This is part two of a multi-part review of Stonehenge Aqua (hot and cold press) 140 lb. watercolor papers. Please see part one (which contains a recommendation summary) at this link.
While I may have started as a child with color pencils I quickly transitioned to pen and ink. As a result of that I’ve worked in pen and ink most of my personal life (for fun) and my professional life (OK also for fun) in pen and ink.
I love pen and ink.
It is rare to find a cold press watercolor paper that loves the pens I use.
Stonehenge Aqua Cold Press Watercolor paper is such a paper. (I’ll have something to say about pen and ink on the hot press version of this paper in a future post.)
I get giddy every time I look at this first sketch in today’s post. It makes me smile because I remember how fun it was to draw each line and dot of that face.
The Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen FB has a soft, solid fiber tip. This means it has a little give. But the cold press texture of this paper is so smooth that it doesn’t skip. You can intentionally make it glide over the surface with less pressure and achieve a subtle, slightly broken line for shaded areas (see the shadow areas of the eyes and the ear).
The most important thing I look for in a paper for ink sketching is sizing that holds the line sharp and doesn’t let the ink appear “fuzzy.” This paper will do that.
As a hot-press girl I admit it’s a little disconcerting to work on a cold press paper and love it, but I believe we have to keep ourselves open to new experiences.
The back side of this sheet is even smoother/flatter so you’ll be able to work easily on that side as well.
Downsides to Working on this Paper with Pen and Ink
Downsides to pen and ink work on this paper include the brush drag—the larger your ink brush the draggier the pen response will be. As you can see in the quick brush pen sketch of Gert in this post the subtle cold press texture breaks up the pen line in a fun way. The paper is a little bit draggy as I’ve mentioned so many times in the previous part of this series, and this part of the review, but it’s doable.
Another downside to this paper is that the bold brush pen lines tend to rub off more than on other papers I use. The page spread above shows my rubber chicken puppet Gert. Now a year past its creation date there is a lot of ink rub off from the text appearing to the left of Gert on to the lefthand page of that spread, muddying up Gert’s portrait. (This isn’t shown on the scan because the scan was made on the creation date.)
If you’re not binding this paper into books like I do this won’t be an issue for you.
I do, however, recommend that you store loose sheet sketches made on this paper interleaved with glassine. This will prevent rub off from one sketch transferring to the back of a sketch above it.
In the portrait of the man with the full beard you’ll see some other downside issues with this paper. In areas where you need to put a lot of ink down the paper becomes quickly saturated and the texture becomes a bit fuzzy. I find that I can’t work as quickly on this paper as I do on other watercolor papers. Waiting for the ink and paper to completely dry in these areas helps a little, but for heavy blacks you’ll need to plan carefully and make every stroke count. I’ve been spoilt by other papers.
If you look at the beard detail image with letter callouts you’ll see what I mean, especially around the collar at A and C. There working too quickly for the ink to dry, the paper gets quickly overworked and odd flat textures begin to emerge as the surface is worn. This is not the paper for reworking.
At point B you’ll see the draggy texture you can achieve for lighter values. It’s a pleasant texture. However at D you’ll see how, once the surface has been worked the paper will gobble up ink with successive layers (even after drying between applications).
Testing Pens on Stonehenge Aqua Cold Press
I also tested various fountain pen tips and dip pen tips with similar results. They also all feel very stiff on this paper, but that’s typical for paper that’s been sized for watercolor.
Tombow’s Fudenosuke Brush Pen tends to lay down too much ink and overwhelm the paper, while Faber-Castell’s Pitt Calligraphy pen lays down just the right amount of ink on this paper. The Pilot Lettering Pen also works well on this paper if you’re going for a bold line.
I found the Sakura Sensei too absorbent on this paper, and yet oddly scratchy. Despite all that, I used it to create two of my favorite pieces on this paper.
One final positive with this paper and ink—even though it’s a cold press paper, it’s smooth enough that I had no difficulty writing small lines of text using a .1 Staedtler Pigment Liner.
Binding Books Using this Paper
My experiments with sheet paper always include binding tests. If a paper is lightweight enough to fold (and 140 lb. watercolor paper falls in that range) then I buy sheets, tear the paper down, and make one or more case-bound books with the paper.
For Stonehenge Aqua I made a book using the cold press version and one using the hot press version. They were the first two visual journals of 2018. I filled them up from January 1 through February 11, 2018.
Using a paper daily over such a stretch of time means that I get to have an intense and continuous introduction to the paper. My tests get carried out in “normal” work conditions, instead of in special experiments set up with an agenda.
In this way I discover what I like about a paper in all situations that I find myself in. By the time I finish testing journals I know not only whether I like a specific paper or not, but I also know whether or not it is a paper that works well for binding.
Stonehenge Aqua in either the cold or hot press versions doesn’t hold up to binding into a text block construction.
The paper folds and tears easily. There is minimal cracking when folding with the grain. It’s easy to punch and sew.
The problem with the paper is that in a text block construction when you sew your signatures together before casing them in you need to reinforce the spine. There are many ways to do this. Most approaches involve the use of some glue. For me I use PVA. The goal is to create a connection point along the spine of the book where each signature elbows the next. I call these the glue joins.
In a book that doesn’t have a reinforced spine, when you open and close the book at these points (the last page of the previous signature and the first page of the next signature) you can see all the way through the spine of the text block into the case. This means that it’s the sewing that holds the signatures together, along with the tapes (if you use tapes). But it also means there’s a lot of gapping between your stitches, And where there is gapping there is the possibility for shifting and that instability, over the course of a book’s use, can loosen the sewing and degrade the structural integrity of your book.
The surface of Stonehenge Aqua (in either cold or hot press) isn’t compatible with holding the glue join. The glue simply pulls away.
In the last image of this post I have included a photo of a page spread open at the last page of one signature and the first page of the next. I have grayed out everything but the gutter to focus your attention on the gutter line. There you will see at points A and B, that the glue is pulling apart. The paper gets all fuzzy from the pulled fibers.
I do not recommend this book for any traditional binding methods that require glue reinforcement at these structural points.
If, however, you are interested in making books such as coptic stitch books which have open spines; like to make sewn on the spine structures where the signatures aren’t sewn to each other in a text block but are sewn directly to a spine board; enjoy making pamphlets, Japanese Double Pamphlets, or 4-needle constructions; or you sew on tapes without making glue joins and actually like that (I don’t see why, but that’s up to you), then this paper would be suitable for those listed structures.
I’ll leave you to your testing to determine first if it’s a paper you enjoy working on.
I think it will be rare that I purchase this paper going forward, but if I do, I will be making it into sewn on the spine structures only.