Thursday, October 3, 2013

Materials - Paper

I want to start my lessons with the foundation of any calligraphy project: the paper.

What they used...

Most of the works I copy from were produced on parchment or vellum (not the modern papers of the same names); a specially prepared animal skin. You can get parchment today, but you will pay for it. ($10+ per sheet, depending on size and quality.) Parchment acts differently than most papers, and has both advantages and disadvantages (which I can hopefully discuss after I've had more experience with it). I've only experimented with a small piece so far. It's on my scribal to-do list for now.

Unlike most papers, parchment often requires additional preparation before you can begin writing and painting on it. This can include sanding, degreasing and the use of a surface treatment like gum sandarac powder to help ink stay crisp on the surface. I'll dedicate a post to my first experiments with parchment when that time comes.

What I use for projects...

My favorite paper is called Pergamenata. It looks and acts similar to real parchment. It has an extremely hard surface and translucency. I can safely use a very hard pencil lead for very fine lines as it doesn't score easily. Ink sits on the surface allowing for mistake correction. Because it's so smooth the pen just glides across it, it's wonderful! Well, as a calligrapher it is. My apprentice-sisters don't enjoy gilding or painting on it as much as on papers, because Pergamenata wrinkles easily from the moisture in the paint & sizing. I've read some recommendations on using gum sandarac to prepare the surface of Pergamenata, as any oils on the surface from handling it can cause problems with ink and paint. Pergamenata is still not inexpensive, and typically runs $1.50-$2 per sheet, but it's no where near the price of real parchment. Get the heavy weight. I use both colors, depending on what I'm going for in the finished piece.

My go-to "regular" paper is a heavy weight Bristol Board (usually Strathmore 300 series). Both the smooth and vellum surfaces are suitable, so I tend to lean toward the vellum surface as it adds a little texture. Bristol comes in pads of 20 sheets, and runs as little as $0.50 per sheet depending on if you buy it on sale. Being a softer paper, I have to use a softer pencil lead or a very light touch when lining to prevent scoring so my guidelines can be fully erased later on.

For larger projects, I've also used cold & hot press watercolor papers. Cold press will typically have a more textured surface than hot press.

What I use for practice...

This will be the first time I say this, but not the last... Practice with decent tools & materials! If you practice on crappy paper, or with a cheap pen or ink, and the result is fuzzy, bleeding lines, you will be unhappy with your results, and unlikely to want to continue! Save yourself a lot of aggravation, and practice with at least decent materials. Do not use regular printer paper. I often use some very yellow calligraphy parchment paper to practice on. I also use bristol board from time to time. As you start out, consider a good quality engineering graph paper at 10 squares per inch. That way you can get right to practice without having to line your page first. The vertical lines can be helpful as well.

Final Thoughts...

Whatever you use for your projects, think about how long the finished piece should last. Use archival quality, low-acid paper to prevent yellowing as it ages. Make sure that the surface of the paper won't get torn up by the nib of your pen. Lifted fibers will cause bleeding ink. I'll talk about this more later when I get to techniques, but keep your skin off the paper! Oils from your skin will cause problems if they get absorbed into the paper.

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