Artwork has been created on every surface imaginable over the centuries, but perhaps one of the most commonly used is paper. In this installment of the Arts and Crafts Explained series we will discuss some of the more common paper surfaces used in drawing.
Paper has been made from all sorts of materials, from textile waste to bamboo, but the papers we use the most today are created from either cotton or cellulose (wood pulp). Paper comes in a myriad of textures and thicknesses that will affect how the artist’s drawing will turn out. Artists often use these differences to their advantage and will consider carefully the paper they use.
Most children, or even adults, that are new to creating art on paper will start with either copy paper or a low cost sketch pad. While there is nothing wrong with doodling or sketching on these papers, you will be limiting yourself and the potential of your tools by using this lower grade paper. Many of these lower cost papers are not archival quality. This means that the acids in the paper itself will cause the paper to degrade over time, potentially losing your artwork. Also, the lower quality papers are often not as sturdy and will not hold up to erasing or heavy pressure from a pencil.
Higher quality cotton papers will give you good results. They withstand the abuse of an eraser and reworking of a drawing much better than cellulose. These papers will stand the test of time as well.
The texture or finish of your paper can vary greatly, depending on how it was manufactured. The common types are rough, cold press, and hot press.
A rough finish is air dried and has a very textured surface. These papers are good for watercolors and pastels.
Cold press finishes have a rougher texture than hot press, but a finer texture than the unpressed papers. It is created by placing wet paper between metal plates or rollers. There is some variety in the textures created. I have found that some of these textures work well for colored pencil.
The hot press finish is very smooth. Hot metal plates are used to flatten, or iron, the paper smooth. The paper is hard and has an almost texture-less surface. These papers are excellent for fine detail.
The thickness of your paper is measured, oddly enough, in pounds. When you see paper labeled as 50lb paper, it means that a ream of 500 sheets of 24” x 36” will weigh 50lbs. The GSM standard can also be used. It is more accurate as it measures the weight per square meter. The higher the number, the greater the thickness of the paper.
Paper preference will vary greatly from artist to artist, and from project to project. My advice to a beginner is to visit a store that carries a variety of papers and actually touch them. At major chain craft stores you can often find large art paper sold by the sheet. This can be an inexpensive way to try different textures. I will often buy a large sheet and cut it down to smaller sizes.
I would also recommend buying a several types of sketch books to try out. Again, the ones with thicker pages will hold up better.
Watch for the next article in the series!
Apryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart. She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool. When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades. Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.