Monday, January 27, 2014

Review of the Clairefontaine Fine Grain Cold Pressed Watercolor Pad #Exaclair, #Watercolor #MixedMedia

 Review of the Clairefontaine Fine Grain Cold Pressed Watercolor Pad

Last September I reviewed a Clairefontaine 8x8 watercolor pad.  I also received an  4 7/8" x 9 1/2" version of this pad, and that's what I'm reviewing today.

-designed for watercolor, gouache, or wash drawing.
-top wire bound pad    
-20 sheets
-300 g
-acid free paper
-cold pressed surface; fine grain
-Clear polypro front & back cover
-rigid backboard, lightweight
-Size:  4 7/8" x 9 1/2" (120 x 240 mm)

Look & Feel
The description of paper says that it is 'fine-grained', or 'grain fin' if you want the original French.  It means that this is a surprisingly smooth watercolor paper.  That means you can use pen or even marker, without the fraying that most watercolor paper would cause.

The paper is heavy enough that you could use it for a journal cover, or glue on embellishments if you want to use it for mixed media.

The clear polypro covers and the thicker cardboard backing are very light.  As usual, the transparency of the polypro is a mixed blessing.  Whatever you do with the first page shows through.  If you plan your page, it looks fantastic, but it can just as easily look cluttered as this example shows.

Pages are not perfed, but they do tear out easily.  The edges then need to be trimmed.

The slots for the wire-binding are wide and square cut, and the wire spiral is larger than I like.  I prefer a spiral binding that doesn't allow the paper to slide much.  With paper as heavy as this, there is little concern about wear and tear, but the paper could move while you are working on it.

On the other hand, this is exactly the spiral binding you would want if you are going to be adding 3D objects and using layers of mixed media.  

If you don't intend to keep the finished piece in the pad, you could tear it out before starting and eliminate worry about the binding, altogether.

I like the landscape format of this pad, though it isn't a size I'll use daily.  The narrow length limits the layouts, but there are some subjects that just cry out for it.  I like to switch to this kind of format when I feel that I'm getting stale.  It makes you look at world differently and think LOOONG instead of square.  Every artist needs to look at think LOOONG on occasion.

As I found with the 8x8 pad, this paper will take almost anything you throw at it.  It's a good watercolor paper, though some techniques will work better than others.  Since I had tested mixed media so heavily in my previous review (and the paper was great for it), I decided to focus on watercolor this round, though I did do a color pencil and a fountain pen ink as well.

Daniel Smith Professional Watercolor Paints

One of my Christmas presents was DANIEL SMITH's Watercolor Color Map Mixing 10 Tube Set, which is more or less based on the Cyan, Magenta and Yellow color wheel.  I was eager to play with these watercolors, so I did a couple of charts.

The first is simply blocks of the colors so that I could see what they are.  I wanted to get the full intensity of color, so I kept the brush and paper as dry as possible just adding enough to help spread the paint.  The colors went down bright but not brilliant, moving easily and drying in what I would consider an average amount of time.  There was no curling, dimpling or buckling.  (The lines are pencil marks drawn because I was planning to cut this page into strips, and I forgot to scan before adding the lines.)

Rather than painting the traditional charts I like to try out my color mixes by painting circles over circles, so that was my next test.  I painted both dry-on-wet and wet-on-wet and both worked equally well.  There was a slight curling on the bottom corners (not the top, because the wire-binding holds the them flat).

This time the line you see happened when I dropped a wet painting and almost caught it before it touched this one.  *sigh*

Then I tried a couple of negative paintings.  I went heavier with the water on this one, wetting small areas and charging the water into the puddle.  I did see more curling at the bottom ends, but it still wasn't bad.  All the curl is easily removed by placing a weight on the paper for a few hours.  In fact, most of it was removed simply by rolling the curl back.

I was going to do a triptych of smaller paintings on one page, but got distracted (by the flu) and forgot about it.  I found this one I did just shortly before writing the review.  I was playing with glazes and had planned to continue adding color.  I kind of like this the way it is though.

Faber-Castell Gelatos
To play around with washes and try out a different kind of watercolor, I did a painting with Faber-Castell's gelato sticks.  They come in tubes like chapstick and have about the same consistency.  I rubbed on some of the color and wet it heavily.  Gelatos can take a lot of color before they'll create a wash, so it was a good test for curling and to see how absorbent the paper was.  The performance was good.  The gelatos wet down easily--sometimes they'll stay gummy if the water is absorbs too quickly. I was able to get a nice flow to my wash, covering large areas before much water was absorbed.  Curling was about the same as with the Daniel Smith watercolors.

Colored Pencil
Coloursoft Color Pencils
I probably should have started with this drawing, because it gives some idea of the paper's texture.  There is more than enough tooth for several layers of graphite, colored pencil or pastel, but it isn't as rough or pitted as most of the watercolor papers I've used.  As usual, I had trouble getting the color to scan well, so this photo isn't as colorful as the drawing itself.

Fountain Pen Ink
J. Herbin Inks with Lami Safari Fountain Pen and J. Herbin Roller ball pen
Normally, I avoid using pen on watercolor paper.  Fabric pens get frayed, fountain pens clog and tear up the paper.  Ballpoint and rollerball produce a jagged line because of the tooth.  These problems are less an issue on this paper, though you don't avoid them completely.  If you like a rough, slightly raw look to your work, then the issues are worth it.

I got around the rough pen line by squirkling, which gives a lovely textural look, but takes about three times longer to cover an area, than other methods.

My impression of the Clairefontaine Watercolor Pad is a good one.  I don't think it is the best watercolor paper you could find because it is so smooth.  But it's good, and frankly, for watercolors of this size, it is as good as it needs to be.  A pad this size is more for watercolor sketches than meticulous works.

While the relative smoothness limits the watercolor, it opens up other possibilities, making this a great choice for multi-media.

This is a great size for travel, especially if you intend to paint landscapes.  The paper weight is sturdy, but the weight of the pad is surprisingly light.  Many watercolor papers need to be taped down because the curling makes it difficult to paint.  The Clairefontaine watercolor paper curls so little that you don't need to tape it down.  And the paper is flexible enough to work with most mediums.

Disclaimer: I received these products so that I could try them out.  I received no other compensation, and all opinions are my own.

I really enjoy trying out products like these, and being able to share them with my readers.  Thank you, Exaclair!

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