Since I like to chronicle the everyday things in life I thought I’d write a little something about paper. Once again tonight I found myself preparing a sheet of paper. It’s something I’ve done a thousand times and barely ever think about so I thought I’d take some time and think about it. I like to examine the unexamined.

The paper I was preparing is Bristol board. I’m not sure why it has that name but I’ve always figured it has something to do with the town in England by that same name. It could be Bristol Connecticut but I’m guessing England since it was there first. It’s a heavy weight drawing paper that takes ink well and therefor has been the paper of choice for cartoonists and comic book artists for decades. Working in the world of comic books was how I was first introduced to Bristol board.

You can find Bristol board in most arts and crafts stores like AC Moore or Michaels. They’ve got the basic stuff and it’s priced pretty high so always bring a 40% off coupon when you shop at those stores. The basic stuff is the Strathmore 300 Bristol board. Strathmore also sells 400 and 500 series Bristol. The quality of the paper (which has to do with how smooth it is and how much damage the paper fibers can take) goes up as the number gets higher but I’m usually okay with the 300 series. I oder my paper from Dick Blick and sometimes I buy their house brand of Bristol. It compares well to the 300 series.

I buy pads of the paper in two sizes: 9×12 inches and 14×17 inches. I use the 9×12 inch paper as is and I also cut it in half to work on some smaller 6×9 inch drawings. I always cut the 9×12 inch paper in half with an X-Acto knife and a straight edge. Don’t go cutting paper with scissors because you won’t get a perfectly straight edge that way.

The 14×17 inch paper I cut down to 11×17 inches. This is a standard size paper for drawing comic books on and is a more standard size for getting things printed in general so I stick with that. 11×17 inches is also called “Tabloid Size” when working on a home inkjet printer.

About ten years ago I got myself a paper cutter. Not one of those big guillotine armed ones we all remember from grade school but a rotary paper cutter. That type has a circular blade mounted on a bar that gets drawn across a piece of paper. Mine is made by Dahle and is the 18 inch model. I’ve had mine for so long that I’ve had to replace the blade on it. Oddly when I got the new blade it didn’t work very well. The old blade had gotten dull and wasn’t cutting through the paper as smoothly as it once did. The new blade wasn’t dull but it seemed rough. It was hard to pull along the paper. After a month or two it smoothed out. I guess it had to be broken in a bit.

I always cut the paper the same way. First I cut three inches off the side. That’s the obvious part. But I use the leftover strip of paper too. Years ago I started doing art cards. Those are baseball card size pieces of art. A baseball card is 2.5×3.5 inches. So the first thing I do with the leftover strip of paper is to cut it down from 3 inches to 2.5 inches. Then I cut four 2.5×3.5 inch cards with a 2.5×3 inch piece leftover. The art card size ones get put in a pile and the shorter single piece gets used as scratch paper. Only that half and inch piece of left over paper gets thrown away.

In the 1990s before art cards were a thing I used to throw away the whole 3×17 inch strip. I was always looking for a use for the paper but never could find one. At the time I had plenty of scrap Bristol (5.5×11 inches if memory serves) that I got from my days working in the Marvel Bullpen. Marvel bought 11×17 inch Bristol from Strathmore and the 5.5×11 inch pieces were leftover form whatever large sheet Strathmore cut Marvel’s paper out of. Strathmore sent the scrap pieces over to Marvel whenever they got a paper order and we were free to take the scraps. Those scraps served me very well for years but they also meant I had no use for my own scraps.

I did make a few drawings on the 3×17 inch paper over the years. Mostly I used the paper on a whim. I’d do some practice stuff on them plus some thumbnails drawings. The problem was they were too unwieldy and hard to store anywhere. They’s always get in the way and be more trouble than they were worth. I’m really glad I discovered art cards somewhere around 2006 and finally had a use for those scrap strips. I’ve done over 2000 art cards since then.

Two other size pads of Bristol that I buy, but less frequently, are 11×14 inches and 16×20 inches. I was buying a lot of 11×14 inch pads from around 2008-2014. I don’t even remember why. I think it was because I’ve my self-bound comic book sketch covers I was doing but I think I was working on other things that size too. I have no idea what at this moment. It’s weird but I can distinctly remember thinking the 11×14 inch pad was better for what I was doing than the 11×17 inch one but I have no idea why. Memory is tricky.

I haven’t bought a 16×20 inch pad in a decade. I still have one in with my paper but I don’t use that size anymore. It used to be the paper I occasionally used when I wanted to make a big drawing but not anymore. I have always bought sheets of expensive ($12 a sheet) 22×30 inch watercolor paper and if I had a big drawing to do I ended up preferring that. If an idea was big enough to need big paper I may as well use the good stuff.

Then I discovered some cheap but big watercolor paper. That’s what I’ve been using to draw my big ink drawing on over the last five years. At two to three dollars a sheet I can go up to a 22×30 inch size anytime I want.

The other way I draw on paper is in sketch books. I’ve got a lot of different types of sketch books. But that’s a whole other blog.