Drawing Papers

(Excerpts from ART HARDWARE: The Definitive Guide to Artists’ Materials, by Steven Saitzyk © 1987)

Any paper that has enough tooth to bite off sufficient particles from a drawing material, such as graphite, to form a visible mark could be called a drawing paper. However, to be considered good, a drawing paper must be durable enough to take repeated erasure without serious damage to the surface. It should also take ink without bleeding or excessive absorption.

In watercolor painting, the brush is the most important component; in oil painting, it is the paint; in drawing, it is the paper. Each artist should make his or her own experiments and comparisons among the varieties available in the major categories of drawing papers-bristol, charcoal/pastel, drawing/sketching, bond, and graphics papers. Even a simple pencil line will appear totally different on different brands of the same type of paper. This category is broken down into five basic groups: bristol, charcoal and pastel, drawing and sketching, bond, and graphics paper.

Bristol is the strongest, most durable,, all-purpose drawing paper available. It has a very hard surface that is heavily sized, polished, and compressed. It comes in two finishes, plate and vellum, and in several thicknesses.

Plate finish is as smooth as glass, is especially good for pen and ink, and allows flat and even washes. Airbrushing on this surface gives a very crisp look, but the finish is too slick for colored pencil, charcoal, pastel, and very soft pencil. Vellum finish is excellent for all pencil, colored pencil, medium to hard charcoal, hard pastel, and oil pastel. It is also excellent for washes, gouache, pen and ink, and airbrush when a fine texture is desired. Some care must be taken with this surface to protect it from the natural oils from your hands, which can be transferred to the surface, affecting the absorbency and the bite of the tooth.

Bristol is usually made so that either side may be used, although there may be slight differences in the finish between the two sides. Strathmore’s 100 percent rag Artist Bristol is considered the standard to which all others are compared. This bristol is still made only from 100 percent cotton cloth trimmings, which helps to give it its tremendous strength. But, because of the widespread use of cotton-synthetic blends in the garment industry, there is an increasing shortage of raw materials for production of this paper. Strathmore is currently developing a process to separate the synthetic from the natural fibers, rather than resorting to the use of cotton linters. The sheet sizes are 23″X29″ and 30″X40″, and the paper is available in pads. Two-ply, nonrag bristol is the most common form of bristol to be found in pads.

One-ply bristol is thin enough to be translucent. The plate finish is thinner than the vellum because of the greater pressure applied in making; thus it is the easier of the two to see through for tracing. Because the one-ply is a bit thin, its hard surface is easily damaged if handled carelessly. It is easily subject to buckling from the moisture in the air and from the perspiration of your hand.

Two-ply bristol can be used for tracing with the aid of a light table. This thickness is less subject to humidity and damage by handling. Two- and threeply are the most popular thicknesses. Three- through five-ply are chosen more for weight than for any qualitative difference in performance. Five-ply feels like a lightweight illustration board or a 300 lb. hot-press watercolor paper.

Charcoal and Pastel Papers are essentially interchangeable. The selection of the finish and the color of a charcoal or pastel paper is even more important than the selection of the drawing materials since the finish of the paper determines the appearance of the artwork. Pastelists, for example, study the color of a paper the way a painter studies a color chart.

There are two basic finishes-laid and irregular. Laid finish is the imprint of the regular pattern of the wire screen of the papermaker’s mould. An irregular finish is the result of the felt mats on which the still-wet sheet of paper is pressed out, which produces a tight, irregular arrangement of small peaks and valleys on the surface. Both of these finishes can be found in different degrees of texture, from cold press to rough. The finishes of this type of paper serve the same purpose as the finishes of watercolor paper; the texture is worked the same way, except with charcoal and pastel instead of watercolor.

These papers are not as durable as bristol and will take only light erasing before the surface becomes seriously disrupted. They are lighter in weight, generally have little sizing, and are machine-made. “Ingres” usually refers to a laid finish paper of light to medium weight. Strathmore’s 100 percent rag charcoal paper comes in twelve colors, two whites, and one black. It is lightweight with a laid finish and is one of the most popular papers of this type. Canson Mi-teintes, which, it is said, Degas used for some of his pastels, is made in thirty-five colors with an irregular finish and is of medium weight.

Drawing Papers, or papers marketed as “drawing,” vary widely in quality from newsprint to the fine handmade Fabriano Roma papers said to have been used by Michelangelo. However, most of the available drawing papers are not even close to this quality. Today, drawing is more popular than ever before and large sheets of rag drawing paper are in great demand.

Drawing papers resemble bristol paper, but have not been compressed or as heavily sized; thus the surface is less durable with a coarse vellum finish and a rougher tooth. Bristol is considered a multimedia paper because it can take everything from markers to watercolor. This is not true of drawing paperspermanent markers will bleed and there is little control for traditional watercolor technique. Drawing papers are primarily for use with pencil, crayon, oil pastel, paint sticks, charcoal, graphite sticks, carbon pencil, colored pencil, and some light pen and ink. Common sizes are 18″x24″ and 24″x36″ in sheets, 36″x10 to 20 yards, and 42″ x 10 to 20 yards in rolls. To meet the larger demands, companies such as Andrews Nelson & Whitehead are making available sheets of drawing paper up to 30″ x40″ and rolls of 60’x20 yards. White and off-white are most common, but colors can be found. The overwhelming percentage of drawing pads are of the nonrag variety. Generally, if a pad is not labeled as rag, it is not rag.

Bond Papers are sometimes distinguished as ledger bond and layout bond. The finish of bond papers is more like bristol than drawing papers-ledger has more of a plate finish, and layout is a bit like vellum. Layout bonds are usually lightweight, 13 lb. to 20 lb., making these papers translucent, but not transparent like tracing paper. Ledger is usually heavier, 28 lb. to 32 lb., more opaque and less fragile. These papers have good durability and strength.

Both ledger and layout bond work well with a large variety of drawing materials. Watercolors and permanent markers can be used with some success. This type of paper is found almost exclusively in pads or rolls, and most are not rag. The rag bonds are now generally sold as “graphics paper.”