Thursday, May 31, 2018

Webcomic Chat 'Education' Illustration Development

Recently, I was selected to submit questions to Webcomic Chat based on participants experiences with art education, both in a formal setting and through self guidance, as part of a program to promote the NATTO scholarship.  Since I was tapped to submit questions, I was also given the opportunity to create the promotional art for this chat.  In the past, I've done two other illustrations for Webcomic Chat- one for Self Promotion and one for Kidlit Comics, and it was a pleasure to create another watercolor illustration for a topic I treasure.

Past Webcomic Chat Illustrations: 

All three of my WCC illustrations are watercolor, but all three underwent a digital sketching stage, and then digitization for lettering and distribution. 

My Art Education topic was inspired by the NATTO Scholarship!

The NATTO Scholarship is a series of small scholarships aimed at helping artists pursue their art education.  We're awarding three scholarships- $1000, $500, and $250 to three lucky entrants!  You can find out more information about the NATTO scholarship, as well as entry information here.

About Webcomic Chat: 

Webcomic Chat is a weekly Twitter chat aimed at discussing webcomic process, promotion, and lifestyle.  It's hosted on the WebComic Chat twitter page, and participants are encouraged to use the #webcomicchat hashtag.  Volunteers are solicited to submit questions and art, and on occassion, I'm fortunate enough to be picked.


I took a photo of this Post It with my phone, and sent it to my Surface Pro 3.  From here, I tightened the sketch digitally in Photoshop.

For some reason, this is often the easiest, and most intuitive way for me to work.  I struggle with recreating thumbnails, even the most basic subjects, so being able to import an thumbnail from any surface has really opened up how I work.

These days, I frequently mix traditional and digital steps in my art process.  Sketch on a Post It, pencils and tightened roughs digitally in Photoshop, print it out on watercolor paper and paint it traditionally, back to Photoshop for corrections and lettering.  It frustrates me that people try to draw harsh demarcations between what is traditionally created art and what is digitally created art, and I feel like this may stifle some artists from producing their best work.

I realized the size requirements had changed from a square to a rectangular format, and this changed the composition a bit.  I do prefer the close up to the longshot, but it presented a fun opportunity to decorate the classroom.

Tight Pencils:

Once I completed my digital sketch, I dropped the opacity on my sketch layers, and went over everything with a darker blue to tighten up details.

This step isn't necessary, but it makes it much easier for inking, as I can drop these to blue lines.


This was printed on Fabriano Studio watercolor paper (I like how it takes ink, and it performs decently for limited layer watercolor applications).

Tight Pencils: 

Tight pencils aren't necessary for every artist, but I enjoy using this stage as an opportunity to tighen up facial expressions, tweak hand gestures, and adjust clothing.

When completing tight pencils, I prefer to use a .7 mechanical pencil with HB lead.



Sakura FB brushpen
Sakura Graphic and Calligraphy pens, using Pigma ink (these will be waterproof)

I left the phrase 'Art Education' uninked, since I want to imitate chalk on a chalkboard, and thought the inked outline would be too harsh.  As stretching the watercolor paper will remove the blue guidelines, I penciled Art Education onto the chalk board, so it would remain visible.

Here's the cleaned digital scan.  I try to make it a point to remember to stop and scan my lineart inks before painting, so I have the option to use it as a digital piece, or can offer it as a lineart on my Gumroad.

When inking the border, my hand slipped.  This is something that can't be corrected with traditional media until after I've watercolored the piece- if it can be corrected at all.


Stretching the Page 

For a tutorial on how I stretch watercolor paper, check out this post.

Toning and Beginning the Background (large forms)

This is mainly just to give the piece an overall base color. .In this instance, I went with a light wash of warm yellow.

Applying Masking Liquid

Clean Water
Masking Fluid (Winsor and Newton Colorless Masking Fluid)
Synthetic Brush
Brush Soap

My preferred masking liquid is Winsor and Newton Colorless Masking Fluid, but every artist seems to have their preference.  If you're struggling to find one that works for you, don't lose hope- there are many on the market, and not all play nicely with every watercolor paper.

Painting the Chalkboard

Removing the Masking Fluid

Once I've achieved the color depth I'm looking for, and the paper has fully dried, I use a masking fluid eraser to pick up the masking fluid.  For best success with masking fluid, I find it best to remove it as soon as possible- this fluid sat on the page for only a couple days.

Toning the Letters 

I felt like the letters were a little too white, and needed some variation to look like chalk.  I planned on adding opaque white/white watercolor pencil later on to add highlights back in, so I went ahead and glazed some blue grey over Art Education.

Rendering the Characters: 

Adding Environmental Details: 

Once most of the illustration has been completed, I start adding in small environmental details.  Since this is an art classroom, I have an opportunity to create mi nature works of art.  The goal is to make pieces that could feel like they were made by young students.

I decided to do profile portraits to fill the majority of space, since I have fond memories of sketching those for art class.

Scanning and Color Correction:

I scan using a large format Epson scanner- quite a pricey investment that has served me well over the years.  I scan at 600DPI as it better picks up the nuances of watercolor.  I've found my scanner isn't quite perfect- it tends to desaturate originals, and sometimes colors will skew, so once the piece is scanned, I open it up in Photoshop for color correction.

Color correction can vary piece to piece, but generally I'll do a little tweaking in Hue and Saturation (generally just changing the hue to be a bit warmer, since my Epson tends to be a bit cool).  After Hue and Saturation, I'll duplicate my scan layer, set the duplicate to multiply, and then knock it down until it matches the original.  

Please note:  Both my work monitors have been color calibrated.

Lettering is also done in Photoshop.  I'm a big fan of Blambot's comic fonts- the font used here is Letteromatic.  Blambot has a lot of free to use fonts for indie and web creators, so if you're having trouble with your lettering, I highly recommend you check them out!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Canson Montval Watercolor Paper Review

7" Kara Chapter 5 Cover
As longtime readers know, I'm a watercolor comic artist.   Or at least, I consider comics my craft, and watercolor my primary medium.  I also do kidlit illustration, but my true passion lies in comics.  Montval is where my two interests coincide.

Canson Montval is the first cellulose based cold press watercolor paper I've reviewed in a while.   When it comes to illustration, I've moved mainly to cotton rag papers (although I do use Fabriano Studio for inks on occasion, as I like the tooth), but for comic pages, I work almost exclusively on Montval.  I find Montval to be a perfect combination to suit my needs- it comes in a useful size, so I don't have to cut it down, it runs through my printer easily, it's quite affordable, it comes in 20 sheet packs, and it can handle almost everything I throw at it, while retaining sharp detail.

All 7" Kara pages post Chapter 1 have been painted on Canson Montval Watercolor Paper.  This means I've had almost six years of experience painting on Montval, and have painted almost 200 watercolor comic pages on this paper, so I have a lot of experience with this paper.

Montval is probably not a suitable paper for watercolorists or every illustrator, but it's quite suited to my watercolor comic needs.  Over the two years I've worked on my Watercolor Basics series, many of the comic focused tutorials were painted on Montval watercolor paper.

Canson Montval is considered a student grade watercolor paper (although I can't understand learning on a paper that doesn't perform like the papers you want to upgrade to), and there have been some complaints about it going downhill.  I haven't experienced this issue yet, and hope I never experience it while painting 7" Kara pages.  You should note that I ALWAYS stretch Montval paper (unless it's in my Montval Sketchbook)- Montval buckles badly if not stretched.

Note:  All images in this blogpost are from 7" Kara, and are on Canson Montval watercolor paper.  If you want to see how Montval performs, page after page, please go read the comic, it's free.

Comic page painted on Canson Montval coldpress watercolor paper
Page from Chapter 2

The Stats:
  • Cellulose-based paper
  • 90lb-140lb, with several weights in between
  • Available in Cold Pressed and 'Snowy Grain'
  • Sheets- 22"x30 (124lb), 22"x30" (140lb)
  • Rolls- 36"x5yd, 38"x5yd
  • Pads (140lb) 9"x12", 10"x15", 15"x20", 18"x24", 5.5"8.5", 9"x12"
  • Albums- 10"x7", 14"x11"
  • Art Board (90lb)- 16"x20", 20"x30"
  • Blocks (140lb)- 4"x6", 6"x9", 9"x12", 12"x16", 15"x20"
  • Wirebound Sketchbooks (140lb) 8.5"x5.5", 9"x12" (I've only found these thru Amazon)
  • Cards with envelopes- 5"x7" (I've only found these thru Amazon)
  • Acid free
  • Suitable for watercolor, gouache, ink wash, and acrylic
  • Available from DickBlick, Amazon, Cheap Joe's 

Comic page painted on Canson Montval coldpress watercolor paper
Page from Chapter 3

Price Comparison:

Cellulose Papers:

Canson Montval
Canson Montval 140lb 10"x15" tape-bound pad, 12 sheets: $8.35 on Blick

Canson XL
Canson XL 140lb 11"x15", tape-bound pad, 30 sheets- $7.13 on Blick

Blick Studio
Blick Studio 140lb 11"x15", 15 sheets: $7.63 on Blick

Fabriano Studio
Fabriano Studio, 140lb, 11"x14" tape-bound pad, 12 sheets: $8.25 on Blick

Cotton Rag Papers:

Moulin du Roy
Moulin du Roy Coldpress Watercolor Paper, 140lb, tape bound pad 11.8"x15.7", 12 sheets  $22.91 on Amazon 

Kilimanjaro Bright White Coldpress Watercolor Paper 11"x14", 20 sheets- $29.99 on Cheap Joe's 

Arches Cold Press Watercolor Paper, 140lb, tape bound pad 10"x14", 12 sheets- $14.11 on Blick

Blick Premiere 
Blick Premiere Cold Press Watercolor Paper, 140lb, block or sheet only, 10"x14", 20 sheets- $21.10 on Blick

Comic page painted on Canson Montval coldpress watercolor paper
Chapter 7 Cover

How does it Compare to Cotton Rag Paper?

Canson Montval is a cellulose (woodpulp) based paper, so it has some limitations.  It doesn't hold water well, and dries quickly, so blending and washes can be limited, especially around tight corners.  Although it holds onto pigment better than many other cellulose watercolor papers I've tried, it doesn't quite hold a candle to my favorite cotton rag papers in terms of blend-ability and color vibrancy.  You may find your techniques a bit limited (mainly to glazing) on cellulose papers, and Montval isn't different.

That said, Montval handles multiple glazes well, dries quickly to allow for fairly rapid page progression, works well for watercolors and watercolor pencils, holds tight detail, and is fairly forgiving.

Comic page painted on Canson Montval coldpress watercolor paper
Page from Chapter 6

  • Dries very quickly as a cellulose paper, so pages can be worked quickly
  • Right ratio for comic pages (10"x15")
  • Very affordable paper
  • Runs through printer easily, and bluelines dissolve quickly
  • When stretched, will not buckle or cockle excessively
  • Colors are bright and vibrant
  • Colors layer well
  • Performs better than average for cellulose watercolor papers

  • Dries very quickly, so streaky blends, streaky washes
  • Not capable of some of the wet into wet techniques cotton rag papers can handle due to short 'open' time
  • High quality paint brands, such as Daniel Smith, are somewhat wasted on this paper, as it's only capable of so much
  • VERY responsive to weather- in Nashville it dries too fast, in Louisiana, it never seems to dry
  • Buckles if you don't stretch it

Comic page painted on Canson Montval coldpress watercolor paper
Page from Chapter 6

As you can see in this night scene, I had difficulty getting a diffused blend from dark to light- the paper dried too fast for me to properly blend the color out.

Comic page painted on Canson Montval coldpress watercolor paper
Page from Chapter 4

The Verdict:

Canson's Montval is my choice for watercolor comic pages because it's economical and behaves predictably.   I find it excellent for this purpose, although I rarely use it for standalone illustrations, as I prefer cotton rag papers such as Moulin du Roy and Kilimanjaro.

Is Montval the right choice for your watercolor comics?  For projects as time consuming, long-term, involved, and personal as watercolor comics,  its important to find the right paper for you.  I highly recommend you test out various papers to see if they serve your needs, and I hope you use my reviews to help guide your testing.

See It In Action:

7" Kara Chapter 6 Watercolor Prep- Penciling Borders:

Painting A Comic! Watercolor Tutorial:

Painting Pages- Working on a Double Page Comic Spread:

Watercolor in Progress: Painting 7 Inch Kara:

Second Opinions and Outside Resources:
ThoughtCo: Paper Weight
DickBlick: Canson Watercolor Paper Packs
Canson-Canson Montval
DickBlick: Canson Montval
Canson Montval Sketchbook Review
The Ultimate Watercolor Paper Comparison| Comparing 24 Types of Watercolor Paper
Cardstocks and Watercolor Papers: My Favorites and When To Use Them
See Be Draw: Compare Watercolor Papers: Canson Montval and Winsor and Newton Cotman
WetCanvas- Canson Watercolor Paper
Amazon Reviews: Canson Montval- Roll
Amazon Reviews: Canson Montval- Pad

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Arches Cold Press Watercolor Paper Review

For many painters, Arches reigns supreme over other watercolor papers.  Its frequently the go-to recommendation, and I'm not here to remove its crown.  I've had nothing but positive experiences with Arches watercolor papers, although as you'll read in this post, this is not unilateral- many artists struggle with Arches for various reasons.

Throughout this post, I share illustrations created on the types of Arches paper I've used, to give an overview of how their papers handle.

Papers discussed in this post:

  • Arches Watercolour 140lb Rough Press, Block Bound
  • Arches Watercolour 140lb Cold Press, Pad Bound
  • Arches Watercolour 300lb Cold Press, Block Bound, but removed
  • Arches Watercolour 140 lb Cold Press, Block Bound

Arches 300lb Cold Press, originally block bound but removed for blueline printing
Arches 300lb Cold Press, originally block bound but removed for blueline printing
Before we get much further in this post, I'd like to clear something up.

The Misconception:

Arches is owned by Canson.

Those slightly more in the know might think Canson originally owned Arches, and now ColArts, Winsor and Newton's parent company, have acquired it.

The Truth:

Arches watercolor paper is produced by one mill in France, which was founded in 1492.  Over the years, it has merged with three other mills to form a company called Arjomari, and in the 70's Ajomari acquired Canson, and produced papers for Canson's distribution.  Recently, Canson has been acquired by Hamelin, and ColArts became the Arches distributor in 2017.  ColArts handles Winsor and Newton, Liquitex, Reeves, Conte a Paris and several other art material manufacturers, and is owned by Lindengruppen, a Swedish business.

Arches is currently owned by Ahlstrom-Munksjo  and this partneship would give Munksjo access to ColArt's worldwide network of distribution.  Ahlstrom-Munksjo makes a variety of fiber based products- wallcoverings, tape backings, beverage and food packaging, fine art papers, and even electrotechnical papers.


Arches isn't just watercolor paper.  The Arches mill produces fine art papers for oil and drawing, as well as papers for art publishers.

Arches manufactures two types of watercolor paper- Lavis Fidelis/En-Tout-Cas (a double sided watercolor paper- one side hot press, one side cold press, made of 25% cotton with gelatin sizing, which we will not discuss today as I haven't tried it), and Arches Aquarelle/Watercolour paper, which we ARE discussing today.

Arches 140lb Cold Press, Pad Bound
Arches 140lb Cold Press, Pad Bound

The Stats:

  • 100% cotton rag paper, machine made
  • Gelatin sized
  • Available in Cold, Hot, and Rough press
  • Available in:
  • Sheets- (hot, cold, and rough press, 140lb and 300lb)- 16"x20" (CP, 140lb only), 22"x30"
  • Rolls- (90lb, cold press)- 44.5"x10 yards
  • (140lb, cold press)-44.5"x10 yards
  • (140lb, hot press)- 44.5"10 yards
  • (156lb, hot press)- 51"x10 yards
  • (140lb, rough)- 44.5"x10 yards
  • (156lb, rough)- 51"x10 yards
  • Blocks (hot, cold, and rough press, 140lb, 20 sheets)- 3.9"x9.8", 5.9"x11.8", 7.9"x7.9", 7"x10", 8"x10", 9"x12", 10"x14", 11"x14", 12"x12", 12"x16", 14"x20", 16"x20", 18"x24"
  • (cold press, 300lb, 10 sheets)- 9"x12", 10"x14", 12"x16"
  • Pads (140lb, hot, cold, and rough) 9"x12", 10"x14", 11.7"x16.5"
  • Available in Bright and Natural White

Arches 140lb, Cold Press, Block Bound
Arches 140lb, Cold Press, Block Bound


Arches 9"x12" Coldpress Block, 140lb, 20 sheets- $36.99 on Amazon
Arches 9"x12" Coldpress Block, 140lb, 20 sheets-$25.16 on Blick

Arches 9"x12" Coldpress Block 300 lb, 10 sheets, $24.75 on Cheap Joes

L'Aquarelle Canson Heritage
Heritage Watercolor Block, 140lb, 9"x12", 20 sheets- $38.40 on Blick
Heritage Watercolor Block, 140lb, 9"x12", 20 sheets- $42.07on Amazon

Not available in 300lb

Canson Moulin du Roy
Moulin du Roy 9X12 Block, 140lb, 20 sheets- $21.18 on Amazon

Not available in 300lb

9x12 coldpress block, 140lb, 20 sheets $21.09, only available from CheapJoes
9x12 coldpress pad, 300lb, 10 sheets, $21.69 only available from CheapJoes

Fluid 100
9"x12" coldpress block, 140lb 15 sheets- 16.27 on Blick (bound on 2 sides)

Saunders Waterford
9"x12" coldpress block, 140lb, 20 sheets-$30.98 on Blick
9"x12", coldpress, block, 300lb, 23.68 on Blick

Stonehenge Aqua
9"x12", coldpress, padbound, 140lb- $16.49 on Blick

Although Arches has gotten a reputation for being a bit pricey, when compared with comparable products, Arches is just about in the middle of the pack.  While both Fluid 100 and Stonehenge Aqua perform quite well as watercolor papers, they may not offer the tooth and taut block options that the other papers on this list offer.  I would say a good block of Arches is worth the investment, however many other artists have noticed issues with recent sheets and blocks.  There have been complaints about areas of resist that won't accept water or pigment, and there's some speculation that this is due to changes in management and quality control as the Arches mill shifts ownership over the years.  I have not encountered such a problem personally, but I know that if I did, I would find it very frustrating in a paper as expensive and lauded as Arches.
Arches, 140lb Cold Press, Pad Bound
Arches, 140lb Cold Press, Pad Bound

  • Arches Watercolour 140lb Rough Press, Block Bound
A very rough watercolor paper that feels similar to sandpaper, and may chew up brushes.  I really love the texture on Arches Rough- it's very satisfying.  The gum used to bind the paper to the block does an excellent job holding the paper taut.  Paper does not buckle or cockle despite paper saturation, and should not need further stretching.  Paper may be difficult to remove from block without knife.  Paper accepts color well, and colors remain vivid after drying.  Paper can accept multiple layers of color- both wet over wet and details.  Paper may be difficult to ink on, given texture.  Overall, a pleasant experience.
  • Arches Watercolour 140lb Cold Press, Pad Bound
Paper needs to be stretched or will buckle, especially if a lot of water is used.  In my experience, slightly less tooth than the block version of the same color- this may be due to batch, as papers were purchased several years apart.  Performs comparably with Moulin du Roy (I often can't tell the difference once the papers have been removed from their pads, if unlabeled), but is easier to find.  Paper is a bit soft, and details may get fuzzy- not suitable for comics work in my experience.  Paper accepts color well, allows for gentle subtle blending, and can handle multiple layers of water.  Overall, a pleasant experience, and an easy paper to work with.
  • Arches Watercolour 300lb Cold Press, Block Bound, but removed
Paper is almost the width of illustration board- very sturdy paper.  I needed to run my illustration through my printer, so paper was removed from block beforehand using a knife.   Paper released printer ink upon stretching (not necessary, but made for easier handling, and I intended on using a lot of water for this illustration).  Brusho did not disperse as much as I had wanted, but colors are still very vibrant (so vibrant that the scan does not do the final piece justice- it's beautiful in person).  300lb block bound CP seems to have more texture than 140lb Pad bound CP- might be batch differences.
  • Arches Watercolour 140 lb Cold Press, Block Bound
The gum used to bind the paper to the block does an excellent job holding the paper taut.  Paper does not buckle or cockle despite paper saturation, and should not need further stretching.  Paper may be difficult to remove from block without knife.  Paper accepts color well, and colors remain vivid after drying.  Paper can accept multiple layers of color- both wet over wet and details.  Paper accepts ink from brushpen well.  Overall, a pleasant experience.
Arches, 140lb Cold Press, Pad Bound
Arches, 140lb Cold Press, Pad Bound
Have You Heard the Word?

Ink Drop cafe is hosting a fanart contest to celebrate their one year launchiversary!

The rules and the theme are simple- we'd love to see how you draw Squiddy, our tea loving squid mascot!  For a full list of rules, and information on how to enter, please visit Ink Drop Cafe!

The Verdict:

Arches is generally one of the first papers recommended by traditional watercolorists.  It seems to have some batch issues, but in the past, Arches has been a predictable, high quality watercolor paper that yields vivid results and beautiful blends.  My experiences with Arches have all been positive- from my printmaking years using BFK Reeves (a pleasure to print on, from lino to screenprint) to pad and block bound watercolor papers.  For me, it's great for illustration and an excellent sometimes treat, as it's too expensive for comic pages, and details are frequently fuzzy.

It's probably very obvious that my watercolor style does not make me Arches' target demographic- my style does not make me the target demographic of ANY watercolor supply or paper company.  Watercolor manufacturers in the US do not cater to illustration nor to comic artists, so it's up to us as illustrators and comic artists to find papers and products that suit our needs, regardless of whether these are the supplies other artists utilize.  However, this also puts me in a unique position- few illustrators or comic artists review their supplies regularly.  Most reviews are in fact written by those who wish to pursue watercolor in a traditional sense.  I know this because for every review I write, I include a list of outside resources to help others continue their research, and I highly prize an educated dissenting opinion as it helps me refine my own.

So I hope the reviews I've shared here have been useful for those of you who love watercolor, but wish to use it for illustration or comics.

Outside Resources and Second Opinions:

Arches Site
Ahlstrom-Munksjo: Products
Wet Canvas- Arches
ColArt: Arches
ColArt: Our Story
EuroInvestor: ColArt Distributor of Arches Fine Art Papers
Arches Papers
Painting Watercolor: Arches Cold Press Watercolor Paper Review
Amazon Reviews- Arches ColdPress Sheets 
Amazon Reviews-Arches Coldpress Blocks
Arches, the basic to compare watercolor papers
WetCanvas: Is Saunders Waterford Watercolor Paper Better Than Arches