Above: Puffin sketches made at the zoo in an 8 x 8 inch handmade journal which contains defunct printmaking paper. Verso: first sketches of the day made with a dried out Staedtler Pigment Liner. But I am having so much fun. I think I might have started to giggle. The puffins were sitting right on the ledge only the thickness of their enclosure glass and 18 inches from me. Next I went to the other side of the enclosure and did some run throughs with a dark grape Prismacolor. (I think that’s what it’s called, I sharpened the name end.) I was pretty hot by that time—in the clothing department that is. Sweat was running down my back. I had long Johns and toe warmers on in case I wanted to sketch outside. You never know at Como, and it was sunny. I was so eager to jump right in and sketch the puffins that I hadn’t even opened my coat, and the building’s heat was cranked up. You’ll see a tab running down the center of the spread. It was there when I made the book in 2003. I added tabs to each signature when sewing the book. In this way I didn’t have to cut out pages to make room for collage in any of the books in that batch. Unfortunately that means the book isn’t as thick at the fore edge as it is at the spine and you have to do a bit of a dance when weighting it at the end of the binding process. I value my time, and I hate that type of dancing. This is the last batch of books I ever bound that way. The date in the back is 2003. March, 2003 Dottie has been dead for five and a half weeks. I clearly wasn’t thinking things through clearly. But the book is perfectly made. I must have been working on sense memory. The paste paper still smells deliciously of clove. It’s from a batch made at least a year earlier still, when Dottie, already dying of liver cancer, without me knowing it, good naturedly moved from resting "den" to resting den" as I carpeted the floor with wet paste paper (I don't have a print drying rack).
I tell people this all the time: don’t get attached to art materials—companies go bust, or simply stop making something. (Research Print Gocco! [Their exclamation point not mine.])
I give the same advice about paper. There is no perfect paper, I tell my drawing students. There is the paper you are with at the moment. How is it responding to the materials you’re using? Can other materials get results more like what you see in your mind? Is there a skill gap between you and the paper? (Example: you don’t have the skills to take advantage of what the paper was made for, such as watercolor paper). Are you insisting on using a medium on a given paper so totally unsuitable that your efforts never even skate near the heroic but are simply silly and stubborn?
There are some papers, however that make me gloriously nostalgic. I think I’ve known two perfect papers in my life. One was Barcham Green’s Turner’s Blue Wove. The other is in the book I started using January 1, 2016.
I decided not to even tell you which paper it is because it would be a disservice to you. Some of you would misunderstand and go and buy the NEW paper sold under its old name. You wouldn’t have fun, you wouldn’t have great results, you would wonder “What the hell is Roz thinking?!”
I have three or four of these books left. Probably three, because I’m working in one currently. One is simply a binding of the scraps I had left the last time I bound with it. I don’t go back to the storage shelf and count them because frankly I don’t want to know. It would be as if there were only three Tootsie Rolls™ left in the world. When I ate them they would be gone. Happily I like stale Tootsie Rolls™ because of the change in texture to something with much more bite back. So like Tootsie Rolls™, as long as I keep the books dry I can use them any time, and it’s better to parcel them out. Not because of "scarcity," not because I'm worried about how I'll use the pages and being held back by a need to fill them with perfect pages. (That's not even on my radar.) I just want to spread the joy out over a few more of my years here on earth.
Above: Second spread made in my 90-minute New Year’s Day visit to Como Zoo. (I left a little bit of the cover visible on the verso fore edge so you could see the lovely paste paper that covers this book's cover. The bookcloth is a rich navy blue.) I started on the verso page with color pencil, sketching the sleeping Penguins. There was one little guy playing “sketch-bomb” at the window with me, but I just laughed. I’ll catch him on another trip. Someone was running the molding machine to make a souvenir plastic bear. YUCK. Cooking plastic odors were filling the area and I was about to go down for the count, so I left to walk to another building, stopping to watch the bison for a brief moment. They were up and about but the buildings cast shade on their enclosure and while the day was sunny and 26 degrees Fahrenheit it was colder in the shade. I ducked into the first herbivore building and started sketching the Lesser Kudus. You’ll see that progression on the recto page. I was using a Sakura Pigma Sensei. I think they are my new favorite pen. They aren’t as juicy as the SPL. They also don’t last as long, but over all I like the way they work on most papers. I’d filled up my page and then a crowd came in with great hats so I started sketching again, this time sitting on the bench, behind people as they watched the animals. I didn't flip the page over because I thought, "I'll just do one more sketch," then, one more, sigh. These are the pen sketches on the verso page, right over the penguins. These are my favorite sketches of the day—especially the top right, near the gutter: a man in a hat, holding his daughter, all from the back. She wore a Barbie™ pink down jacket. I loved the mass they made, heads together, watching. And then I went home. So I could do more items on my New Year’s Day Checklist.
Nope, I’m never going to feel sorry for myself that this, or any paper, is gone. I can draw on complete crap paper and have fun. Yes the fun factor is higher on this paper, but all the more reason to use one book every 18 months or so and remind myself how much fun it is.
Or so I thought. Instead, for the first time in my life, when I took the book down off the shelf I felt a little nostalgic. Not the way I like to go into the new year!
The moment I got to the zoo and touched my Staedtler Pigment Liner to the paper nostalgia evaporated into wonder. Even though the SPL was running dry (I had grabbed the wrong one from my bag and it was too crowded to comfortably reach around and get a new one), it was heaven to move it across the page.
The paper in question is a heavy weight printmaking paper with a cream color that leans to the peachy side. So lovely.
The surface is smooth, but with enough texture that color pencil and graphite are a joy to apply to it. Pen, brush pen, dip pen, even ball point pen loves this paper. If it were a teenage girl it would be voted prom queen and most likely to succeed.
What works on this paper? StabiloTones and Caran d’Ache Neocolor IIs. Yep, and yep. Watercolors, yep. Gouache, you better believe it.
For the next few weeks I’ll have a lot ahead of me.
I realized in a blinding flash it’s not nostalgia that has me in its grip. This is going to be a tough few weeks because I’m going to have to work hard in this journal just to earn its respect.
That’s a good way to start the new year after all.