Archive for the ‘Papers’ Category

Scribal Hint 3: Choosing Paper – Different Types of Paper

Monday, November 8th, 2010


Welcome to our third installment for Choosing Paper. Today we will be discussing the differences in the types of papers available.

Bristol Board:

If you are using acrylic paints, a Bristol Board may be your best bet. With Bristol, it does have a waxy finish or top coat. This usually repels water based paints such as watercolor paint and gouache. Watercolor and gouache both use Gum Arabic as a binding agent. Gum Arabic doesn’t always stick to the waxy surface, and if the page twisted even a little bit after the paint is totally dry, the paint can simply pop off the page. Acrylics have a sticky, plastic-y binder which allows it to stick to the Bristol Board. These two were truly made for each other. A marriage in artsy-fartsy heaven if I ever saw one!

Hot Press Watercolor Paper:

If you are using gouache paints, hot press watercolor paper, which is a rag paper, works well. Rag paper is made from “rags” or fabric fibers, usually cotton. Smooth, 140 lb Hot Pres Watercolor Paper is my paper of choice (smooth is an important classification to look for on the label). Hot Press has a smooth surface which is wonderful for painting with gouache, and is also good for smooth, even calligraphy. Watercolor paper does not have the waxy surface that Bristol Board does, and thus allows the watercolor and gouache to be absorbed a little into the paper. That makes the paint stick and not pop off. Scraping a mistake off of Hot Press is a little more difficult than if you are working on Pergamenata, but it can be done with a lighter, gentler touch and some patience. Just wait until the ink or paint is completely dry before scraping anything. If Hot Press is not for you, don’t use it, that just leaves more of it for me.

C&I on Hot Press Watercolor Paper


If you are doing calligraphy only, or if you paint with a dry technique, Pergamenata, an Italian pressed pulp (wood fibers, that is pressed between 2 metal weights) paper, works well. Because it is a pressed pulp paper, if “Perg” gets wet, it buckles, blisters, and becomes misshapen. These puckers do not generally come out, no matter how long you leave it pressed under heavy books on a flat surface. Not only that, but it can also separate as if it was 2 pieces stuck together if the entire sheet gets soaking wet. The big pro for “Perg” is that is scrapes easily, and mistakes (especially in calligraphy) can be quickly banished from the page. If you haven’t guessed by now, “Perg” is not my favorite paper to work with as an illuminator. Again, it may work really well for you, and that is wonderful for your art. If it works for you, please use it to your heart’s content.


Handmade Papers:

If you want an earthier look, try a handmade paper. Aaaaah! Handmade paper… My second favorite paper to work with. *Warning! Handmade papers are notoriously stringy. When you put calligraphy on them the pen or quill can catch the fine fibers in the paper and blob or run strings of ink in places you don’t want them.* I really like the look of handmade papers with pristine calligraphy and illumination. The juxtaposition just makes me happy. I like the challenge of getting the design on a rough, stringy page. I like seeing if I can get the paint to look smooth. I like the look the gold takes on a textured paper. I love to conquer the stringiness with my calligraphy pen (pens being mightier than swords and all). Working on a “standard” art paper is challenging enough some days, but there is just something about a handmade paper that the industrially made papers don’t have. If you haven’t guessed it by now, I do get called crazy (in a good way) quite a bit.


Cold Press Watercolor Paper:

A few quick words on Cold Press Watercolor Paper. Bumpy! Rough! Stiff! If you like the challenge of working with those conditions, definitely try Cold Press. I actually do scrolls on Cold Press, and enjoy it. I need to feel up for a challenge to do so. I do not recommend this for any beginning scribe! I recommend trying it, of course, but maybe not right out of the gate. Then again, if it works for you, use it!


Paper Called “Vellum”:

Paper in the art stores that is labeled “vellum” is not animal skin vellum. These are modern transparent papers used for drafting and tracing. They are not made for painting or calligraphy. They are light weight, and a good portion of them are not archival.

Other Art Papers, Not Suitable for the Scribal Arts:

There are also Drawing, Sketching, Charcoal, Newsprint, and other art papers that are not meant to be painted or inked heavily on: these papers will disintegrate quickly when any wet solution is placed on them. These are not good for any calligraphy and illumination. They are great for getting preliminary sketches and studies done, and even some patterns made for larger works. I have some of each of these papers in my studio, but I never use them for illumination or calligraphy.

When you go paper shopping, remember the words “Archival”, pH balanced”, and “Acid Free”. Also remember, to get paper that is a good weight and can stand up to being painted and inked on.

Last, but most important, try lots of papers and choose what works best for you.

Hopefully Helpful,

Scribal Hint 2: Choosing Paper

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Greetings to you on this lovely day!

Today we will be getting a little bit more specific in our paper information. We will briefly be looking at weights of papers and brands of papers.

Paper Weights (no not the glass kind from the 1970s):

Along with our friends “Archival”, “pH balanced”, and “Acid Free”, one thing to keep in mind when shopping for papers is weight. According the web site:

“The basis weight of a paper is the designated fixed weight of 500 sheets, measured in pounds, in that paper’s basic sheet size. It is important to note that the ‘basic sheet size’ is not the same for all types of paper.”

Also note that not all sheets of paper are made to be the same size!

The weight of paper is expressed in one of two ways: in pounds (lbs) per 500 sheets, mostly used in America, and in grams per square meter (gsm) in the rest of the world. I find that I like to work with 140 lb hot press watercolor paper, but 230 gsm Pergamenata. These are both stiffer weights of the papers that will not droop over when you hold them upright. This not only keeps the art piece looking more pristine, is safer (stronger) for the art (rips, folds, crinkles less, especially in transit), but makes for an easier presentation in any SCA Court.

Brands of Papers:

There are several different brands of art papers that have the same classification. For example, there are several manufacturers of hot press watercolor paper. Not all watercolor paper is made the same. There are some that are smoother than others, when they are both labeled “smooth”. Get a sheet or two of both brands, making sure you know which brand it which, and test them out. Remember, this is all about you finding the paper of your dreams. (If only there were a paper and artist matchmaking web page!)

The brand you choose may have to do with where you live and what’s available to you. If you are a savvy internet shopper (as I’m sure you are), then you can find great deals for papers on-line.

There are tons of different art papers out there to choose from. No matter what paper you decide to work with, make sure you are happy working with it. As a professional artist, I find that if I’m unhappy with my tools and materials, my art and my muse suffer, and I get bad art. Be happy in your choice and it will reflect in your work.

Tomorrow we’ll be discussing the different types of art papers, what they’re used for, and the best media wot work with on them.

Until then, I remain Hopefully Helpful,


Scribal Hint 1: Choosing Paper

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Greetings, and a warm welcome to you!

Today, we will be looking at choosing paper. There will be subsequent posts on the specifics of paper to keep the length of them down and easily digestible. I find I can get rather wordy!

Here we go…

Choosing Paper:

All artists are different. What works for you may not work for someone else. Learn as much as you can from many different people and sources. You never know when you’re going to run into that perfect combination for you.

Whichever paper you end up using, please, please, please do not twist, fold, or roll your original pieces. This only serves to help destroy your art.

As scribes, both illuminators and calligraphers, we need a foundation for our art piece. The most logical choice is a modern art paper. Paper is relatively inexpensive and readily available, in either local art and craft supply stores, or on the internet. We will save animal skin vellum and parchment for another time.

The Phrases that Pay:

Before we get started talking about papers, do yourself a favor and memorize these phrases: “Archival”, “pH balanced” and “Acid Free”. These phrases mean that your art paper has a greater chance of not turning yellow or yucky brown and degrading over time. Not all art papers are created equal, and not all are “Archival”. If you want your art to last, or if the person receiving the piece of art wants it to last, then use archival papers.

I have several friends who are part of the group who originally started the SCA, many of their first award scrolls are holey. Yes, hole-y… and brown… and fragile… and a little smelly (decomposing paper is still something decomposing – Eeeeeeew!). Even though some of them haven’t played SCA in years, they still treasure these “artifacts” of the SCA past. It is truly a shame that the early scribes didn’t know to useĀ  archival quality papers. (Let’s not even talk about the use of magic markers instead of paint and good ink… At least not today, we’ll save that for another time, too.)

Play with paper!

Get a bunch of different types of paper then test your paint and calligraphy ink on them. Test them to see which ones you like best. You are the artist, so it’ll be up to you to make your pieces on the paper you like, and that works well with your paints and inks. Some on-line stores do offer sample packs of paper, for free or a small fee. Don’t hesitate to order these, they can be your best way to do your test pieces without having to purchase whole sheets of paper that you may not use again.

Breaking News: Ink and Paints Repelled by Paper!

I will say this: there are some papers that will repel certain types of paints, and some inks, too. When you’re playing with your materials, keep in mind that if it’s not easy to work on, or just isn’t going right, it probably is not going to be the correct paper for you to work with. This doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be a good paper or other materials for the person sitting next to you to use.

Tomorrow, we will discuss paper weights, and no, I don’t mean those glass snow-globe looking things on your parents desks from the 1970s!

Hopefully Helpful,