Saturday 18 June 2016

In praise of prolene

No, not proline (the amino acid), prolene, the surgical suturing fibre. Makes a lovely watercolour brush, it turns out. I'm going to add to this post with some examples of using a prolene brush but I was looking for a new sword a few weeks back and the only ones the local art store had was one from Pro-Arte's range, which are made of prolene and I really like it thus far. Until then, I'd been using what Daler & Rowney sell as a 'sword' in their System 3 acrylics range, but it's really a dagger if you ask me. It does work really well for painting grass when used with thick suspensions of tube watercolour mixed into just small volumes of water. I really wanted something that could make finer strokes or give me more control - longer sword-liners are designed for lettering and sign-writing and are simply a liner that has been cut on a slant really. If you use them backwards or sideways, you can get some lovely effects.

What really surprised me was how good this fibre was - I was expecting it to be like golden taklon or Dalon or any of the other synthetic watercolour fibres that are all essentially mock sable - this is SO fine - it's hard to see in the photo below but the prolene fibres are finer than human hair and springy but they don't have a snap to them - so the sword is flexible and floppy, and, when wet, the fibres lock together (that's the best way I can describe it, they don't physically lock like hog bristle, however) and one can draw beautiful lines and calligraphy with it. I'm going to buy some more prolene brushes now I think as it's a lot of fun!

I've just shot a video that I'll be posting in the coming few days that shows what you can do with a prolene sword.

My Pro-Arte prolene sword blender - I wanted to show it against some other fibres. From left to right - Dalon synthetic round, white nylon (stained by Phthalo Green) round, prolene swordliner and kolinksy one-stroke. They're sitting on a white goat hair skyflow, just for contrast.

Sunday 12 June 2016

How To Stretch Watercolour Paper

Oh bane of my life. Oh job I hate more than anything else with regard to painting! Yes, stretching watercolour paper. I actually only hate it because it takes time and means I need to plan ahead and it sometimes means I can't be spontaneous, it's actually pretty easy to do! Someone asked me yesterday on Twitter about this so I put together this video showing how I personally do it. I've also curated some timings for different papers so that you can get your soaking times right. NB: if when it has dried, your board has bowed or buckled (yes, paper is stronger than boards, weird huh?!), you will need to cut the paper free and stretch it again on a stiffer board, because it hasn't actually stretched properly. You'll need to be careful with it - once it's been soaked once, a second soak can ruin the sizing, so you may be better off testing your board with cheap paper first and making sure it's strong enough - thicker papers are more likely to cause issues with this.

Personally, I do stretch 425gsm (200lb), 535gsm (250lb) and 638gsm (300lb) papers - they do benefit from it if you like to paint a lot of washes or use mediums.

Caution re: masking fluids: sometimes after stretching, even if they survive washes and painting, the sizing can be weakened enough that masking fluids can rip the paper - as such, if you use masking fluid on stretched paper, just be especially careful when removing it and don't leave it on for more than an hour or so.

Chemical pulp papers (e.g. Bockingford)

300gsm or higher (140lb or higher) - 8 minutes - some of the really heavyweight papers need 10 minutes but few need more.
190 to 300gsm (90 to 140lb) - 3-4 minutes.
150gsm or lower (72lb or below) - 2-3 minutes - maybe even less.

100% cotton papers (e.g. Langton Prestige, Saunders Waterford, Millford)

Per the above but depending on humidity and how the paper has been stored, you may find it needs a little less time - experiment.

Saturday 11 June 2016


A little break before I upload the next instalment of my stamping paper product comparison - a mini-haul!

I actually went to Hobbycraft in search of some velum or some 12 × 12" decorative paper that I could use to make some custom envelopes for forthcoming birthday cards and gifts for friends. I ended up discovering some great deals on brushes from Daler and Rowney! I don't normally buy 'good' acrylic brushes as they end up knackered, but they had some CRYLA (the professional brushes) for less than half price, and, due to a pricing error on the till, I saved a lot more! Love it when shops make mistakes in the customers' favour - were it a tiny art shop, I'd've gone back and told them, but I don't feel anything towards the big chains tbh.

CRYLA brushes are a very stiff synthetic brush suited to heavy-body acrylics in particular, that are designed to look like a faux natural fibre - no idea why, that makes ZERO difference to performance and who honestly cares what colour the fibres are when they're covered in paint most of the time?! Weird...

DALON brushes are a soft, thirsty synthetic brush designed as a mimic sable, with each fibre having a pointed tip, so that they are like hairs. This makes them look darker at the ends.

I got the following - I've linked to Amazon UK for them as Hobbycraft don't sell them online - note Amazon currently have a sale on too - the prices are at the time of writing! 
CRYLA Size 4 Fan Blender  - RRP normally £7.75 - Amazon presently £6.21.
CRYLA 1/2" Flat Glaze  - RRP normally £15.75 - Amazon presently £11.93.
DALON Size 9 Round - RRP normally £9.75.
DALON Size 12 Round - RRP normally £14.00

CRYLA Size 4 Fan Blender and 1/2" Flat Glaze. DALON Size 9 and Size 12 Rounds.

I have not used CRYLA or DALON brushes before, so I'm excited to be trying these out and comparing them with other brushes I do commonly use.

I also picked up a  Cotman Sketcher's Set for £8.00 - it's normally £16.00 in there and £18.75 on Amazon - but the good news is they have it down to £7.79 at the moment too! I don't use student-grade watercolour as a rule, but I needed an en plein air solution for this summer and time is ticking. I was going to buy one of the W&N Artist Grade pan sets and fill it with my 24 main colours by buying empty half-pans and pouring my own using the tubes I already have...but the more I thought about it, what I really wanted to do was to keep the set on me at all times in my work-bag with a bottle of water and my sketchbook and I just couldn't see myself painting regularly en plein air if the paints were expensive. I also was realistic with myself - I don't have the time to sit around outside painting beautiful paintings! What I need to do is to sketch outside and then do bigger paintings with artist-grade paints back in my studio where I can do a better job of it. As such, my en plein air set didn't need to be fancy and a Cotman set would suffice!

This set contains Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow (Hue), Alizarin Crimon (Hue), Cadmium Red, Phthalo Blue, Ultramarine, Viridian (Hue), Sap Green, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber and Chinese White. I'm going to add some more colours and remove some - like the bloody pointless white (I HATE white in sets!) - to get it down to 4 versions of each Yellow, Red and Blue - a warm, cool, neutral and earth. No need for the greens as I can just mix them myself. Looking forward to trying it out next week, though, with the colours I have at present!

Sunday 5 June 2016

Watercolour Papers For Stamping 1: Why, What and How

This post is really just a pre-amble to some product comparisons I've done this weekend - they will be posted over the next few weeks in 4 parts.

A lot of cardmakers and papercrafters use watercolour paper to make card-fronts or to create special effects. Two of my favourite cardmakers are Kristina Werner and Jennifer McGuire, both of whom do beautiful watercolour effects - either with 'proper' watercolour paint or using inks or liquid-watercolours and so on. I've noticed that a lot of cardmakers on YouTube, for example, use what I would called 'craft watercolour paper' (craft, not kraft!) - this is often very expensive for what it is and is nothing more than student-quality 100% woodpulp watercolour paper - usually hot-press or a very low-texture cold-press. Now, I'm not going to waste my professional-quality £30-per-block watercolour paper for cards or similar, so I always  have a stash of student-grade paper that I buy when it's on offer and I use it for making colour-charts (screw the whole "make them on the paper you use" thing - I have a master set on cheap paper and then before painting something 'proper', I paint swatches on the edges of the paper, outside of the picture area) - I use the same paper for cards, for example, if I need a watercolour panel. These kinds of techniques range from the beautiful hand-lettering that Kristina is famous for to no-line-colouring (ditto) and the watercolour painting of stamped images.

The lovely, generous and friendly people at St Cuthbert's Mill located in the county of Somerset (where my mother's father's family were from), here in the United Kingdom just a few months ago sent me not only a few dozen Imperial sheets (30 × 22" or 76.2 × 55.9cm) of beautiful Bockingford cold-press (my main go-to paper), but also a block of Saunders Waterford cold-press High-White (an ultra-white) to try out and maybe 50 or so small swatches of all the different papers, textures and weights so that I could try them all out and share the results with you!

Amidst the samples was a non-watercolour-paper, to my surprise! Somerset Printmaking Paper - this is a 100% cotton, archival-quality printmaking paper - they sent me a piece of 300gsm Textured White, which feels a bit like a cold-press watercolour paper and reminds me a lot of Saunders Waterford in terms of how the surface feels - that is also a 100% cotton paper. At first I was like "but I don't do printmaking - I don't need this!" but then earlier this week, I had a kind of epiphany - what is rubber-stamping? PRINTMAKING!

So, whilst Somerset Printmaking Paper is NOT cheap if you buy it by the 25-sheet-pack (it's about the same price as Bockingford when it's on a per-sheet basis at Imperial size - which is actually pretty economical), I wanted to see how it performed for stamping and maybe watercolouring of stamped images...but, being a scientist, I can't just look at a single paper and review it - oh no - I had to do a proper comparison! 

The products I decided to compare are as follows - I opted to use hot-press watercolour paper since it stamps better as a rule, owing to the flat surface:

Somerset Printmaking Paper (SCM) - 300gsm, Textured, White.
[100% cotton; internally sized; long grain; 88% TAPPI]
Bockingford Watercolour Paper (SCM) - 300gsm, Hot Press, White.
[100% bleached chemical pulp; internally sized; short grain; 89% TAPPI]
Saunders Waterford Watercolour Paper (SCM) - 190gsm; Hot Press, White.
[100% cotton; internally sized + gelatine surface sized; long grain; 76% TAPPI]
Saunders Waterford Watercolour Paper (SCM) - 190gm; Hot Press; High White.
[100% cotton; internally sized + gelatine surface sized; long grain; 89% TAPPI]
Bristol Board (D&R) - 250gsm; Plate Finish; White.
[unknown composition]
Premium Smooth Card (HC) - 300gsm; Smooth Finish; White.
[unknown composition]

SCM = St Cuthbert's Mill; D&R = Daler & Rowney; HC = Hobbycraft
TAPPI = Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry [Brightness Scale]

DECLARATION St Cuthbert's Mill provided me with samples of their papers for review - all other items used in this review I bought myself. Note when items are provided to me for review, I am not obligated to give a good review and my agreement with companies is that I must be able to give a 100% honest review.

Other Materials Used:

Craft Asylum "Home Sweet Home" photopolymer stamp set
Stampers Anonymous Tim Holtz Collection "Papillon CMS 106" red rubber stamp set.
Brushes and Tools
Winsor & Newton kolinsky sable artist's brush - Size 0 Round.
Papermania acrylic stamp block - 4.00 × 5.25".
Alcohol Markers
Promarker - Cool Grey 2 (CG2) 
Promarker - Cool Grey 3 (CG3)
Promarker - Cool Grey 4 (CG4)
Promarker - Shale (R215)
Promarker - Slate (V715)
Promarker - Sunflower (Y156)
Dye Ink
Tsukineko Memento dye ink - "Rich Cocoa ".
Ranger Archival dye ink - "Jet Black ".
Pigment Ink
Tsukineko VersaFine fine-grade pigment ink - "Onyx Black ".
Watermark Ink*
Tsukineko VersaMark watermarking ink.
(* NB: only used to pre-prime photopolymer stamps - glycerol can be used instead)
Specialist Inks
Ranger Distress Ink - "Iced Spruce ".
Ranger Distress Ink - "Hickory Smoke ".
Ranger Distress Ink - "Barn Door ".
Ranger Distress Ink - "Gathered Twigs ".
Ranger Distress Ink - "Fossilized Amber ".

[ be continued...]