Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Strathmore Windpower Watercolor Pad
Wirebound Strathmore Windpower Watercolor Pad is a green product. I like to buy green whenever possible and I try to be responsible in how I dispose of art supplies that may harm the environment. So when I decided to get an inexpensive wirebound watercolor pad to use as a water mediums sketch journal, I naturally chose this one over the others.
The cover's been altered because I did decide to use it as a sketch journal. I kept the alterations fairly minor though, so you can still see the original illustration (with cartoon Frankenstein monster hanging on the windmill blade and a small mob with torches under him), and placed my titles and captions in blank areas of the design. I wanted to keep the original information legible.
The cover stock isn't as heavy as the watercolor paper but it's still a good heavy cover stock. It would stand up to much more alteration if I wanted to go the collage, glitter and glued on tidbits route with a sketchbook cover. I chose wire bindings by category for this pad because I'm running out of wall space for small practice paintings and they just get stored in a box when I take them down. I can file a completed watermediums journal on a bookshelf with other sketchbooks and flip through it again anytime, or show it to people more easily.
The paper has a bright white, very nice cold press texture. It's a little less regular than some of the cold press "wove" textures, which makes for better texturing if I want to use broken color with any medium. It's good and sturdy, acid free and heavy. Sizes on this pad are standard for the USA: 6" x 9", 9" x 12" (the one I have), 11" x 15" (a quarter sheet compared to full size watercolor paper) and 18" x 24" if you like to paint very large. Current prices at Blick range from $3.11 to $14.22 and each pad has a generous fifteen sheets.
I've also used Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolor pads, similarly inexpensive and good quality. But the Strathmore paper is a brighter white, something I enjoy since it makes colors glow and doesn't mute the cool violets and blues at all. Most of all, when I chose it I was supporting Strathmore's decision to convert to windpower.
The back cardboard is very heavy. If you tend to rip out pages in a watercolor pad, frame and sell them, then by all means keep that back cardboard as a drawing board. It's a solid 1/8" thick and would hold up for much more painting or drawing than you can do with fifteen pages of pad, including flipping it over as a cutting board. Part of living green is reusing things that would otherwise go in the trash.
If you want to experiment with collage, acrylic textures and other heavier techniques, this book would be a good choice. The paper's very strong, the binding is excellent and that heavy back will give you a good base for anything you want to do with it. The pages are not perforated, so if you want to remove a page you'll need scissors or an art knife and some care.
One tip for using watercolor pads rather than blocks. Mark off some margins around each page before painting. I am not kidding. They will cockle more than watercolor blocks, which is why I favor watercolor blocks when I'm doing paintings to frame. To get them to dry flat, you can clip down three sides of the page with bulldog clips so that any major warping is compensated for.
I used 1/2" borders on my pages since I'm doing smaller paintings with space between them, though I did one full page painting with loose washes and it dried flat. The entire book is one composite work, a collection of watermedia experiments, but you can also use a pad to do serious paintings to sell or just sketch in it without trying to pull it together as a whole.
This is an inexpensive way to get a lot of good watercolor paper in a convenient, portable form. The small sizes would be great for plein air studies, while the big one could be a good way to get used to working large. Backs of pages can be used, the paper is a bit less textured on the back but also feels less sized. Experiment. At these prices and with that added green benefit, this is my choice for a book I can feel free to mangle and try things without worrying about waste.
Also, if I didn't mention this in a previous review, you can use a botched watercolor painting as a good surface for pastel painting if you cover it with a sanded pastel primer like Colourfix pastel primer or Golden Pumice Gel. For oil pastels, I'd prime right out past the border or mark a new border within the primed area -- oils will migrate to the edges when there's a barrier layer, staining and weakening the paper. For dry pastels that isn't necessary.
I plan on using one of these for a pastels sketchbook too, by cutting pieces of glassine the size of the pad and using a hinge of masking tape to attach the glassine to fold up from the bottom of each page and tack at the top. Borders will be 1" from the top to make room for the glassine to be taped. The glassine stays folded back till that page is used for a painting, then folded over to protect it. Might take a little while to prime all the pages and let each dry before doing the next, but doing this would give me a good inexpensive plein air journal for pasteling.
I was going to do that with this one, but got distracted by those lovely Derwent Watercolour Pencils that I got to review and have turned it into this water media journal instead. I'm now on page 12 and expect to complete the journal this month. Here's an example of one of the better pages in it, done entirely with Derwent watercolour pencils, captions with black Pigma Micron pen:
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