Big paper. I’ve been making so many of my big ink drawings lately I had to order some more big paper this week. It’s funny because I last ordered some of this 22×30 inch watercolor paper back in 2014 and it then sat there for nearly four years as I stopped doing big ink drawings. I can’t remember why I stopped but I did.

I looked back at my order from 2014 and the paper was a lot cheaper then too. It’s still pretty cheap at $15 for ten sheets but on my old order I got twenty sheets for $17. Maybe it was on sale back then. Watercolor paper that size can go for $8-$10 a sheet so it’s still cheap even at twice the price.

Paper is sold by size, surface, and weight. The size part is obvious. You can get it in 5×7 pieces at the smallest up to 22×30 inches at the largest. The surface has to do with smoothness. You can get your watercolor paper “Cold Press” which has a rough surface or “Hot Press” which has a smooth surface. Other types of paper are just labeled “Smooth” or “Rough.” Sometimes they’re labeled “Kid Finish” which is smooth. Weight refers to how thick the paper is. A 300 pound sheet of paper is a lot thicker than a 90 pound sheet of paper. The heavier the weight the thicker the paper.

300 pound watercolor paper is my favorite. That stuff is thick and doesn’t buckle under the application of water like thinner paper does. That’s the stuff that can go for $10 a sheet. I haven’t used any of it in a while but when I did I usually cut the big sheets down into smaller pieces to paint on. It’s fun to paint on paper that is sturdy and has a good presence.

The three ways that paper is sold is by the sheet, by the pad, or in watercolor blocks. Of course it’s watercolor paper that’s sold in blocks and that’s my least favorite way to buy paper. A block is a pile of about ten or twenty sheets of paper held together with some sort of binder. The ten sheets form one big thick sheet of paper and you’re supposed to use watercolor on the top sheet and as you add more and more water it eventually detaches itself from the block. I’ve never seen an advantage to this but lots of watercolorists swear by blocks. It could also be that I’m not a watercolorist.

The paper I just bought is “Blick Studio Watercolor Paper by Fabriano.” It’s 140 pound cold press 22×30 inch watercolor paper. I’m not going to tell you it’s the best paper because it’s not. It says in the product description that it doesn’t handle wet abrasion well and I’d go even further than that and say it doesn’t even handle erasing well. If I draw on it with a pencil I then have a hard time erasing the pencil marks. But it is the best for my purposes because I’m mostly using marker and ink on it.

Ink is an unforgiving medium. Especially full strength black ink. If I make a mistake in ink, and I have, there is no way to take it back. Even covering it up is way to obvious to be effective. So if I make a mistake I have to call it a happy accident and make it work. On its own this paper also has an unforgiving nature but it’s still not as unforgiving as working in black ink. So if I was to work on better and more expensive watercolor paper it wouldn’t matter. In the end the price makes this watercolor paper the best choice for my big ink drawings.

The other type of paper I buy is Bristol board. That’s a heavy stock paper that’s not only measured in pounds but in one-ply, two-ply, and three-ply. The stuff I get is 100 pound Bristol but it’s also two-ply. I buy it in pads of different sizes. I get 9×12 inches, 10×14 inches, 14×17 inches, and occasionally 16×20 inches. Since I mostly work “Comic book original art size” which is 10×15 inches on an 11×17 piece of paper I use a lot of the 14×17 inch pads. I use my Dahl paper cutter to trim three inches off one side and then cut that 3×17 inch piece of paper up into art card sized 2.5×3.5 inch pieces of paper.

The brand of Bristol paper doesn’t matter to me a whole lot since I buy on the cheaper end of paper. I work in a comic book method of drawing a lot. That means first I make a drawing in pencil and them I finish the drawing in ink. Since the advent of the digital age in about 1995 I do those two steps on separate pieces of paper. I pencil, scan the drawing, make the drawing the size I want, and print the drawing out in blue line onto a new piece of Bristol.

The type and brand of Bristol board was way more important when the pencil and inking steps are done on the same piece of paper. A lot of the cheaper papers don’t hold up to erasing well and that makes them tough to ink on. Lots of artists insist on using the better paper and I can see why.

Though I often get the Dick Blick house brand of Bristol I also get a lot of Strathmore 300 Bristol. That’s the stuff you can find in any big arts and craft store. The next step up is Strathmore 400. I know a bunch of artists who only use that because it hold up to erasing much better than the 300. The 400 smooth is also smoother than the 300 smooth. Oddly the 400 is a bit thinner than the 300. I bet that’s because it’s smoothed down more. The fibers are smaller and can be compressed more. Both of these papers are two-ply.

I have a friend who for a while was hooked on Strathmore 500 paper. That’s a three-ply Bristol and can’t even be bought in pads. You have to order it by the sheet and cut it to size on your own. It’s really good paper that can hold up to a lot of abrasion. That stuff runs $5.15 per 22×30 inch sheet so it’s not cheap. It’s way more forgiving than my cheap Blick Fabriano paper but my ink drawings aren’t looking for forgiveness. So I’ll stick to cheap.