. (NOTE: Since the writing of that post in 2010, Daniel Smith has stopped selling paper so you can forget about them as a source for samplers.) 

Your local paper store might also put together sample packets of papers they carry. I know that Wet Paint in St. Paul, MN, has paper sample packets for watercolor and printmaking (maybe drawing too).

In fact most paper companies will sell you a swatch book.

So if you go to any mill's website there should be a link somewhere there directing you to where you can buy samples.

Those samples will usually be swatch books and not larger loose sheets, but you can at least verify colors. (Remember there can be slight variations between batches—and always keep your sample books out of the light unless you want to see how the paper color fades when exposed to light.) (I store my samples in a black archival box and in my flat file.)

Don't give up on commercial printing papers either. We used a Fox River paper when binding the Minnesota Journal Project 2000 journals. (We bound 50 books containing it.) That paper held up well to the writing and mixed media that the 46 or so artists who completed the project threw at it—and believe me they threw everything at that paper. (I found it fine for working with watercolor and gouache.)

For commercial printing papers you'll have to go to a paper distributor like Anchor Paper (here in the Cities). There you can see the paper and buy it in large sheets, or regular cuts that go through copiers and such.

Typically you will also be able to pay to have a large sheet trimmed in a certain way. So for instance, if you need a final folded page size of 8 1/2 x 11 inch pages you can get them to trim the parent sheet (which will be probably in the neighborhood of 40 x 30 inches or more) to 17 x 11 inch sheets. But you have to make sure, even though that's a typical, usual size, that you specify which way you want the grain to run because paper mean to be used flat to run through the copier or mechanized printer is cut to facilitate that running and not to be folded and made into books. Most 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper that I've seen is cut with the grain running with the 11 inch side. All you could get out of it is a tall narrow book if you fold it with the grain. Don't assume that the 17 x 11 will be cut the same way (grain running with the 11 inch side). NEVER ASSUME when ordering paper from these companies. Talk to the vendor and explain how you need the grain to run. You can find Anchor Paper Express in the TwinCities here

If you are going to do anything in your project which involves first running the paper through the inkjet or toner printer BEFORE you do other journaling on it, as we did in the 2013 MCBA Visual Journal Collective Not-So-Blank-Page-Journal Project  be sure you get a small amount of paper to test through the equipment you'll be using, and then test with your final medial before you invest heavily in having a lot of paper cut.(You can see my journal at that link.) 

Widen your search for papers for visual journaling. I think you'll find a lot of papers out there that might work for your particular media needs. Swatch books and samples will help you test out your ideas.

  1. Reply

    Beautiful work: what is the theme of this project? Love the colors and paint application.

    • jean
    • March 9, 2015
    Reply

    I was glad to have the free swatches offered by Stillman and Birn as I did not like any of the choices for my work. Good tip!!

    • Ted
    • March 9, 2015
    Reply

    Roz, Being that student who asked the question you mentioned, I did follow up on your recommendation and ordered the swatch sampler from Legion. I just received an email that it has been shipped and will arrive soon. I certainly appreciate your advice.

    Also following up on the further discussion in that post regarding using a plate surface, you mentioned the possibility of binding with bristol board which had never occurred to me before (I thought it would be too stiff). I found an old wire bound pad of 500 Series smooth 2-ply bristol in a pile of old art stuff. (I know from the store tag that it was a minimum of 30 years since I purchased it, and only a few sheets were ever used). So I bound a small sketchbook with it yesterday. It was my first attempt at binding, and probably not the best paper for a first time beginner, but it turned out fairly well. You are correct that it can make for an expensive sketchbook, and another drawback is that it is a little too “precious” for my everyday sloppy sketching, but I do like to do more “formal” outdoor watercolors on that paper. So I plan to bind more of these for that purpose. And I will check out the grey Stonehenge and the Series 500 Multimedia for my daily sketching. Thanks ever so much for pointing me in this direction and saving me from endless testing.

  2. Reply

    Ted, in my other comment to you I mentioned binding Bristol, but not board. Bristol comes in one and 2 ply as well as the heavier weights. Even at 1 ply it’s fairly stiff and will stay flat when you paint on it, but you can still fold it and sew it into books. Two-ply possible.

    If you want to use heavier weights you’ll have to go single pages bound with wire binding.

    Reading along I see you’ve already bound your 2-ply pad stuff. (Did you check grain direction?) In general I don’t recommend people bind padded papers because the padding process flattens the tooth of the paper a bit more than just the full sheet. But you like smoother surfaces so in your case I’m not worried.

    Glad some things are working out for you. I hope you have a lot of fun binding and sketching.

    But I also hope you get over the idea of too “precious.” If it helps you make better art and ensures that you sketch multiple times a day I think then it’s probably worth the extra cost.

    And remember if you buy sheets of something and you buy 25 sheets or more, most paper places will give you a deal. So Wet Paint for instance does this and with each 25 sheet increment the prices for all of them goes down. The MCBA Visual Journal Collective has done paper purchases through them and purchased over 200 sheets at a time and once we got an $8 sheet for about $3 or something like that. So if you find a paper that really works for you and what you like to do, buy a bunch so that it’s less expensive!

    Good luck. And thanks for asking a question that I know so many people need to think about.

  3. Reply

    I’m not a fan of the working characteristics of Stillman and Birn paper either. I’m glad you could learn through samples instead of purchase of multiple books.

  4. Reply

    Ellen, it’s too complicated to explain right now without writing a entire blog post. And I’m too grumpy today to do that even for you. It will be up in a little video sometime at the end of March or beginning of April. Many of my pieces are in gouache on this paper. All my pages have this format.

    • Suzanne O.
    • March 10, 2015
    Reply

    Hello Roz,
    Your gouache sketch is so beautiful!
    I bought a few gouache tubes lately;do you have any book recommendations for someone who wants to get started in gouache?
    Thank you in advance!

  5. Reply

    Suzanne, I’m sorry I don’t know of a book on gouache except for one translated from the Russian, which is really just a pamphlet, that one of the Journal Collective members brought to a meeting a couple years ago—She brought it because the translation was so ridiculous (and the info wasn’t good). We all had a good laugh.

    I have a 6-week class that I’ve done for about 15 years and I’m looking at changing it around to an online class with videos and demos. I hope that will come out in the fall of this year. If you’d like to be on the mailing list you can drop me a line at my email address, or you can just check back in the fall to check out the classes category.

    • Suzanne O.
    • March 12, 2015
    Reply

    Thank you Roz! That is really good news! I am looking forward to your class!

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