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A trip to an online art supply store or you local art store reveals a daunting array
of various papers to choose from. How do you choose? There are basically four things
that you should be aware of in selecting a paper.
- Rag content.
Paper is made of many different materials but the primary content that interests us the amount of rag or cotton content. Newspapers have very little and are mostly made of wood pulp. This material degrades quickly in part due to the acid content. We’ve all seen old newspapers. They become yellow or even brown and brittle very rapidly. It would be quite silly to invest the time and effort a quality drawing takes on this kind of paper. Rag or cotton paper, on the other hand, is non-acidic and will last for centuries with proper care. Drawings on paper by the great masters still hold up after hundreds of years. These were done on paper high in rag content.
Paper comes in various weights or thicknesses. It is a matter of choice to the artist as to how heavy he/she is comfortable with in a paper, however my experience would dictate that a minimum of 140# would be good although I often use much heavier. The main advantage to the heavier paper is that it holds up to the abuse drawing by it’s very nature causes and the final work is stronger and less prone to damage. But while this should not be construed to mean necessarily that the heavier the paper the better, it does mean that light weight papers such as standard copy paper, are not well suited for this and other reasons.
- Tooth. Tooth is the term used for the coarseness or texture of the face of the paper. Some papers are extremely rough while others are very smooth. The texture of the paper is going to show through your finished drawing so care should be taken initially to determine the optimal choice for the subject you are drawing. There are several terms you should understand first.
- Watercolor paper comes in rough, or cold pressed, and hot pressed. While some artists do great work on cold pressed papers, I would suggest leaving them for experimentation at a later date. The hot pressed paper is much smoother and will give you less texture while you learn the basics. For comparison purposes, I would rate rough or cold pressed paper as a 5 on the smoothness scale - the grainiest and roughest of papers. Hot pressed would be a 2.
- Vellum is a smooth surface but it has a noticeable tooth.
It is an excellent choice for a paper which I would rate as a
approximately a 3 on the smoothness scale.
- Smooth. This is pretty much self explanatory and would be a 2 on the smoothness scale - along with hot pressed.
- Plate. This is the smoothest paper made. It has very little tooth and is a bit tricky to work with for the beginner. I use it more than any other, but it does not take darks easily as a general rule.
Whiteness. Different papers are made with varying degrees of whiteness. They can range from yellowish to a bright white. This has little effect on the drawing itself, however if you wish to release prints of your work, the whiter the paper the better.
Brands of Paper
I have by no means tried all or even more than a smattering of the many wonderful papers available so please do not take this list as being anything more than simply my experiences with a few. Try anything that strikes your fancy and feel free to experiment. What works for me may be entirely different for you. Only you can determine what paper(s) you will prefer.
Strathmore Bristol Plate Series 500. This is my favorite paper for nearly all my work. It comes in various weights and is very smooth. I buy the large sheets that are 22x40 inches. I cut it down to the size I desire. I have tried the 2 ply and the 4 ply varieties and find no difference between them outside of the weight. This paper takes details exceedingly well and is exceptionally forgiving for erasures and rough treatment. Where it requires some finesse is in applying very dark areas as the lack of tooth makes this somewhat difficult. The paper has a bit of an off-white tint. I would not recommend this to beginners for this reason but it should most definitely be tried by the more experienced artists.
Strathmore Bristol Smooth Series 300. This is the paper I most often use to do my pet portraits. I has plenty of tooth to work with and is fairly white. It allows some abuse without rebelling and takes details very well. Darks can be applied quite easily. I get this in a pad of the size I wish though it may be available in full sheets. I would recommend this to any beginner as a good paper.
Fabriano Bright White 300#. This is an outstanding paper for graphite artists. I often use it for male portraits. It has a wonderful tooth that grabs graphite easily yet allows the artist to layer many times over without complaint. Erasing is very good except that it is difficult to remove all the graphite due to the more pronounced tooth. Donít go too dark until you are sure. Details are crisp and the texture of the paper gives a wonderful texture to male skin when using circlism as the technique. Darks are a dream on this paper. It is available only in full size sheets. It is one of the brighter whites out there and comes highly recommended. I have heard that Michelangelo used this brand of paper for his drawings which still hang in museums around the world.
Arches 300# sheet. This is another heavy paper which I tried once. It did not suit my style or my taste. I found it had entirely too much tooth. However, it might work for you so do not rule it out simply by my experience.
Arches 140gsm. This is a lighter paper from Arches. I found the tooth to be somewhat different from front to back. The smoother side is a pleasure to draw upon and a great many artists use only this paper. It is one of the whiter papers out there.
Stonehenge by Rising. Available in a pad or in full sheets. I used this for 3 of the Beatles (John, Paul and Ringo) and found it very acceptable. Details were a bit harder to get but the darks were very easily achieved. It is somewhat off white compared to the others and has what I would term a medium tooth. Erasing is not as friendly as other papers but with care that should not pose a major problem. I would recommend this as an excellent beginners paper.
Navajo by Mohawk. While not marketed at a paper for artwork or drawing, but rather as a printer’s paper, I tried this because it was extremely white and had a good plate finish. The Pyrenean Shepherd is done on this. Initially it was wonderful to work with taking blacks amazingly well for a plate finish and the details as I would expect from such a finish. However, as the piece progressed I discovered small black specks developed which could not be removed or covered. Considering it was a dog, this was not such a big problem. However, had it been a human portrait and those specks showed up on the forehead .... as a result, that was the one and only drawing I will do with this paper.
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