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Ep. 21, Page 44
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Comic 1549 - Ep. 21, Page 44

4th Feb 2014, 5:24 AM in Episode 21 :: Save My Place | Load My Place
Average Rating: 5 (2 votes)

Author Notes:

smbhax 4th Feb 2014, 5:24 AM edit delete
As excited as I was over the weekend about the local sports team going out and winning a supermassive bowl, I was just as excited (it was an excitement-filled weekend! : o) about paper--new paper to use for A*, that is!

The paper I've been using, Canson Foundation Bristol, 100 lb weight (that means 500 22"x30" sheets of it would weigh 100 pounds), is a nice, white, smooth one I picked out as specifically well suited to drawing in pencil, back when I was drawing exclusively in pencil back in episode 19. I stuck with it automatically as I began throwing watercolor into the mix in this episode, but difficulty in handling certain aspects of the watercolor--the fairly icky results of trying to do detailed shading on Selenis in Friday's page being the last straw--got me thinking that gee, maybe I should, like, use actual watercolor paper when working in watercolor. And I should have thought of this way sooner, because in fact I was working on watercolor paper back around episodes 14 and 15, when I was using ink washes.

I switched away from that paper because it would rumple up and get hard to scan, but there are heavier, more expensive watercolor papers made to resist the warping caused by wetting and drying the sheet--cotton (or wood pulp, in cheaper papers) fibers expand when saturated, then shrink as they dry, only this inevitably happens unevenly across the page, resulting in warping. So I thought I'd get a couple of those heavier papers, and try them out with watercolors against my current paper, and against the lighter watercolor paper I still have left over from the earlier episodes.

To do this, I decided to execute a quick and simple portrait of Selenis on the current episode's tennis court, using the same watercolor palette I've been using lately--I would do one of these at full A* page size on each of the different papers. Here they are in photos trying to show their relative shades of off-white, and then how much they buckle after being watercolored:


Let's take a closer look at these, shall we? In slightly different order than above:

100 lb Canson Foundation Bristol, Smooth Finish:


Yeaugh! And this is the paper I've been using with watercolors all this time. : o Trying to apply multiple coats, or just getting stuck trying to continue filling an area where some of the brush strokes have already dried--and they dry pretty fast on this relatively thin, stiff paper--results in just plain gross, bleed-covered mucky spots. The water pools irregularly, leaving messes of pigment here and there as it dries; the surface is pretty poor at catching the pigment, so you get a pretty washed-out look, and the bleeding makes it all pretty blurry.

As you can see in the first photo, this thin paper is prone to some rather extreme warping after being wet; surprisingly, this isn't really a problem for scanning, as the Bristol's stiff page (Bristol means paper that consists of multiple thin sheets glued together, which creates a single piece much stiffer than its component sheets alone) just folds upward as its top sheet contracts, and is easily bent back into something like its original shape. And the Bristol is easily the whitest of the four papers here, which also helps ease and accuracy of scanning. That's a pretty moot point when what you're scanning looks like puddled dreck, though.

140 lb Arches Bright White Watercolor Paper, Hot Press:


Arches paper (pronounced something like "Arsh") is produced at the Arches paper mill in Lorraine, France, founded in 1492. Today it is a brand of Canson, a French paper and art supplies company, after a series of mill purchases and mergers from the 1950s to the '70s brought them together (Canson itself is today owned by yet another, larger company with I guess a less marketable name). The Arches stuff still uses its own labels and imprints, though, and to look at an Arches paper pack or sheet, you'd have no clue it was now part of a larger company in any way. I haven't seen the usual grumpy old artist complaints about art supply quality degradation in these decadent modern times when it comes to Arches, so I guess someone there must be keeping a pretty firm hand on the tiller.

Their watercolor paper is pure cotton (Canson's Bristol does not make this claim, which means it is probably mostly wood pulp), making it naturally acid-free. Their regular paper has a sort of light khaki, off-white color; their "Bright White" versions have acid-free white pigment added to lighten them (rather than being bleached, like cheaper papers; my source on this stuff is this speech by a US Arches marketing rep). When seen up-close, though, the "Bright White" 140 lb sheets really aren't much brighter in tone than the regular "Natural White" versions. They're thin and pretty stiff, but not quite as stiff as the lighter Bristol. As you can see in the top photo, they warp pretty good when wet; experts on the internet pretty much all advise pre-wetting and stretching these lighter watercolor papers, but the process is, as far as I can tell from the various articles and videos on a topic, a failure-prone, painstaking pain in the whumpus, and there's no way I'm going to try doing it for every daily A* page; I tried some quick half-hearted versions of the stretching process over the weekend, which failed completely--so I'm pretty much stuck with the warping. And this is a problem for scanning, because unlike the Bristol, this stuff warps both up and down, so pits and bulges will form in the middle of the page, and there's no getting rid of them; they show up as shadowy, out-of-focus areas on the scanned image; I finally gave up on this paper, after using it for an episode and a half, when extensive cockling from multiple layers of ink wash created deep vertical stripes on the cheek of a starship captain in episode 15, page 25 that were so extreme I couldn't even correct them with the special Photoshop process I'd been using up to that point to hide the warped areas.

I will say, though, that, when not suffering from a particularly bad warp bulge, this paper makes the watercolor look pretty nice; you get some elegant smooth shadings with it, and not nearly as much dry overlapping as with the Bristol; I suppose the gelatin "sizing" compound Arches adds to their watercolor paper to slow absorption of the watercolor is part of what makes this possible. It *is* fairly thin paper, though, so it is still prone to drying out relatively quickly, and you'll get some streaking and overlap unless you work really really fast; you can see I got some for instance in the purple shadows under the nose and lower lip.

Watercolor papers from Arches typically come in three surface types: "Hot Press," "Cold Press," and "Rough." Hot Press is the smoothest, resulting from sort of steaming the paper flat between hot rollers, or something like that, and since the initial pencil drawing I do kind of needs a smooth surface, Hot Press is the one I use. Further, each sheet has a smoother side and a rougher side--again, I opt for the smoother. For the sake of experimentation, I did try the rougher side in another sketch (it's actually the one you see in the pencil stage of the top photo--I realized I'd done the sketch on the rough side by mistake ; ); the rough side breaks up the pencil lines a little more, and seems to catch pigment a little better, for slightly more saturated colors, but overall it isn't much different than the smooth side. To my surprise, it is just about as smooth as the Bristol, as far as the pencil is concerned, allowing for very tight pencil work.

Color intensity on this paper is pretty even and reliable, unlike the Bristol, but the thin paper still doesn't absorb all that much pigment, so the color isn't extremely saturated.

Arches Watercolor Art Board, Hot Press:


This art board consists of a fairly thin sheet of watercolor paper (I guess it's probably their 90 lb watercolor paper--the antique pounds to metric gsm (grams per square meter) conversion system rather eludes me : P) glued to a 1.2 mm paper board--that might not sound like much but it makes for a very thick, hefty, extremely stiff drawing surface that feels like the paper equivalent of plate mail. Kind of neat! As you can see in the top photo, this stuff did not warp at all when worked on, which is of course entirely the point of it. The drawback is that the very light watercolor sheet on top can't absorb much pigment, so the results are streakier and less saturated than the 140 lb paper. Also, it doesn't come in a "Bright White" version, so it was the yellowest of the four papers here. The stiffness makes it super-easy to scan (and to frame, presumably), and I guess you can kind of compensate for the yellow coloration in Photoshop or something if you feel a need to. It is pretty expensive--it would cost me about $2 per A* page, just for the paper.

Somewhat surprisingly, even though the surface is very hard, and feels smooth, my 4B pencil lines scattered a bit on the surface--somehow it act rougher than it looks as far as the graphite is concerned, so it isn't quite as easy to draw on as you'd think.

300 lb Arches Bright White Watercolor Paper, Hot Press:


The heavier end of the Arches line, their 300 lb paper feels like an entirely different beast than the 140 lb stuff: whereas the 140 lb Bright White, Hot Press paper is thin, smooth, stiff, and fairly yellow, the 300 lb sheets are thick, fuzzy, sponge-like, and markedly lighter in color. Even the smooth side of the Hot Press version has a rough surface that breaks up the pencil lines significantly; I tried drawing on the rougher side as an experiment, and had to give it up.

Put some watercolor on it, though, and you'll immediately see and feel why this stuff would set me back about $3 a page: it handles watercolor like a dream. You can blend and re-work areas extensively even after they've dried completely (I almost entirely redid the area above the woman's head in today's A* page, for instance), layering applications of color results in prismatic beauty, pigment piles up on the surface with unsurpassed intensity, and goes down with so much control that you get extremely sharp edges--none of the blurry feel of the other papers; in fact, combined with the rougher surface, you get a jagged textured quality to the edges that is rather pulpish, if I may say so.

While thick (maybe a bit over half a millimeter), it is not hard like the Art Board, and does curl a little bit after being worked on, as you can see in the top photo. But the curls are big and smooth, and the soft and spongy material can be molded back to a reasonably flat shape pretty easily--easier than the Bristol, even.


All the papers had at least one advantage over the others, and their own drawbacks, but in the end I couldn't resist the vividness of the 300 lb watercolor paper. I was worried at first that the rough drawing edges would make detail work difficult, and I'll admit that the tiny tennis court figures in today's A* page weren't easy to pull off on it, but so far I don't really mind the bit of abstraction it forces in that kind of situation--at least not when paired with the ease of intense color application, and the ability to mess around with them as much as I want. Also, the soft, fuzzy surface feels like the paper equivalent of butter. I know that doesn't make sense, but it feels nice.

This stuff *is* expensive, and to compensate I'll be starting the auctions of the original art I do on it at $4.99, instead of the $0.99 I've been starting auctions of art done on the lesser papers at. I think the results more than justify the costs, and I hope you will too! In order to be able to afford drawing on this stuff, I'll need to keep up a steady stream of sales, so I'll have to work hard to make drawings you guys will want to own. : ) If you're one of those lovely folks who has bought some of my earlier watercolor pages, you'll definitely see increased saturation and definition of these new pages immediately--neither my scanner nor my camera can quite capture the full velvety quality of the watercolor on them, but that's why it's nice to see art in person, I suppose. And I think you'll be pleased by the heft and sturdiness of the paper, too.

Today's A* page is already up for auction in the usual way, of course--the link in gold under the lower left corner of the artwork on my main site, smbhax.com, or right here if you don't want to hunt that up--and I've also put the Selenis tennis court portrait seen above up for its own auction, in case anyone is interested in picking up my very first supermassive 300 lb illustration!


cattservant 4th Feb 2014, 7:43 AM edit delete reply
"When she was good,
She was very good..."
smbhax 5th Feb 2014, 12:20 AM edit delete reply
But when she was bad... : o
moizmad 4th Feb 2014, 11:48 AM edit delete reply
The pink and purple looks great! Didn't realize tennis was such a rough sport.
Just wait til Seattle gets a hockey team, Canucks will kick ass!
smbhax 5th Feb 2014, 12:21 AM edit delete reply
I think we have a team...or used to have. I guess they must be / must have been minor league or something.
moizmad 5th Feb 2014, 1:21 PM edit delete reply
You've got that right Ben, but when you guys organize an arena, you'll be back in the bigs with basketball and hockey I think.