Leaf of the Day: Water Plantain, Day 4 and the Paper Problem

At the weekends Chris and I go cycling for a couple of hours. Yesterday and today’s trips have been interrupted by my screeching to a halt after possible accessible plantain sighting. All to no avail as even with my long legged and long armed helper they are still too far out of reach. I have one small flower stem which is still clinging onto life and it will be fine for now. The leaves have been in the fridge and are faring better and I have been wondering how I am going to tackle the leaves.

The next conundrum I have is which paper to use. The possibilities are many and the personal choices of various artists differ wildly, so you really have to try different types for yourself. The surface is important and most tutors seem to recommend a very smooth hot pressed (HP) surface. I had not used hot pressed paper before starting this course as any detailed work I had done before was working with acrylics in a very different style. For economy’s sake (this stuff is expensive) I narrowed it down to either Fabriano or Arches.

Arches “Not” used to be my number one favourite for loose watercolour. It held an expressive brushstroke edge, the colours were bright, did not sink and merged beautifully. That was a different technique of course, where I would seldom work back into the image in any great detail. Yes it did used to smell a bit gummy, but it was hard and crisp and lovely. I feel recently it has changed and doesn’t seem so responsive in the way I liked.
This very old sketch of a jug and pomegranates from Lanjeron in Andalucia does perhaps show the texture of the “not” surface and how the paint has settled here and there but kept those nice edges.

Many years ago I would would be working for illustration on a beautiful illustration board or, in pen and ink on the wonderful Schoellershammer 4R paper neither are available now.

But for some help and advice today I have gone back to read one of the books about the techniques used for botanical painting. Many artists use “lifting out” where, with either a wet or dry brush, you lift some paint to (hopefully) expose the paler paper underneath. It’s a useful and classic watercolour technique, not so easy as it looks in the book…what ever is ???? but might be useful for the leaves. I did a little lifting out in the previous submissions but was not very happy with it.

So I decided to test the papers I have here, specifically for lifting out. Firstly lifting wet paint out with a drier brush then lifting out with a wet brush.
I have two weights of paper, and 2 different surfaces ..
“HP” is hot pressed. ie, very smooth,
“Not” is literally “not” hot pressed, which is slightly rougher.

I try both the “right” side, the watermarked side and “wrong” sides in each case.

The first ones are Fabriano;
Fabriano classico HP 300lb
Fabraino Classico HP 140lb

The second ones are all Arches ;
Arches 140lb HP, not good at all and has an odd “laid” texture.
Arches 300 lb HP, great texture and paint settles in little dips despite it being HP. Lifts out better than 140 HP
Arches Not 140 lb, nice but not much more textured than the 300 HP, lifted out OK.

My sketchbook is a Kilimanjaro note book. I have come to like the paper and did I buy some 140lb Not surface to try, so have added this to my test.
I think it may not be robust enough for much lifting and reworking but has been very nice for some of my earlier informal colour sketches. It did lift out quite well and I used it for the leaf study below.

My overall thinking is that the best paper for lifting out, either dry or wet is the Fabriano but using the wrong side. I am surprised that the side made much difference but in both the Arches and Fabriano I had noticed a very slight grid pattern on the watermarked side which I really dislike…you have to almost get a magnifying glass to see it but I know it’s there now.
There is nothing scientifically accurate about my tests, and 10 different artists will give you ten different opinions, it’s just what works for me.

So in conclusion, I should probably be working on the wrong side of the Fabriano.. problem? Yes ..I have drawn it out on the right side.. ah well..next time.

I did get a slightly better leaf study done which was necessary as these leaves have a complicated vein structure, with a pronounced main central vein, 3 or 4 parallel veins which are pronounced on the back but harder to see on the surface of the leaf, and then many tiny secondary veins which radiate out from the main central vein and seem to cross the parallels…phew…

Plantain Leaf Sketch

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