Update on Fabriano Artistico – 1st February 2017

Hello everyone,

I thought it was time to write an update on the Fabriano Artistico paper situation.

Unfortunately, for the moment, the report is that there is nothing much to report on the paper front. The October earthquake in Italy hit the Pioraco Mill and the roof collapsed, damaging some of the machinery. Fortunately nobody was hurt but paper production at the mill has stopped. The other Fabriano mills have to make up for the loss of production and are working extra shifts to cover. This means no time for experiments… at least for the next few months. It will still happen, but we’ll have to wait a bit longer, probably after the summer.

In the meanwhile, here is a work in progress on Fabriano Artistico.

My thanks to Chiara from Fabriano for the info. I will post more news here about Fabriano Artistico next time I have something to report…

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Transparent vs opaque colours

I often get questions that start with “This might be a stupid question but…”

Stupid questions are the essential ones; the questions people are worried about asking because they think everyone else knows the answer. But they don’t! And they really wish they did, so don’t be afraid to ask…

Our third question comes from Stella, who was at my West Dean course in September: what exactly is the difference between transparent and opaque paints and how does it affect my paintings?

The answer is that transparent paints let the light through to the underlying paper while the opaque paints reflect the light, effectively blocking it and stopping it from reaching the paper. The effect is that transparent paints have a more glowing, three-dimensional finish thanks to the resulting layering, while the opaque paints have a flatter, matt appearance.

Some media such as gouache, chalks and pastels will always be opaque, because the medium itself is opaque.

Other media such as watercolours, oils and acrylics are transparent, so the transparency/opacity of the paint will depend on another factor, which is the pigment used in each colour.

When it comes to transparency, there are 4 categories of pigments:

  • Transparent, which let all the light through
  • Semi-transparent, which let most of the light through but reflect a small part
  • Semi-opaque, which reflect most of the light but let a small amount through
  • Opaque, which reflect all the light and let nothing through

Here are some examples of what this means in practice.

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Case A – A single wash of transparent blue over white paper

The light goes through the paint, bounces off the paper and comes back through the layer of paint. The eye sees the blue colour, with a bright finish thanks to the brightness of the white paper underneath.

Case B – A single wash of opaque red covers the paper

The light bounces off the paint without allowing it to travel through to the white paper. The eye sees the red colour, with a flatter finish because of the lack of depth.

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Case C – Three layers of transparent paint over white paper

The light travels through all the layers, bounces off the white paper and comes back through all the layers. The eye sees all the colours at once, with a lot of depth created by the layering.

Case D – One opaque wash of green between two layers of transparent colours

The light goes through the yellow layer to the green opaque layer but cannot go any further. The eye will see the green through the yellow, giving a yellowy green colour with some depth, but the grey layer and the white paper will disappear entirely, limiting that depth and annihilating the white paper-given glow.

Now it’s up to you to play with all the above, combining your pigments to reach your desired effects. Remember that this will only work in a transparent medium. If the medium is opaque, only the top layer will be visible no matter what pigments are used.

Examples of transparent colours: all the Quinacridones and Phthalo colours, Permanent Rose, Gamboge and Indian Yellows, Perylenes and most blacks.

Examples of opaque colours: all the Cadmiums, Cerulean Blue, Naples Yellow and all whites.

Lemon Yellow and Sap Green are the troublemakers. Depending on the brand, some are transparent and some are opaque. I will write about them in the Pigment Spotlight section in different posts.

There will also be follow-up posts about Optical Mixing and Harmonic Shadows, which are two techniques deriving directly from the transparency/opaque dichotomy.

Keep the questions coming; I will answer them, whether directly or with a blog post or video.

Happy painting!

 

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What DID happen to the Fabriano Artistico paper?

On the 12th of July there was an intriguing meeting at the top of a spiral staircase, at the R.K. Burt (paper suppliers) warehouse in London: a handful of botanical artists, the boss Mr Burt himself, as well as Giuseppe and Chiara, marketing directors from the Fabriano mill.

The aim of the meeting was for the artists to voice their concerns about the latest batches of Fabriano Artistico: it seemed that our beloved paper had changed, getting more unpredictable, rendering duller colours and generally messing up our washes. Botanical artists are a notoriously picky bunch, but when so many agreed that something was wrong with the paper, the Fabriano managers decided to act, with the help of Mr Burt and art blogger Katherine Tyrrell. I must say that I hadn’t been affected by this plight as much as some others, because Fabriano is not the only paper I use, so I am still working on old, trouble-free stocks.

The meeting

The morning was dedicated to an exposé on paper making by Clifford Burt. It was fascinating – that is a Mr Spock level of fascinating. My inner geek was in seventh heaven as we were shown slides of 19th century machines Brunel would have been proud of and the whole process was explained to us in detail. Extremely large cylinders, cast iron wheels, massive levers and gears, steam and dials, it was all there.

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The 1850’s machines that are used to make the mould-made paper are also used to make bank note paper. As this is done on tender and renewed on a regular basis, the process has to be extremely efficient in order to stay competitive. Giuseppe finished the morning meeting by explaining the changes that were made to the machines recently: in order to facilitate the insertion of plastic strips in the security papers, a device was added to the machines at the beginning of the paper making process. It seems that this has upset the fragile balance of the robust yet delicate machine’s internal workings and they are now regurgitating an altered paper, deemed inferior by the old Fabriano Artistico fans.

Blind test

After a light lunch, we proceeded to a blind test of anonymous papers, coded for identification by the organisers. When Mr Flora’s Patch saw the photos, he laughed at me, saying I looked “dangerously excited”. This is pretty much exactly what I was. The blind test was tremendous fun and as it turns out was also worthwhile and productive. Chiara and Giuseppe were worried that we would all find different results, especially as we were working in different media. Going around the table, Ann Swan, Morryce Maddams and Katherine Tyrrell were working in coloured pencil; Polly O’Leary, Elaine Searle, Dianne Sutherland, Gael Sellwood, Sandra Armitage and Billy Showell and I were painting in watercolour.

We tested the papers from different brands and different batches for resilience, ease of lifting, colour saturation, behaviour of washes and glazes as well as reaction to different techniques.

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The results

I was actually surprised at how consistent the results were: we all identified our favourite as the old Fabriano Artistico Hot Pressed. We also all had problems with the more recent batches. This was exactly what Chiara and Giuseppe wanted: a clear description, illustrated with our painted swatches and notes – which they took away back to the factory- giving them a much better idea of what has changed and what they are aiming for with their modifications. As they described it, their job is now to reverse engineer a paper that will be back to the pre-2014 standards. They gave me the impression that they truly cared about this and that they would work on it until they can give us our old favourite paper back, which I trust they will. A quick tip on the 2016 batch: I tried painting on the back and it gave me much better results than painting on the top. So while we wait for the 2017 batch, this might be a way to alleviate our predicament.

My thanks again to the organisers of this enlightening day, to Clifford for hosting the event, to Chiara and Giuseppe for listening to us and to the other guests for the good company.

Happy painting!

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Is there a right side to watercolour paper?

Stupid questions are the essential ones; the questions people are worried about asking because they think everyone else knows the answer… But you know what? They don’t! And they really wish they did too…

Our first question- thank you Beth- is about watercolour paper:

Is there a right side and wrong side to paint on?

The answer is… not as such. I like “Not as such” because it means “no” but kind of “yes” but not quite. The reason I am not-as-such-ing you is that both sides are paintable but they are different and the extent of the difference varies between brands.

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saunders spray

Two main criteria will determine the difference between the two sides of a watercolour paper sheet: texture and sizing.

  • Sizing: the size is the glue that is added to the paper to make it stronger and also less absorbent, so that you don’t feel like you are painting on blotting paper. Most papers are sized INTERNALLY, while the pulp is being made, and EXTERNALLY, after the paper roll is made and pressed.
  • Texture: the topside of the paper is called the felt side and the underside the mould side. The mould is made of wire, so its texture is more regular than the felt side. On some papers you can see the wire mesh pattern imprinted into the texture, on the underside.

If we consider the three main manufacturers of watercolour paper – St Cuthberts (Saunders Waterford) for the UK, Arches for France and Fabriano in Italy- their papers are sized internally and then they go through a bath to be sized externally, so both sides are coated equally. This means that as far as sizing is concerned, there is no difference between the two sides.

For the texture, the situation is not quite as straightforward…

Both sides are paintable but they look slightly different: because of the wire, the mould side has a regular mesh texture while the felt side has a random texture. Some artists prefer to paint on the topside and others prefer the underside. As for what the manufacturer intended, it depends on the brand. Saunders Waterford expects the painter to use the felt side but Arches and Fabriano favour the mould side.

cuthmill1To summarise, papers do have a topside and an underside but not really a right side or wrong side to paint on. The best way is the way you like best!

To finish with, this is where I am asking for your help: this series is interactive so please ask away! You can ask questions in the comments section of my YouTube Channel Flora’s Patch, or send me an email, or leave a comment on my blog or a message on my website by going to the contact page. Thank you and happy painting!

My thanks to Catherine Frood from St Cuthberts Mill and Clifford Burt from RK Burt for their help in my research.The photos are from St Cuthberts Mill.

There will be a follow up to this post, with two rather exciting events: in July, I am going to a meeting at RK Burt with the Fabriano envoy, to discuss how their new machines have affected their papers and to do a blind test of different papers. This should be very interesting. Then later this summer, I have been invited to visit St Cuthberts Mill, having a tour of the paper making factory, which I am also very much looking forward to.

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