Friday, 29 April 2016

Paper on Parade

There has been a considerable amount of debate among the online forums recently concerning the recent  problems with certain paper. Yes, it really can be that interesting, and so important there is now an online feedback group to take up the cause on our behalf. So what's all the fuss about. Well, in case you haven't been privy to the number of artists chatting about it, here's the nub of it.  

Fabriano, an Italian paper manufacturer who create the universally popular Fabriano Artistico Hot Press paper have recently put the cat among the pigeons. Just about every artist I know uses this one and having started using it myself a few years ago I can really see why. It's super smooth and has a lovely, soft white that really complements deep mixes and the fine detail that is evident in botanical painting. Or at least, it did. So what happened?

It would appear that something has occurred at the Fabriano mill to upset our arty apple-cart. It may come as news to us, but paper mills make more than just fine art papers, they make money too. Well, the paper that is used to make it anyway. The move to manufacture more currency paper has led to a bit of a shift at Fabriano, that means the press and roller gear that make our beloved Artistico has undergone a bit of jiggery-pokery, and altered the feel of the paper. Now, I don't get the whole situation, but it means a lot of unhappy artists scrabbling around to try to find an alternative.

A favourite on Fabriano Artistico

Crisp edges, softly blended washes and excellent surface make Artistico a popular choice 

Our apparent knight in shining armour is St. Cuthberts Mill with their Saunders Waterford, a paper mill located in the South West of England, and makers of some very fine art papers. They have created a new improved surface for their Hot Press, and gave out some free samples st this year's SBA exhibition for everyone to try. What nice people.

The three papers

Botanical Ultra Smooth from RK Burt is a very white paper with 50% cotton
The two Saunders Waterford papers are both 100% and available in White and High White

The Botanical Ultra Smooth with only 50% cotton is not something I would consider using now for my botanical paintings, but is a useful paper for watercolour sketches, and more illustrative pieces. It's not an archival quality paper, but as with the Fabriano Classico 5, is one I might suggest to students when they are just starting out. Whilst on the SBA Diploma course I used Classico 5 and found it okay. The very harsh, bright white is also something of a switch off for me. Not that I am a great authority on paper, I leave that to those who have had greater experience of using a range of surfaces, (see Dianne Sutherland's blog link below) 

Starting on the Saunders Waterford High White, (I'm not one for the creamier traditional white of some papers just yet) I tried out a few painting exercises, just to get a feel for it. Rather than go for it straight away with a study, I prefer to try out a few techniques to see how a paper holds up to a range of brush work.

The surfaces compared

Fabriano Artistico on the right with the new Saunders Waterford on the left

The colours are almost a match, but I'm sure the surface texture is rougher on the SW

Now, I don't know about how other artists feel about it, but I thought the surface felt a little rough in comparison to Artistico. I know you shouldn't really judge a new thing with your old one. Take it on it's own merits should be the mantra, but it's a human thing, and we tend to like the familiar and the comfortable. Still, give it a go I said to myself.

Starting out

Petals, leaves and stems are what a botanical artist paints, so that's what I did,

with some single wet-in-wet washes

The little boxes are one and two washes and a test to see the lifting quality.

So far, so good, but those edges could be crisper  

Really going for it.

More leaves, more petals and more stems.

Spheres are great as they represent berries and I could be better at those.

I also like testing the full movement of a brush too,

so in one movement I go from the finest tip of the brush,  to the fullest part of the brush, and back again.

Of course there are loads of paper manufacturers out there all making perfectly desirable Hot Press paper, and everyone has a favourite they will absolutely swear by. For me, the jury's out on this one, so the search will go on, and I will try just about everything, hopefully with an open mind. Luckily many manufactures are more than happy to provide you with samples of their papers, so I will make a list and get onto it. 

Further reading

Dianne Sutherland - Paper Matters More in depth analysis of the paper debate


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