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In Contest—Paper Comparisons

May 9, 2018
I like to work on prepainted paper and add collage elements. Here I kept a note my husband left for me one morning when he went to work (and I was already at work in my studio trying to resolve the costly technical issues plaguing my website). I paired the note with a quick sketch I made from my imagination the previous night on thick cardstock and then cut out. (My bird and dog sketches frequently stand in for self-portraits.) I think it’s important to keep these notes because over time you might forget how supportive your friends and family really are. Saving the notes they leave you or send you; noting down the conversations you have; memorializing the outings you take with them—these are all key ways to focus on the positive instead of the negative in your life. This page spread is in a book I made containing the new Stonehenge Aqua Watercolor paper, 140 lb. Hot Press. (A review will come in late May or early June.)

Note: Oops, that’s embarrassing, a typo in the post’s title. “In Context.” To change it now will mess up the permalink.

If you are testing papers to see whether you like working on them then it is important that you test all your usual techniques to ensure that the paper will respond in ways that support those techniques.

The same acrylic paint was used on both these sheets of watercolor paper so that I could compare how each paper responded. It is also clear here that paper color (more cream on Fabriano than the other two tested papers) affects the color of the paint. This isn’t a negative—sometimes you want a warm white sheet—it’s just more information to keep track of so you can make a final assessment.

Since prepainting backgrounds is an important part of the play and puzzle aspect of my practice comparison tests like the painting of two or more papers is a key first test. Papers that don’t pass this test have little utility to me in my daily practice. I may use them for individual artworks based on other characteristics, but even that is doubtful.

When I have a new paper, like the Stonehenge Aqua I was testing at the beginning of the year, I will get pieces of my favorite papers and test all of them at the same time.

This is important so that you don’t let faulty memory into the equation.

It’s also important so that you can control your variables. 

You will want to use the same paint. You will want to work in the same window of time so environmental factors don’t vary greatly (i.e., same humidity, heat, sunlight—if that last is a factor). 

I mix up the quantity of paint I know I will need for all the papers so that they are all treated equally.

I jot down the steps I’ll use in applying the media. (In this case I noted if I was prewetting the paper or not, which brush size I was using, and also how dry I let each test get before the secondary elements of the test.)

The goal is to compare apples to apples.

And of course I keep notes as I work through the process. My notes related to the flow of paint on a paper, the drag of a brush, the apparent saturation of a color (based on how much it soaked in or was influenced by the paper’s original color), etc. 

In a very short period of time I can have useful information on what I like or don’t like about each paper. The background painting test is one of the first not just because it’s an essential technique I use in my work. It’s one of the first tests I run because it provides such a rich result of comparisons for the application of all the wet media I might use on a paper.

I also begin my testing of commerically bound journals in a similar way—comparing several at one time for some initial tests. Then I use each individually for two to four weeks to immerse myself in that paper, go on to the next, and so on. I find that working only with one paper for a period of two to four weeks you can notice the nuances of the paper that might elude you if you were jumping daily from paper to paper, book to book.

Have fun with your comparison testing! Embrace it. See it as the essential play and discovery that will enliven your journaling and drawing practice.

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