Great Art Blog Spring 2017-Comparing Papers

Great Art Blog Spring 2017-Comparing Papers


This time I’ve been looking at comparing a range of Gerstaecker papers….


The papers come in a range of formats as follows:-

  • No 1: Sketching Paper-this comes in packs of 50 sheets, and also in A2, A3 and A4 pads. It is 90gsm and acid free/ PH neutral and doesn’t contain optical whiteners ( bleaching agents which whiten the paper). No 1 is creamy in colour.
  • No 2: Drawing Paper-also available in packs of 50 sheets and in pads as above, this paper is 125 gsm and also acid free. No 2 is whiter than No 1 in appearance and has a slightly grainy texture.
  • No 3: Watercolour Paper-available as above in both packs of individual sheets and in pads. This is an off-white paper, 200 gsm and is also acid and optical whitener free. It is a really nice weighty watercolour paper, with a textured surface which you can feel when you run the paper through your fingers.
  • No 4: Kraft Paper- available as above. This paper is made from long natural unbleached fibres which give it its characteristic ‘brownish’ colour. It also has a ridged texture, which can be exploited to create interesting effects in dry media. No 4 is acid free and 90gsm. Historically this kind of paper has been used for packaging because of its strength, but it has many art based applications too.
  • No 5: available as above. No 5 is an innovative paper; made from 100% recycled material. It is acid free, and has a white appearance without the need for treatment with chlorine or other optical brighteners-very eco-friendly in fact without any compromise on quality! It is 160 gsm in weight.

A quick guide to approximate paper weights:

Tracing paper                          : 40 gsm

Newsprint                                : 35-40 gsm

Sketching or Practise paper : 80-90 gsm

Drawing Paper                        : 100-140 gsm

Heavy weight papers             : 200 gsm and above, typically used for wet media, and mixed media work, and also for finished artwork for mounting and framing.

In order to test the papers thoroughly, I decided to use a wide range of wet and dry media and techniques, which I repeated on each paper type in turn…


Let’s have a look at each paper/material combination, beginning with Charcoal…

In the samples above, I’ve worked with charcoal plus a little white pastel on each of the five papers, working left to right, No 1-No 5.

LH: Top and Bottom: No 1- Charcoal worked well on this creamy, natural looking paper, even as in the top sample with the addition of a little wash. This is a really inexpensive  and effective option for quick charcoal sketches/ swatches or samples. I would choose a specialist pastel paper for heavily layered charcoal, as this paper wouldn’t have enough ‘tooth’ or surface texture to hold onto the build up of charcoal particles.

Second from LH: *Top and Bottom: No 2-Here the charcoal worked really well in loose expressive marks, and even in multi-layered cross-hatching. The extra weight and tooth, really help to hold onto the tiny particles of charcoal, and the whiter colour, adds depth to the rich blacks of the charcoal.

Centre: Top and Bottom: No 3- Like No 1, this paper is slightly creamy in colour, but here the weightier paper with a textured surface holds onto even quite thickly layered charcoal effectively. The surface is very durable, and copes well with masked edges using masking tape, without any damage on removal. The only down-side might be that some definition of any fine detail can be lost in the textured surface.

Second from RH: Top and Bottom: No 4- The soft natural look of this paper works well with charcoal, especially for quick sketches/ studies- the warmth of the paper is a great compliment to the charcoal, and gives a totally different feel compared with standard drawing paper. The surface is a little more vulnerable however, and would not take either heavy loading with charcoal, or scratched, experimental techniques. It also tends to break up if you try masking edges, although it can be done with great care.

RH: Top and Bottom: No 5- **This is a great all-round surface; white, tough and durable and it delivers a terrific range of tones, and real blacks with charcoal. In the top sample you can see it also handled masking with torn edged masking tape, really successfully, and with no surface damage on removal whatsoever.



L.H: No 1- Sanguine Conte a Paris pencil worked on the No 1 paper with a little light wash of water added-here the blending worked well, and sanguine mark-making was effective, although I avoided building up thickly. Note the No 1 paper buckles, with even a light wash.

Second from LH: No 2- *Here the sanguine retained a nice crispness on the whiter paper….and it was also really effective in areas with a light wash added. There was some buckling with wash, but it is a great option for studies.

Centre: No 3- *The sanguine pencil created a really pleasing result and a subtle finish on the pale cream paper. Areas with wash were no problem of course for this watercolour paper, but there is a slight loss of crispness and definition due to the lightly textured surface.

Second from RH: No 4- On this ‘Kraft’ paper, the sanguine pencil gave a nice feel for quick sketches, but would not work for a heavier more layered approach-the ‘brownish’ colour of this paper compliments the rusty, grainy look of sanguine pencil very effectively. Applying any wash does create a buckled surface.

RH: No 5- *This white recycled paper with a pleasing weight, gave a really crisp, clean result with sanguine that would be great for detail…. a great finish altogether; also coping really well with a light wash.

Soft Pastel



* In all the pastel tests, I applied the material quite thickly and in multiple layers to test how much each paper could cope with…

LH: No 1- *This paper really is surprisingly durable for its weight, so a great option for fast sketches and samples. The pastel worked pretty well on this surface overall, but thorough fixing would be important to hold the fine particles in place. * I would avoid using No 1 for finished pastel studies with a heavy load of colour, as the paper does quickly become saturated…for this I would opt for a specialist paper such as Clairefontaine Pastelmat.

Second from LH: No 2- As I found with charcoal, the pastel worked really well for quick light sketching and expressive mark making, but watch loading and layering, as I found this paper especially prone to becoming saturated. The ‘crumb’ tends to shed as the paper doesn’t have enough ‘tooth’ to hold it in place- seal carefully with spray fixative if using.

Centre: No 3-** This watercolour paper is excellent for pastel work; layering and blending are straightforward with no issues. Masking tape used to create defined edges, whether torn or cut, also works really well. This paper accepts an impressively heavy pastel load before becoming saturated and is therefore a really useful option for pastel work, and very economical too!

Second from RH: No 4- I liked the appearance of the pastel on this natural, brownish paper, but it will only take a relatively light load and not a great deal of layering. Remember to fix carefully if using on this paper. No 4 is good for quick expressive sketches, rather than heavily worked finished pieces.

RH: No 5- **No 5 gave very clean, crisp results with pastel, delivering bright colour- it really is a great option for pastel work. The relatively smooth surface means work will require careful fixing.


Pen (nib) and Ink


I began by playing with some very simple mark making on the 5 different papers, so that I could see how the nib performed on the texture of the paper…

LH: No 1- *A smoother paper with a less absorbent surface is probably the optimum choice for pen and ink work, but I actually liked the feel of the nib on No 1, and also quite liked the look of the creamy coloured paper against the black acrylic ink. It was surprisingly durable, with no surface break-up. Great for quick sketches in fact.

Second from LH: No 2- *Very good crisp and clean results on No 2 paper. It offers a good balance between a durable surface and enough absorbency to prevent the ink pooling too much on the paper.

Centre: No 3- *I was also very pleased with the performance of No 3 with pen and ink. The rich black ink looked great on the off-white finish and the strength and weight of this paper were ideal, giving a really stable surface-excellent for loose expressive work. For very detailed work, choose a smoother paper to avoid any potential loss of clarity.

Second from RH: No 4- This was the most difficult surface to work on with pen and ink; the nib tends to catch in the ridged surface, and it’s also relatively easy to damage the surface with a sharp pen nib.

RH: No 5- **A very positive surface for pen and ink work; this paper offers a really stable ground, with sufficient weight and strength to avoid surface damage or buckling-great for clarity and precision, and delicate detail in finished pieces.


Brush and Ink, Acrylic Markers and Pen and Ink-I like this combination of media and approaches, and find many of my students do too, so thought it would be worth continuing the tests with this mixed media approach…

These experiments are made on strips of the 5 papers, glued down in order, as shown above ↑ I used broad acrylic markers, and brush and ink for background marks, and then added layers of pen and ink and fine marker on top…

No 1:  Here the work looked clean and clear; I liked the cream finish which blended well with the colours used, but there was noticeable buckling of the paper in areas where brush and ink or broad marker were used.

No 2: *This area was exceptionally crisp and sharp, giving great colour and tonal variation and depth, even where these were subtle. The white surface was a positive and the greater weight resulted in less buckling due to moisture.

No 3: *Here the appearance was softer and more muted, due to a combination of the more textured surface and also the slightly off-white colour. The watercolour paper holds onto wet areas of ink really well, and its heavier weight and body allow for experimental approaches and vigour with no worries about surface damage.

No 4: On this paper colours were duller and more muted, but still very attractive if a softer more subtle look is required. The surface performed quite well overall, but it is prone to buckling and also surface break-up if working very expressively and vigorously in a particular area, especially with a nib which can catch on the long fibres in this natural paper.

No 5: **This is a really excellent surface for a multi/mixed media approach. It is clean and crisp in finish; and it shows off both delicate detail and rich tones beautifully. The highly durable surface really does make it a great choice for mixed media and expressive techniques, and finished work.


Marker Pens ( I used a combination of Molotow-top row and Liquitex/Amsterdam-bottom row)


LH: No 1- I was surprised by how well markers handled on this very economical paper-I had no problems at all with surface break-up, but did experience a lot of paper buckling especially when using Liquitex and Amsterdam acrylic markers which tend to lay down quite a wet film of colour. The creamy colour slightly reduces the brilliance of colour delivered.

Second from LH: No 2- *All the markers were very effective on this surface, and I was able to build layers without any surface damage whatsoever. All techniques work well including masked edges, but there will be slight paper buckling in wet areas.

Centre: No 3- **I especially liked the way the Liquitex and Amsterdam markers handled on No 3 paper-they do tend to be quite ‘wet’ as they work, so the strength and absorbency of watercolour paper works really well. This delivers an excellent finish for both expressive and loose techniques as well as fine detail with the gorgeous Molotow pens- a real favourite by the way!

Second from RH: No 4- I quite liked the different feel of Molotow, Liquitex and Amsterdam markers on this brown toned paper…handle with care though as the surface is a little more vulnerable, especially if it gets very wet with layering. Some colours; especially white, look really striking on this surface-ideal for experimenting and collage too…see below↓

Experiments above:

  • LH image on No 4- This uses a combination of white Molotow pen, white pastel and a wash of white gouache-I like the variation in textures, and subtlety of the different whites on this delicately coloured surface.
  • RH image on No 4- A very simple collage demonstration using a mix of torn and cut edges of No 4, mounted on a dense black paper for contrast.

…and back to markers:

RH: No 5- **This is an ideal surface for all marker techniques; layering and loading of colour are no problem and the surface integrity is great. Really good choice for marker work delivering, clarity, and brilliant colour on this versatile paper.



LH: No 1- In the samples above I tried masking with both torn masking tape and masking fluid, both of which worked well on No 1 paper. Watercolour handled reasonably well on this paper and gave a good finish, but I did have to flatten the paper to photograph it as I had experienced considerable buckling…I would use this for quick sketches and colour samples in watercolour, but not for more developed work where I would be likely to build up many washes. (A great solution to paper buckling is to stretch the paper first, but I found that No 1 does not stretch particularly well-However, this is a really great value option for testing out your colours and getting used to your paints).

Second from LH: No 2- *Here the top sample uses masking taped edges, and the middle and bottom ones use masking fluid. Both techniques for reserving the white of the paper were really successful, and this is a good all round support for watercolours giving a pleasing brilliance and clarity to colour.

Centre: No 3- **Excellent for all watercolour techniques, not surprisingly as this is a watercolour specialist paper. Masking tape and masking fluid both performed really well, without any damage to the paper when they were removed. No 3 delivers a really good finish with sparkly colour and little or no surface buckling due to the weight and strength of the paper. For finished pieces, where you intend to build up many layers of wash, this paper will stretch really well, to avoid any risk whatsoever of buckling, which can ruin the appearance of delicate work.

Second from RH: No 4- Watercolours depend on a white or cream support for the brilliance and clarity of their colour, so this is not at all a usual choice for watercolour, BUT I found I quite liked the more muted colour! Therefore I would use No 4 occasionally with watercolour, where I was looking for more sludgy colours-however avoid heavy washes, and factor in the fact that the surface will buckle.

RH: No 5- **All techniques worked really well on this multi-purpose support. Colours look crisp and clean and masking techniques worked really well without any removal problems. The weight of this paper meant that there was little or no buckling due to moisture, but No 5 will stretch well if you intend to produce a finished piece ready for mounting.


↑The image above shows heavy washes of colour applied to No4 paper over masking fluid.


↑ Here you can see blended washes on No 5, worked over masking fluid, which has been partially removed at the top of the paper.



For these tests, I used a simple small Lino block with Gerstaecker water based lino inks-I used a clean roller to impress the image, to avoid the necessity of having a printing press.

No 1: I found No 1 a little too absorbent for this method, which results in a little loss of clarity-it would be ideal however, for taking quick proofs to check your cutting. I also often get students to do a wax rubbing over their print blocks to get a quick feel for how their design will look printed, and No 1 would be a perfect choice for this.

No 2: **This gave good clear, sharp and well-defined results, without the need for a press. The whiteness of the paper worked well with the just off-black ink. A great value choice for print, especially small scale.

No 3: Watercolour paper is often great for printing, but personally I wouldn’t use No 3 for printing unless I had access to a press, which would make all the difference in retaining the clarity of image. Without a press, results were a little disappointing; just losing a little definition, because of insufficient pressure.

No 4: Again, not a traditional choice, in this case for print, but surprisingly effective on the whole. I liked the subtle appearance on the brownish support. Clarity is reasonably good and overall No 4 worked well, especially on this small scale. The thinness of the paper does allow you to see how well your image is transferring, and makes that transfer very easy-great for experimental approaches and trying things out.

No 5: This paper would be a good choice if you have access to a print press, as without one, the weight and thickness of the paper make effective image transfer quite tricky.




LH: No 1- This paper worked really well using gouache as an opaque medium, rather than with translucent washes. The result was fresh and lively, and masking taping edges caused no issues at all.

Second from LH: No 2-*The crisp fairly smooth and white surface of No 2 lends itself well to gouache, and allows it to show off its innate qualities of precision and fine detail. Layering is straightforward and the support stays pretty flat and undistorted.

Centre: No 3- *Watercolour paper is also a really positive support for gouache, since it is also a water-based medium. No 3 gives a nice finish with little or no buckling even in very wet areas, and the paper will stretch as mentioned re: watercolour, to prevent any possible issues. The additional weight feels pleasingly substantial and durable, which means that you could combine other materials and techniques successfully in a mixed media approach. Some sharpness and precision is lost in the textured surface, but this is very minimal.

Second from RH: No 4- *Gouache is traditionally used on white or cream surfaces, partly to allow for wash as well as opaque techniques. However, if you use the gouache only sufficiently diluted to get a nice smooth flow ( roughly the consistency of runny cream), it actually works surprisingly well, and here again the contrast of the natural looking paper would work well if a more muted colour palette is what you’re looking for.

RH: No 5- **No 5 is an excellent surface for gouache. Colour is clean and fresh, detail and precision are maximised, and there is no buckling except in the case of very heavy washes. Ideal again for finished work.

To sum up my experience of using papers No 1, N0 2, N0 3, No 4, and No 5, the following are some key points. I’ve also marked with an * against papers which I felt worked successfully with each medium, and with two ** where results were exceptionally pleasing and the paper offered an ideal support…


  • No 1 for a really economic choice for quick samples, sketches and experiments.
  • No 4 for an experimental approach, making use of the warm brown colour.
  • No 2 * for really expressive mark making and rich dense blacks.
  • No 3 for masking techniques using tape, both torn and cut.
  • No 5 ** For more finished pieces with a rich tonal range and lovely dense blacks,  plus excellent masking tape options.


  • No 1 and No 4 for quick lively sketches on an economical support.
  • No 2* or No 5* for crisp, clean finishes especially with washes added.
  • No 3* for a subtle finish which picks up the texture of the paper.

Soft Pastel:

  • No 1* for quick studies and sketches, samples and tests.
  • No 3* for excellent all round results including with masking tape.
  • No 5* for a really crisp, clean look for finished pieces.

Pen and Ink(nib):

  • No 1* for quick, light sketches.
  • No 2*for more detail and a crisp finish
  • No 3*for loose, expressive work.
  • No 5**for clarity and precision especially for finished work.

Brush and Ink + Markers + Pen and Ink: (Mixed media)

  • Use No 1 for trying out ideas.
  • No 2* for great tone and colour.
  • No 3* for building layers.
  • No 5** for all mixed media approaches and for a really good quality finish.

Marker Pens:

  • No 2* for a good finish across all techniques.
  • No 3**for an excellent stable support for expressive and experimental work and layering.
  • No 4 for the interesting finish especially with whites.
  • No 5** for an excellent finish for completed marker pen work, using multiple layers and techniques including masking.


  • No 1 for quick and economical tests and samples.
  • No 2* for a good finish with nice clean colour.
  • No 3**for a specialist surface ideal for watercolour and capable of handling all techniques with aplomb.
  • No 4 for muted delicate colour palettes, BUT avoid heavy washes.
  • No 5**as an alternative to No3, for an excellent watercolour support, which is strong and stable and can be stretched where necessary.


  • No 1 for proofs and rubbings to check print block.
  • No 2**for great crisp clean prints without the need for a print press.
  • No 4 for unusual experimental effects and for collaging.
  • No 3 and No 5 for printing with a press, especially for intaglio.


  • No 1 and No 4* with opaque colour avoiding washes.
  • No 2* for good overall results and clean, crisp colour.
  • No 3* for expressive painting with opaque and translucent colour, on this very stable support.
  • No 5** as an excellent support for finished gouache work in all approaches.

My Materials List:

*All materials are available from GreatArt UK:


I also used:

  • newsprint or newspaper for working on
  • paper towel and washing up liquid for clearing up.
  • a small piece of glass or flat tray or tile for rolling out the ink for printing.

Top Tip: Try experimenting as I did with a range of media and techniques across a variety of papers, recording your findings as you go-it really does make a fantastic resource when you are selecting papers!

Artist Link: If you’ve enjoyed experimenting with loads of media on different papers and fancy using them in a piece of work-have a look at the fantastic work of Pembrokeshire based artist David Tress, who creates powerful, expressive paintings; often with collaged elements:

I hope you’ve found the blog useful, and that you’ll look out for the next one!



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