All About Paper

I see a lot of questions online about the kind of paper artists use, and what paper is best for a certain medium. So today I thought I’d write a little about how to go about choosing paper for your art. 

I’m no paperologist, so I’m not going to go into too much technical detail here. But there are a few things I want to mention. First off, you want to use paper that is acid-free, as acid in the paper can affect the colours you use and cause them to change over time. Secondly, the weight of the paper is important. The measurement system for this is reasonably complicated, but in general, the higher the weight, the thicker the paper. I like to use heavier weight papers, as they hold more pigment, don’t bend while erasing, and have a more professional feel. 

The paper you choose for your art is going to depend on a number of factors, and I’m going to go through these one by one. 

The four paper colours I use for coloured pencil drawings

Colour

Art paper comes in a lot of different colours, and it’s important to take this into consideration when choosing a paper. For coloured pencil, I use four different colours of paper: white, tan, grey, and black. I use different ones for different subjects, but white is definitely my preference. With pastels, I have a bit more selection, because I’ve ordered multicoloured pads of both Pastelmat and Velour paper. 

Which colour I choose depends on the drawing I’m doing. I think about whether I’m including a background, what the primary colour of the subject is (if it’s warm tones, I’ll choose a similar paper, and same if the subject mainly has cool tones), and what I want the feel of the portrait to be. 

Texture 

Texture in a paper is really important, as it will affect how well your chosen medium works on that paper. When I first started drawing with coloured pencils, I thought a very smooth paper was what I wanted, because I didn’t want any of the paper showing through. It turns out you need some tooth on the paper, to hold the pigment of the pencils and to allow for multiple layers. With pastels, an even greater tooth is helpful, which is why many pastel papers have a rough or sandpaper-like surface. 

Style

Your style is a big factor in which paper you choose. I like my art to be highly detailed and realistic, so I need papers that let me achieve that level of accuracy. I’ve tried some (velour comes to mind) that are not well-suited to my style, and though I have fun experimenting with them, when I’m trying to produce a finished portrait, I just find them frustrating. 

Three different papers, three different textures: Strathmore Coloured Pencil Paper, Velour Paper, and Pastelmat Paper

Preference 

What paper you like best is going to depend on you! Everyone has their own preferences, and that’s okay. I’ve seen beautiful works of art done in coloured pencil on Pastelmat paper, and though I love Pastelmat for my pastels, I haven’t figured out how to use it with coloured pencils. I want to try again, but I did not enjoy it on my first attempt, so I’ll stick with my regular paper for now. 

Cost

This is important for most of us, and it’s hard to justify buying a whole pack of expensive paper just to find out you don’t like it. Some places sell sample packs of paper, which might be worth ordering if you don’t know what type of paper you like. I prefer Strathmore Mixed Media because it’s relatively cheap and easily available. 

My Recommendations

Though I think everyone should explore different surfaces and find what works for them, it is helpful to have specific recommendations from other artists. So here are my favourites: 

Coloured Pencil – Strathmore Mixed Media Vellum Surface

Coloured Pencil – Strathmore Toned Tan

Coloured Pencil – Strathmore Toned Grey 

Coloured Pencil – Fabriano Black Black 

Pastel – Clairefontaine Pastelmat 

I hope that gives you some good things to think about when choosing paper, and if you have any favourites I haven’t mentioned, please share in the comments!

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