If you don't build your foundations right, your house will fall down. Or at least sag a bit. Nobody can see it when the house is built, and most people don't give it a second thought. But if it's not up to the job, then neither is your house.
It's the same with paper. But paper's paper isn't it? Well… no. Not where art is concerned anyway. No matter how skilled you are, or how hard you try, it would be very difficult producing a masterpiece with superior quality watercolours or top-of-the-range pencils with a bit of (there's no other way of putting it) - cheap - paper. It would be like using Farrow & Ball emulsion (other brands are available) to paint a wall of crumbling plaster. In a word - pointless. And disappointing. That's two words - sorry. But you get my point. What you need is the right tools for whatever it is you're trying to do.
So what are the right tools? How do you know which paper is right for you and your preferred media? There are so many! Help! Panic stations!
Derwent, manufacturers of some of the best coloured pencils around, have added some wonderful paper to their portfolio - Inktense and Lightfast - and they recommended to us the lovely Judith Selcuk to talk us all through it.
Judith studied at Falmouth School of Art but her creativity took a back seat for several years thereafter - until she moved house and discovered a box of pencils. She is now an extremely talented artist and illustrator who loves passing on her knowledge to others, a talent for which we were humbly grateful. An ambassador for Derwent, she arrived on our doorstep armed with heaps of their goodies, including pads of the new paper, Inktense paint pans, waterbrushes and LOTS of enthusiasm!
We provided the tea and biscuits.
Judith handed out sheets of what looked like textured card and which turned out to be Inktense Watercolour Paper. It's designed specifically for use with Derwent's Inktense range - the water-soluble pencils, the solid blocks of colour and the paint pans, which were next to be handed out. These were quickly followed by a handful of waterbrushes, which are the most foolproof way of combining water, a brush, and some paint. Certainly for a bunch of amateurs such as ourselves!
And away we went. The waterbrushes have a button on the side which enables the application of measured amounts of water, so there was no danger of us flooding the little paint pans. And speaking of paint pans, we had an irresistible choice. There's the standard Inktense paint: lots of vivid colours, including delicious Kiwi, Mango and Tangerine. Then there's the Graphitint paint which is an intriguing mix of graphite and pigment. This results in a subdued palette of 80% lightfast colours, bits of which (the graphite) can be erased to create interesting effects. And let's not forget the Metallic paint: stunningly effective on a black background, but which shimmers even on pale-coloured paper.
The paper was quite simply superb. It is SO forgiving. A button-full of water, a dab of Green-Grey Graphitint and - bingo - something that looked quite like the leafy part of a tree. A bit of Autumn Brown and - ooh, definitely a trunk and some branches! And this from somebody who cannot paint. This paper draws in the colour and locks it in, but allows a very pleasing distribution and layering of colour before drying. It's 100% cotton, cold-pressed on a traditional cylinder mould machine to create the textured finish. It's acid-free, and at 300gsm it's thick enough to put up with the demands of water-activated media.
To demonstrate the difference between the Inktense paper and the Lightfast paper, Judith had us do exactly what we'd been doing on the Inktense paper, to the Lightfast. And the results were… well, illuminating. Instead of sinking pleasantly into the paper, the paint sort of sat on the top, and it didn't blend very well: you could see the joins, so to speak, between the different colours, instead of an easy-on-the-eye transition from one to the other. But it's not really meant to be used for things like Inktense paint!
What it's good for - and the clue is in the name - is Lightfast coloured pencils. As with the Inktense paper, the Lightfast paper is 100% cotton and 300gsm, but unlike the Inktense paper, it's smooth in texture. This is because it's been hot- (rather than cold-) pressed. Its smoothness makes it ideal for more detailed work, and it's the perfect accompaniment for Lightfast pencils because it reinforces the whole lightfastness aspect. It's robust enough to take solvents, lots of erasing and as many layers as you'd care to try: Judith gave up at 30!
What's more, the whole paper-making process is so environmentally-friendly, the water that comes out of the mill is cleaner than what went in, and the waste is used to make corkboards. Corkboards that you could stick your artwork to! And as with all Derwent products, it is - of course - proudly made in Britain.