Can't spell 'Paint' without P-A-I-N
The Tree of the Thunder Gods
Caring for Your Pens and Nibs
Painting SurfacesWombat Droppings
by Ursula Vernon
We're going to get back to talking about the process of painting, but it occurs to me that I've skipped an important step, and I will now rectify this error. This is all pretty technical, factual stuff, so getcher heavy Art Slog boots on. (You have art slog boots, right? Of course you do. Much of art is just slogging ahead through the swamp and hoping you'll find dry land eventually, as you probably know already.)
The important step, of course, is 'What do you paint on?'
You've got a lot of options. Canvas. Masonite. Board. Illustration board. A zillion kinds of paper. Peculiar bastardizations of one or more. They all act a little different, and they've all got weaknesses, and a few even have virtues, so it all works out. Let's go down the list'there's a lot of options, so we'll probably be taking two months to go through this, but s'all good.
Now, there is one important term to know here, and term is tooth.
Tooth is the texture and roughness of the paper. If you run a pencil over a sheet of typing paper, you'll notice that it makes a pretty solid line. This is because there's not much tooth to typing paper. If you ran that same pencil over a sheet of rough watercolor paper, you get a wibbly, grainy line with lots of little white dots in it where the pencil didn't hit the page. This is because there's a lot more tooth.
Depending on what you want to do, tooth can be your friend or your enemy. If you use watercolor on paper with a rough tooth, when it pools, you'll get a neat grainy textural effect that can look really neat, if that's what you want.
As a general rule, the more tooth you've got, the more like a painting something's going to look. If you're going for hyper realism, you may not want mega-toothy paper, whereas if you're going for something with lots of fur and rock, a decent tooth can be really cool. However, before you throw over and say 'I'm a realist, tooth begone!' the tooth also determines how well something sticks to the paper, so you often want a little bit of tooth to the paper, just so your paint has something to grip. Many perfectly realistic artists like texture because of the way it makes the paint cling. You're gonna want to experiment.
In order to determine the tooth of a paper, let's introduce some more terms - hot-press and cold-press. Hot press is smooth and slick and has very little tooth. Cold-press is rougher and knobblier and has more tooth. Rough paper is generally even toothier than cold press.
Now, paper is cool. I like paper. It's nice, it's absorbent, it's easy to work with, if you screw up, you layer over the top, and the texture generally doesn't get in your way, unlike, say, canvas. You can get a lot of detail going on paper.
Unfortunately, paper is also thin, so if you like to slather the water on, your paper bucks like a bronco and you're left with a soggy accordion that was once your precious painting. And if you get cheap paper, it'll pill up if you abuse it too much.
There's a way around this. You can get really heavy paper'the weight of paper is often written on the pack, where it says something like '75 lbs' or '120 lbs' which means that 500 sheets of the stuff weighs 75 or 120lbs. Typing paper's like 20lb. Sketchbook paper runs the gamut, but 50-75 lbs is common. Generally the heavier, the better, particularly if you're using wet media.
Now, 300lb paper will take quite a lot of abuse without buckling. On the other hand, you pay through the nose for it'10 sheets of 22 x 30 can run you $150, depending on the brand--and it can be tricky to find what you want.
Alternately, and what I like, are watercolor blocks. This is a solid block of twenty or thirty sheets glued together at the edges. You heap water on them, and they don't buckle nearly so much, because the edges are all glued down. They're portable and fairly snazzy. On the down side, they'll still buckle a bit in the middle, and you have to finish the top painting before you can get to the next sheet. The good ones'Arches, namely'ain't cheap, either, but they're a lot cheaper than a corresponding number of the heavy sheets.
Do pay attention to the kind of texture on your paper. The cheaper stuff often has a kind of regular square grid, which I'm personally not too fond of. The random, more organic textures you get'usually with more expensive paper, of course!'I tend to prefer, myself. You really do get what you pay for.
But that leads us to the next option...
One of the problems of art is that about fifty different surfaces are called 'board' so if the artist lists a medium as 'mixed media on board' it could be virtually anything. Life is hard that way. We're talking about illustration board.
Illo board is cool stuff. Think of it like white archival cardboard. (Don't use standard cardboard if you want an archival painting'the acid in the cardboard will react with acids in the paint, and your art will melt. Oil paint, for example, will eat right through cardboard. I don't mean in a hundred years, either, I mean, like five or ten.) It's a paper sandwich, and it's a lot tougher than standard paper.
Illo board comes in a couple of brands. A lot of illustrators like Crescent, I don't so much, since it's been known to buckle a bit. Strathmore Bristol board is my drug of choice. It comes in these big 20 x 30 sheets for around $7. You can get it hot press, cold press, textured, etc.
You probably can't get illo board of any stripe at Michael's'you'll need a real art supply store. But they're likely to carry it, and they will often be kind enough to cut it down into manageable chunks for you if you're not inclined to work at 20 x 30. I work almost exclusively on illustration board these days, and I love the stuff. It's like paper that doesn't buckle. Much. It's fabulous for watercolor, colored pencil and acrylic.
Don't use oil paint on it, though. Well, you can, and it'll even look good, but paper's a little too weak for the acid in oils, which means that the paint will eventually eat through the paper. It's generally not what you'd call archival.
I hate canvas.
Really, it's the old standby, but can't stand the stuff myself. You can poke holes in it and wreck the painting with a careless jab, you can stretch the stuff by looking at it funny, and I hate the texture for painting. Colored pencil won't go on it, you have a hard time getting detail work, and again, did I mention that I hate canvas?
On the other hand, I'm a washy sort of person, and canvas isn't really what you want for layering thin washes. It's more of a slathering type. Some people love it and do beautiful and spectacular work on it, so don't take my word for it. Go get a canvas and work on it. I'll wait.
Your homework for next month is, if you haven't painted on one of these surfaces before, to go get one. Doesn't need to be big, doesn't need to break the bank, a little 4 x 5 sample'd be fine. Just try a new surface. Even if you hate it, you'll have learned something, and you just might fall in love.
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