It’s really to cold to paint outside today — even in the shelter of my car —but despite that I packed up my gear and ventured out. With a pre-warmed car you can last about thirty minutes if you turn on the heater every ten minutes. To force myself to work quickly, I brought along a small Arches field watercolour book like this one. I’ve given this paper a second and third chance to perform but each time it disappoints. No matter how wet the washes are, it soaks up the pigment like a thirsty sponge. Here’s a detail to illustrate what I mean (makes an interesting abstract, doesn’t it?). This book will now be officially retired from my pile of sketchbooks.



28 Comments on “School”

  1. Peggy Aare says:

    Explain a bit more about what you expected to see from paper that doesn’t soak up the pigment. Edges that aren’t so hard? Or colors that run together without a trace of the original stroke? I’m new enough to watercolors to think that it looks just fine.

    • Good question Peggy. I expect the pigment to stay wet on the page a little longer, and to have a more even coverage on the paper without all those little white spots that you see in the detail. If you zoom on one of my latest paintings, like “House in Shade” from a few days ago, you’ll see that on really good paper, the washes are more even, colours blend better, and the pigment, when dry, resides in the hills and valleys of the paper. Even though this paper is advertised as Cold pressed 140 lb paper, it does not perform that way.

      • Vera says:

        Thats a shame we know its not cheap

      • greekdancer9 says:

        Omg! And I thought it was all ME! The same thing happens to me but I thought it was I who needed to change bc I thought Arches want one of THE best papers you can get. I love it so, but my frustration to has been that it leaves little specks and is to dry. Is that because of all the sizing they put on it? And are the sheets of Arches just like this for you too?

  2. Dominique Gaillard says:

    Hi Shari
    I find the Moleskin WC album pretty good although a bit glossy, but it suits my style as I tend to rework and overwork. Another thing I did was to make my own wc sketchbooks from papers I like such as Bockinford (my fav) or Langton. I make a nice cover with hard cardboard covered with an art paper I like (plenty at Papier Japonais on Fairmount) or some fabric or a painting of my own, preferably oil for durability, I add a similar solid back cover and get it spiral bound by a photocopy/binding place.

    • HI Dominique, I like the Moleskine paper as well as the paper in Stillman & Birn books and many people have suggested that I make my own books. It’s something I never get around to doing although I know it’s an excellent idea. I have seen many books, including one that someone had at our Urban Sketchers outing last week, with that same sort of spiral binding. It looked great! Thanks for writing.

  3. Carol Koffler says:

    Whatever book you used, the result is as beautiful as always……. Carol Koffler Date: Tue, 3 Feb 2015 16:53:20 +0000 To:

  4. pegjuanita says:

    It must be what you grow up with!! (Both my Mom and my grandfather used it.) To me, Arches is the very best w/c paper one can use!! It made me curious as to whether the paper in the field book is different from the basic sheets of Arches CP 140lb. I love, love it!! I paint SOOO much better when I use it, as opposed to the S&B Alpha, Beta, or Zeta – or the Moleskine W/C book. Too bad you couldn’t send all the Arches stuff to me!!
    Nevertheless, your painting on the Arches is still awesome!!
    And I’m challenged now to put into words what the qualities are in these papers that affect how my art comes out!!

    • Hi Peggy. I’m not sending you any of my Arches paper because it is the best there is, especially the bright white. My problem is only with the book, not the full sheets!! I did all my Utah paintings on Arches and it is what I brought to Costa Rica with me. I just think they use some kind of inferior paper in these books or it may not be 100% cotton rag. I agree completely with you when you say that you paint so much better with good paper. Me too!!

  5. Ruth Jaeger says:

    It’s a striking watercolor, though, with excellent design that makes a pedestrian subject into a most successful painting. And good use of 1/2 hour, wouldn’t you say?

    • Pedestrian (I realize you meant the adjective and not the noun) is a good description of the subject matter because I often see things to paint while I am walking my dog! And yes, painting is always a good way to spend 1/2 hr.

  6. Richard says:

    Je trouve que cette aquarelle est superbe. “House in Shade” aussi!! Bon, cela montre ma méconnaissance du papier. Cependant, le choix du bon papier est vraiment quelque chose qui me préoccupe. J’ai essayé le même genre de carnet chez Strathmore et j’ai trouvé l’expérience difficile. J’utilise plutôt les blocs Arches à grain fin. Mais je ne suis pas une référence!

    • Richard says:

      By the way, which paper did you use for House in shade?

      • Thanks Richard. “House in Shade” was done on a 1/4 sheet of Arches paper, which is completely different from what is in that small book. It’s a beautiful paper to paint on and if you can afford it, use the best paper you can get. It will improve completely how your work looks, especially if you are using student grade paper.

  7. Ross says:

    So, let me clarify what you are trying to say… you are soooo disappointed with the quality of what you produced today that you are never going to use this paper/sketchbook again. And to convince us of how bad the result was, you felt the need to post a blow-up of a detail which then looked like a really interesting piece of abstract art… am I understanding this correctly????
    Personally, I think you are dreaming… or perhaps the extreme cold has finally got to you? : )

    • That’s a good clarification Ross.
      Actually I was mad at myself for using this paper. I should know better, but being an eternal optimistic I thought the paper would be better this time. I thought I did something wrong the last time when actually it was the paper that wasn’t up to par.

      • Ross says:

        I think you missed my point completely here… so, I will try again and write slower this time. 🙂

        The end result (the painting, not retiring the book) was really, really good. And when I look at the detail, it captured so many interesting textures and effects… you have probably forgotten but, for many people starting watercolour, the biggest problem is that everything (mainly washes) seem to end up looking very flat and uninteresting. Looking at you detail, I can imagine a master-class in watercolour where they are learning how to achieve these details. So, you might not like the paper but it certainly can help produce some great results… perhaps you should reconsider it for very particular (highly textured) subjects? Am I getting through this time?

      • So I guess your clarification wasn’t really as good as I thought it was. It’s a good thing you wrote slower this time.
        What you are saying, if I understand it, is that instead of retiring my book because I dislike the paper, I should use it for a textured subject? Just want to make sure I understand this time. And just to clarify, should I seek out textured things (tree bark, peeling paint on walls, etc.) so that I can make good use of this bad paper? Is that what you are saying?

      • Ross says:

        Yes, I knew if I persevered long enough with you that you would eventually understand… luckily for you, I am very patient.
        However, I am not saying that you need to “seek out” subjects which are textured… but if you had something that was textured maybe you should give the paper another chance… it may work in your favour.
        Speaking of textured subjects, isn’t it time to paint the wheelbarrow again?

  8. greekdancer9 says:

    Omg! I’ve had the same problems with Arches, but I thought it was all me! This is validating. And I think it’s most noticeable with the sketch books more than the sheets. But I thought Arches was one of THE best papers known. Is it just alot of sizing they have on it or something?
    You compensated well; your painting is just lovely.

    • Hi. Thanks for writing. The complaint I have is exclusively about the paper in the little book. I use Arches full sheets all the time and I love that paper. My disappointment was because I was expecting the same quality in the book as the full sheets.

  9. Shari, In this crazy scary world you bring beauty to every click on our computers! Bravo mon ami! Jacques

  10. In that case you should avoid using Saunders’ paper also. I used Saunders Bockingford. They are also very dry. It’s like drawing on a cotton T-shirt.

    • That’s good to know Parka. Sounds unpleasant!! Thanks for warning me. I do use Saunders Waterford sometimes. It’s an excellent paper but quite yellowish and I prefer a very white paper like Arches Bright White.

  11. Tonya L says:

    I stumbled upon this blog post by searching for “problems with arches field book.” ha! I just splurged and bought one of these (and I am a loooonnnggg time Arches watercolor sheet-paper fan) and absolutely hate it. I’m gonna fill it up because I’m cheap and broke – can’t afford another sketchbook right now – but the paper in this book is NOT my beloved Arches.

    I actually have the opposite problem of what you seem to be having. The paper is slick, almost glossy, and pigment will not soak into it. I can’t find any ink (Copic, Micron, fountain pen, etc) that will sketch on it. Watercolor just sits on top of the paper and takes forever to dry. I keep smearing my painting because I think “it just has to be dry by now,” but nope. Makes me want to fling it across the room.

    I saw you (or someone) mentioned Stillman & Birn. I have their Zeta. Paper works well for sketching and dry brushing, but falls apart and pills under minimal wet work. Actually, the best I’ve found for pen and watercolor (thus far) is the el cheapo Strathmore Visual Journal. It doesn’t do pretty washes, but for field sketching, I’ve produced some lovely artwork within these pages. I just don’t prefer the standard sizes that they offer.

    I have big plans for my next sketchbook: I will spiral bind my own. I have this dream of alternating *real* sheets of Arches 140-lb hot pressed and cold pressed in a landscape format. We’ll see if I ever pull that off. 😉

    Thanks for the blog post! I needed someone to commiserate with since everyone else seems to post glowing reviews of this crappy sketchbook.

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