Thursday, May 17

How Do You Like Your Paper: Single, Pad, or Block?

Following up on my last blog about the choices a painter gets to make, let me tell you about my experience with the different forms of paper you can use for your watercolor (and acrylic) paintings.
If you know all this already, well, then you can run on back to your studio to work on your painting.
Otherwise, I will tell you about the basic three: single sheets, pads, and blocks.

When I started painting in watercolor several years back, I began with single sheets. Why? Because my mentor said to do it that way, and not knowing any different, I followed orders.

A single sheet, as the name implies, is one single sheet of paper. Single sheets come in two sizes: full-sheet and elephant sheet. The full-sheet is 22 x 30 in (55.9 x 76.2 cm). The elephant sheet, which, I suppose, gets its not-very-creative name from being as big as an elephant (maybe?), is 25 x 40 in (63.5 x 101.6 cm).

Of course, these relatively large single sheets can be cut up into any size you want or need, but the common ones are called, again not so creatively, the 1/2 -sheet and the 1/4-sheet, which are exactly as their names imply. (I’ll let you do the math to determine their dimensions.)

Other than having to cut them into 1/2- or 1/4-sheets, the single sheet is ready to go right out of the bag, so to speak.

The pad can be convenient depending on how you plan to paint and what you want to do with your work after it's finished. Pads come in an assortment of sizes and are either spiral-bound or edge-bound with glue on the “top” edge.

I think pads are great for sketching and/or painting studies or other relatively quick work, much like a sketchbook would be. If they’re edge-bound it’s easy to tear out the sheets for single use or to leave them intact until whenever. I find the spiral-bound pads a nuisance because it’s frustratingly difficult to tear off a single sheet from the metal or plastic spiral band.

And even after that you have to trim off all the ragged edges, which you hope will leave you with a straight edge (not to mention the messy scraps of confetti all over the place).
Then there's the paper block, which seems to be the choice of those painters "in the know." Why that is, I do not know, but there seems to be some mystery about purchasing watercolor paper in a block. Maybe it’s because most people have never done it until they are exposed to it as an artist and painter. I certainly wasn’t.

As the name implies, the paper is bound in a single block; that is, with no loose sheets. It comes in various sizes with various amounts of sheets. But here’s the big difference--it’s edge-bound with glue on all four sides, such that you must use an X-acto knife, or some such, to separate and remove each sheet.

Aficionados of paper in blocks swear by them. They say you can just begin painting on the very top sheet and only need to remove it when the painting is finished. Better yet, they say, is that with the sheet attached to the block, you never need to stretch it because the paper self-stretches itself as it dries on the block. I guess that's an advantage if you ever stretch your paper, which I never do.

Anyway, I am currently using a block of watercolor paper. I do, however, remove each sheet before I begin painting—it just seems more normal to do that. I guess I'm afraid the paint will seep through to the next sheet if I don’t (and this is not inexpensive paper either). I do take care with that X-acto knife as it can be tricky (and dangerous).

So, in whatever form you choose to purchase your paper, the choice is yours. Lucky you.

Keep On Painting

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