Let us now praise bad paper

I love “bad” paper.

I love buckling paper, cheap paper, non 100 percent cotton paper that is going to yellow when I’m old or gone on to the next plane of existence, newpaper, cardboard, computer paper – “bumwad” yellow paper on rolls, butcher paper, kraft paper (especially kraft paper) and scratch paper.

Am I well aware that bad paper is bad? Yes. Absolutely. My favorite papers are Stonehenge, Lenox 100, Coventry Rag, Rives BFK and BFK light, Arches 140 CP and Portofino, Blick Premier HP. No bumwad here – for my FINAL works. Most of my work is non-final. It’s ALL in the re-write.

I think knowledge is key – it’s much more valuable, in my opinion, to teach our noobs WHY Arches or Fabriano cotton are so freaking fantastic (they are), and WHAT Strathmore 400 does differently, and WHAT happens if you paint in gouache on a paper bag, rather than just making them think that if they don’t start out with an Arches block they may as well not start.

THAT, friends, is a terrible way to treat newness. Quite.

I want to ask these people who are always somehow there, right on the starting gate of noobs, to say “Arches is the ONLY way to GO!”

…have you ever painted on a paper bag? Have you ever done it out of broke desperation, and have you ever returned to it out of sheer creative constipation when you have access to every “good” material you could need and you’re stuck in boredom?

How much Canson XL mixed media paper have you actually gone through, pushed, bent, broken, buckled and thumbnailed through before you decided to declare it “unusuable.”

Do you know what it does to knuckle your way ahead with “bad” materials? It makes “good” materials feel like freedom, like flying. You’ve already had your drawing struggles, your color struggles, your style struggles. You will know yourself in a way that you won’t otherwise. “Bad” materials give you a little friction, a little built-in limitation, a little texture in the experience. If everything is set up for you to succeed, and you don’t – you’re more likely to blame yourself. If things are a little cheap, insufficient, janky, non-ideal – then you’re less worked up about making more work and going through more material. More work = get better.

Yes, I know that cheap watercolor paper is “bad” and it’s going to buckle and pill and not allow me to layer or lift. I know this because I’ve tried it. I know this because I know that there is, in the world, some circumstance where I might want to float-frame a drawing that buckles like a stiffly tanned hide in a vitrine. I know that I don’t care about archival for things that go into the scanner anyway.

Repeat with me: an illustration is as archival as the ink in the printer.

An illustration is as archival as the ink in the printer.

This is one of the things that helps sort “fine art” and “illustration” in my brain, I’m realizing.

So if there’s a point to this rant, and to the spontaneous drawings/paintings on Canson XL mixed media, in a spiral bound book under 10 bucks, it’s this –

make the drawing. Make the preliminary. Make the thumbnail. Give yourself the room to make the thumbnail big enough. And you don’t have to spend a ton of money to do it. There’ll be time for that later.

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