During my first week of graduate school at Cornell University, the professors called the students together to order supplies for the semester. We were given the opportunity to request specific papers, inks, and drawing instruments that would be shared by all of us, and we were able to specify the materials that would be available for purchase through the bookstore. As we went around the room itemizing our requests, I heard names of papers I had never used before. The lithographers wanted Basingwerk, the etchers wanted German Copperplate, the drawers wanted Fabriano Roma, the painters wanted Saral transfer paper, and everyone mentioned specific papers made by Rives, Fabriano, and Arches.
That day I learned how important the specific characteristics of papers are to the creative process, and I made it my business to find out why a smooth, hard paper is needed for lithography; why heavily sized laid paper is preferable for drawing; why soft, supple papers are best for intaglio printing; and why a heavy, textured paper works best for pastel painting. From then on I knew I had to pay more attention to the way a substrate influenced the final appearance of my drawings, prints, and paintings.
That education came back to me this past week when I sat down with executives of Legion Paper, one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of fine-art papers in the United States. They explained why they produce so many papers in a wide range of dimensions, colors, weights, surfaces, and finishes; and why they are making a concerted effort to produce them with the least amount of negative impact on the environment. The executives also indicated that their challenge is to help artists understand exactly what I was taught in graduate school: The substrate an artist uses will likely have a significant impact on the finished work of art.
It occurred to me that you could help other professional artists and dedicated students by sharing information about the papers you have found most helpful in realizing your intentions when you draw, make prints, or paint. For example, you might describe the different watercolor papers, drawing surfaces, pastel substrates, or etching papers you’ve tried and why two or three of them proved to be ideal for your creative efforts. You might also mention the surfaces you recommend to students who are on a tight budget or the reasons you urge beginners to use a quality paper.
I’m sure your experiences will be of interest to all of us who recognize how the selection of art materials plays an important role in our creative efforts.
M. Stephen Doherty