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Monthly review; Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters

Title: Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters

Authors/illustrator: Brian Froud, Ari Berk

Price: From £8 – £160 first edition

Where to buy (UK): Amazon, ebay, Waterstones

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This is one of my most treasured Froud books in my collection, possibly because it really stands out from the others. What makes this book so unique is the interaction the reader has with it. Each page is filled with Froud’s distinctive fairy illustrations, but also draws the reader/viewer in by having all sorts of interesting attachments. From ‘handwritten’ pull-out letters, to envelopes containing quaint surprises, this book encourages exploration by the reader, involving another sense (touch) rather than the usual individual sense of sight (though I must admit I’m a fan of the smell of new or very old books…I know I’m not alone in this!).

As with many of Froud’s book the creativity and attempt at authenticity doesn’t stop with the artwork. The text itself could be argued to be a work of art in itself. Throughout we’re treated to a range of interesting fonts, from beautiful italic handwriting to calligraphy-style work. One thing that Froud never fails to do is draw his audience in. It’s almost as if he believes these wonderful scenarios and worlds he imagines. I love the dedication to making the book and backstory seem as authentic as possible, it shows Froud’s utter enthusiasm for his work.

Much like his other books the target age for this book is debatable. Whilst fairies and similar subjects are often thought of as geared more towards children, Froud’s work always seems to fall into this ageless space. I can imagine children and adults alike enjoying this hands-on book. That being said, for the very reason that it is hands-on this book isn’t suitable for very young children as delicate pull-outs may be easily torn/damaged. Some understanding and prior-knowledge is also needed to understand the basis of this book. Many adults will be familiar with the true story of the girls who, in 1917, took ‘real’ photographs of fairies in Cottingley, England (which were later exposed as being fake). The book is intended to be a ‘scrapbook’ of the girl in the famous photograph, named Angelica Cottington. As mentioned in last month’s review of Froud’s ‘A Field Guide to Goblins; The Goblin Companion’, whist wonderfully elaborate the story can be difficult to follow, particularly for younger readers. For this reason I’d recommend this book for older teenagers on wards, however I’m sure children would love to be shown the quirky illustrations and would delight in the pull-outs being demonstrated (do take note that some fairy poses are quite cheeky though! Parents may want to flip through and judge for themselves first).

Price-wise this book is affordable and I personally feel that the joy I get from revisiting this book again and again is worth every penny paid. I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in illustration, other worlds, and those young at heart.

 

TIP: If you like this book there are other Lady Cottington books, which are available in Waterstones. You can see the whole collection on their website here: link

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What’s in store for November?

It’s hard to believe it’s November already! This year has flown by in a blur. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, about where my illustration is leading me, how I want to utilise my creativity and where it’ll take me in the future. Trying to meet a deadline I’ve fallen into the mindset of my current piece being more of a chore than how I want my time creating to be. When I allow myself time and space, art is my therapy. When I relax and just go with the flow and allow myself to really get in tune with my work is when I actually produce the best results and really engage with the process. In the coming years I’d like to look further in to art as therapy and hope that starting voluntary work working with people with Alzheimer’s will bring the opportunity to bring someone pleasure and a mode of creative communication.

Here are some of my recent rough sketches for the piece I’ve been working on. The piece itself will be made up of many elements and I’m currently working my way through each one, until I feel happy with the final version that I’ll then transfer to my prepared paper.

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The piece I’m working on is based on The Mabinogion, a collection of medieval Welsh tales. The stories are full of adventure, peril and mythological creatures, such as dragons and the cyclops. Above is my interpretation of a ‘Coranian’. The Coraniaid appear in the tale of Lludd and Llefelys and are a race of people that are said to be like a plague; their hearing is so intense that it’s impossible for them to be harmed as they always hear when danger is coming. When I’m creating characters I like to do some visual research. For the Coraniaid I researched medieval clothing to get a sense of what sort of things they would wear, and as the Coraniaid are said to be small i imagined a stocky build. I’ll be talking more about creative processes later this month in my monthly tutorial.

Later this month I’m hoping to visit an exhibition in Peterborough hosted by the City Gallery titled ‘Fabric of Society‘. As someone who’s interested in textiles I’m looking forward to seeing this and will be reporting back in my monthly review next month (the exhibition runs until January).

Next week I’ll be reviewing, as promised, another of Brian Froud’s  unconventional works: ‘Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters‘. If you haven’t already read last months ‘Goblins’ review, you can find it here link.

 

 

Monthly tutorial: Halloween treat bag

Halloween is coming up so this month I’ll be showing you how to sew your own mini drawstring treat bag. As my blog followers will know I’m a huge fan of recycling/upcycling material (take a look at my eco wear: link) so when I was given a stash of random bits of material I was keen to get stuck in and get sewing again. I hand-sew all my items as I like the control and the feeling that i’m really engaging with what I’m doing. I also feel that hand sewing can be therapeutic due to the repetitive motion and concentration it requires but this bag can be done using a sewing machine if you don’t have much time. Some materials are easier to work with than others. Generally speaking thinner cotton fabric is quite easy to work with. The spiderweb material I used had a lycra-esque quality to it which made it difficult to work with, for this tutorial I recommend sticking to non stretchy fabrics.

You will need:

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♦ A cutting mat (optional but useful!)

♦ Fabric scissors

♦ Fabric marker/pencil

♦ Pins

♦ Sewing needle

♦ Cotton thread (in colours matching your material)

♦ A piece of material measuring at least 32 x 18 cm

♦ A piece of contrasting material measuring at least 32 x 8cm

♦ 2 pieces of ribbon approx. 32cm

Step 1

You’re going to need to cut out two pieces of material for the main part of your treat bag. Using a fabric marker/pencil, mark out two rectangles measuring 16 x 18 cm and cut out.

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Step 2

For your casing you’ll need to cut out two rectangles measuring 16 x 8cm.

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Step 3

To give a neat edge, fold shorter ends of your casing over 1cm and pin in place before sewing. I used basic backstitch.

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Step 4

Pin your larger pieces of fabric together around three edges (2 long edges,1 short) with the wrong sides facing. Sew with 1cm seam allowance and turn the right way.

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Step 5

Take your casing pieces and fold in half so you can see the neat side of your stitching. At this point if you have time it’s good to press your pieces with an iron but as I had limited time I skipped this step. It just makes your material more well behaved and neat. Pin your folded pieces to the top of your bag (raw edges at the top)

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Step 6

It’s up to you how far down you wanht to sew, the further down you sew the less of the contrasting material you’ll be able to see and bear in mind you’ll need to be able to get your ribbon through. As I had a gap at the top of my material where the spiderweb pattern stopped I chose to sew quite low down, just above half way but anything 1cm or over is fine (providing you can fit your ribbon through).

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Step 7

Turn your casing in. This is also a good time to press your material to keep your joins/edges crisp. Please remember that some fabrics can only be pressed at a very low heat though! Stretchy fabrics can actually melt. If you’re using cotton as recommended this isn’t a problem.

Step 8

Attach a safety pin to the end of your ribbon and feed it through the gap you’ve made with the casing.

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And there you have it, your own unique Halloween treat bag! This pattern is so versatile, it can be used for any occasion, including Christmas and birthdays. You can alter the sizes to make a smaller or larger bag and is a great way to use up scraps of fabric.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Monthly Review; An oldie but a goodie

When I was a teenager I was obsessed with the work of Brian Froud and remember going into Waterstones (though back then it was an ‘Ottakar’s’) with my best friend and spending hours flicking through the pages with excitement. I had my first taste of Froud’s work as a 14 year old (with a growing interest and attachment to art) in the small art room at the education unit I attended for a year and was sucked into the magic of this other world that I wanted to enter for myself. Looking at the ethereal illustrations in ‘Good Faeries Bad Faeries‘ I knew I wanted to see more of this artists work. There was something about it that just sucked you in to this other realm and for that time it was like real life was on hold and we had entered this universe.

When I could, I bought some of Froud’s books, the first being the book I will be reviewing today: ‘A Field Guide to Goblins; The Goblin Companion’, followed by ‘Brian Froud’s Goblins!‘ and eventually the one I found most pleasurable to spend time exploring: ‘Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters‘ (which I’ll be talking about next month – keep an eye out for November’s review).

Being the first book in my Froud collection and still bringing me joy all these years on, today I’ll be guiding you through this little wonder and maybe even introducing you to a world you didn’t even know existed; the creative (but often slightly eccentric!) world of Brian Froud.

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Title:  A Field Guide to Goblins; The Goblin Companion

Price: Pennies (used) – £35 (new)

Where to buy: Amazon, ebay, World of Books, AbeBooks

About: A pocket-sized collection of some of Froud’s Goblin artwork ‘captured and catalogued’ (so the book states) by Terry Jones. Information and images of various Goblins, giving you a ‘who’s who’ of the Goblin world.

The Good

If you love looking at other people’s sketchbooks this book is for you! Often in books we see only very polished versions of illustrations, which is why Froud’s book is so refreshing. Yes, you’ll see his complete work but you’ll also see works in progress and rough sketches. It’s interesting to see how his ideas develop and you get a real good glimpse into the imagination of this quirky artist’s work.

Another area that this book excels in is aesthetics. It’s evident that everything about this book has been carefully thought about. From the fonts used, to the annotations, to the tinted pages. All this contributes to the feel of the book and assists in drawing you in to Froud’s imagined world.

Whilst the best aspects of the book are of course the content, I have to mention the price. If you’re just getting interested in collecting Froud’s books or are looking for a gift for an art/illustration fan, this is an affordable place to start. Officially priced at an inexpensive £5.99 this book can be picked up online for even less.

The not so good

Whilst Froud’s books are always guaranteed to be a little…unique, shall we say, I have come across people who found the text (particularly in the introduction) to be a little confusing. I admit that it’s what some would consider a little bizarre but Froud fans would expect nothing less! In regards to intended audience Froud’s books can be deceiving. This isn’t an average children’s book…in fact, the majority would argue this isn’t a book intended for children at all! Though from the subject matter and the high volume of illustrations those unfamiliar with Froud would be forgiven for thinking so at first glance. This makes it difficult to judge what age range this book is suitable for, though I personally feel this is suited to teenagers all the way through to centenarians! The language used is too complex for children, though I’m sure they’d appreciate the host of unusual characters they’d meet if they were shown them.

So is it worth it?

Yes! In my opinion it’s worth every penny. As an illustrator this is definitely my cup of tea, as someone who still reads fairy tales and myths, this certainly satisfies that interest and as someone who likes to collect beautiful books to look at time and again, this is one of them. If you’re creative, interested in illustration or have a liking for fantasy, this is your book.

Rating: 4.5/5

Tip: If you like what you’ve read Waterstones has a huge collection of Brian Froud books. Take a look here: Link

If you’re a Froud fan (or become one!) check out the work of artist Amy Brown. You can find her website and see some of her work here: Link

What’s so special about 11th October?

What a week since my last post! Having been eager to really get stuck in to my artwork I found myself on pause as a fibro flare-up engulfed me! Thankfully I’m feeling much better and after a few days of giving in and resting (in addition to practically bathing in ibuprofen gel and having a heat pack permanently attached to my shoulders) I’m ready to get to work again.

I managed to get some sketching done early last week for my second project (which terrifyingly has a deadline of 3 weeks!) whilst my Christmas card design took a bit of a back seat. After several months of experimenting with other mediums I use less often (gouache, watercolour, pastel) I’m back to my old favourite: water-mixable oil paints, though I use them as though they’re ‘real’ oil paints, thinning them out with Liquin Original. I’ll be revealing the complete card design at a later date but for now have some sketches for my other project to share with you.

It feels good to work more freely and just experiment rather than go in straight away wanting my work to be perfect. My process has altered slightly over the past year as I’m allowing myself to play around more with designs and have a rough draft that I then improve on rather than jumping straight from rough thumbnails to final piece. This ‘middle’ step feels the most enjoyable as you can play around with so many possibilities.

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I’m also eager to get back to sewing,particularly as I’ve recently been given a stash of beautiful material that would otherwise have been dumped. My followers will know how important keeping my sewn items as eco-friendly as possible is to me. I recently received an email that gives me the perfect excuse to get my needle and cottons out again. October 11th is ‘International Day of the Girl Child‘ and to celebrate this the charity ‘Days for Girls‘ have set up the ‘Global Girls Festival‘ running until the 1st November. There are several ways you can volunteer with Days for Girls, but the most creative way is by becoming a solo sewist, setting up a sewing team, or joining/founding a chapter. ‘Sewists’ create what’s known as the ‘D4G Kit‘ which is then sent on to young women in deprived areas of the world. You get access to all their patterns, can get support in the D4G ‘Kit chat’ group on facebook and of course get to scratch your creative itch whilst doing good. I have a feeling that stash of colourful fabric I’ve been given will be put to good use this month…

Autistic and artistic!

It’s hard to believe that it’s October already, this has been a difficult year of significant loss for me but I finally feel like I’ve got my passion for art back. Lately I’ve been working on two projects, though one has taken a bit of a backseat as I’m focusing more on developing my more relaxed illustration style (which I’m doing through designing Christmas cards) whilst the other I have a feeling is going to go down a more detailed fine art route.

I’ve been enjoying just sketching out some ideas and building on them and it feels good to be creative but not worry so much about detail and the piece being ‘good’. I’m focusing more on the feeling rather than the technique. Whilst it feels so satisfying to finish a detailed piece I feel more inclined to think ‘i’ll spend this spare time working on that piece’ when it’s more relaxed. It’s not the most serious of subject matter but I’ve been working on creating a cute card design that’ll give a ‘cosy’ festive vibe.

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These are obviously just the very first steps, just my first rough sketches. Now that I have some ideas though I’ve started transferring these ideas onto mixed media paper (i wanted a bit of texture so I chose fine grain heavyweight paper (you can read all about selecting the right papers here: Choosing the right sketchbook )

As well as cracking on with my art projects last Friday I went to the Welsh Autism Show in Cardiff which was packed with information and resources. What I was especially pleased to come across was some fellow ASD artists and their brilliant work. Find out more about their work by clicking the names below. (Please bear in mind images are copyright).

Michelle Chick

Michelle is based in South Wales and has qualifications from the University of Wales in Cardiff. Her art is so detailed and she uses a variety of mediums, from watercolour to gouache and acrylics.

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‘Goldhill’ Michelle Chick
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‘Castle Combe’ Michelle Chick

 

Patrick Samuel

I loved how colourful and expressive Patrick’s work was and how he’s embracing neurodiversity rather than seeing it as a barrier.

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‘New World’ Patrick Samuel. Acrylic
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‘Time for Reflection’ Patrick Samuel. Oil pastel

 

Chris Baker

When I saw the work Chris had on display I was amazed by how realistic his drawings were. In fact, my companion thought they were photographs! It’s evident how much care and attention goes in to each piece. Chris is a self-taught artist and is available for commission.

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Chris Baker. Pencil

Have a creative week!

 

Quick book review: Illustration Workshop

This month I’ll be reviewing a book I got in the summer; ‘Illustration Workshop’ by Mary Kate McDeritt.

 

Full title: Illustration Workshop: Find your style, practice drawing skills, and build a stellar portfolio.

Price: £9.85-£16.99

Where to buy (UK): Amazon, Book Depository

About: Written/compiled by American illustrator Mary Kate McDevitt, this appealing book guides you into the world of illustration. From the very first page you’re encouraged to get creative (literally – your first activity is to write your name and draw yourself) offering practical information on the industry, materials illustrators use, small warm-up activities and whole guided projects.

The Good

  • The layout – it’s fair to say this book is very aesthetically pleasing; with bright colours, illustrations throughout and interesting typography. The book itself is a piece of illustration work! It also breaks things down into sections making it easy to follow.
  • The writing style – The language and tone of the book appeals to ‘everyday’ people which makes it accessible to even beginners in the field of illustration. Everything is explained well without any hint of pretentiousness.
  • The activities range from small to large projects meaning if you have just 5 minutes to fill there’s something for you, if you have 5 hours to fill, there’s also something for you.
  • Projects are guided and go through a process. You follow each section of the project so you’re never left wondering where to go next. If your imagination seems to be having a day off, there are activities within each project to get your creative juices flowing, such as questions (‘who is your target audience?’) and a section for a spider diagram.
  • In addition to the mini activities within each project there’s also some visual inspiration, which is great for those of us who think more visually.
  • The book can be picked up very reasonably online
  • It’s a fun way of developing your illustration skills

The maybe not so good

  • If you’re from UK you’ll be aware that the book is American. There’ll be minor spelling/terminology differences
  • The information provided about working as an illustrator is limited. It’s a good introduction but this book isn’t for in-depth explanation

So is it worth it?

In my opinion I love this book! It was affordable, pleasing to look at (I’m a very visual person) and gave my need to practice my illustration skills/develop my style a direction. It can be hard to pull a project idea out of the air, which is why this book is so useful. I like the honesty with which McDermitt writes and the personal edge she gives it. The projects are engaging and the small warm-ups very unique! I’d recommend this book to anyone looking to develop their illustration skills, especially if they feel they need more direction.

Rating: 4.5/5

Tis the season…almost

Ok, so it’s only September but anyone who’s involved in any craft/art work will know that Christmas preparation starts way in advance. You’ve probably already seen the Christmas craft magazines creeping on to the shelves and with good reason! If you’re planning on including handmade gifts or handmade elements this year you’ll need time to actually make them! I’ve already started some rough designs for Christmas cards, which I’m doing alongside a competition entry. I was keen to see what other creatives were offering this year, so I’ve got together a list of some of my favourite card designs so far. Head on over to their online shops to see more!

Heidi Meier Textiles

It’s not just Heidi’s Christmas cards I love, she also has some gorgeous birthday/everyday cards. One of my favourites is her Blue tit card (link) Heidi’s work is that little bit ‘different’ which gives her cards a real edge. Below are two of her cards that would be perfect for Christmas, especially for a dog lover! Click the image for a direct link to the item in her Folksy shop.

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‘Toby’ by Heidi Meier

 

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‘The Last Post’ – Toby the Dog by Heidi Meier

 

Brittany Molineux

Brittany’s Etsy shop is full of gorgeous illustrations available as prints or cards and I’m really admiring her Christmas offerings. Below are two of my favourites. Click the images to be taken directly to the listing.

 

 

 

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‘Danish Houses’ by Brittany Molineux

 

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‘Partridge in a Pear Tree’ by Brittany Molineux

 

Simons Nest (Kerry Williams)

I think what I love most about Kerry’s illustrations is their quirkiness, there’s something a bit different about Kerry’s illustrations and I love that a lot of her work is nature-themed. Take a look at her Autumn/pumpkin items (perfect for Halloween!) I’m in love with the Pumpkin Spice Badge Set. The selection of mini cards below are great for celebrating the winter season.

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‘Winter Favourites’ mini greetings cards by Kerry Williams

 

Choosing the right sketchbook

You’d think it would be the easiest thing in the world: finding some paper to start your art project. But when you’re just starting out in the world of art (such as GCSE students etc) it can be perplexing to navigate your way around the vast options available. Don’t be tempted to reach for the cheapest option just to save some money! I’m sure plenty of you have been in a situation where you begin full of enthusiasm only to find that your paper is wrinkling or your ink bleeding. This is because it really is important to be using the right kind of paper for your piece, it really can make or break a piece. I’m going to take you through the basics of choosing a sketchbook when you’re just starting out, or are just getting serious about pursuing your artistic interest. I’ll be putting key points/tips in bold/colour.

All sketch books will generally be suitable for what it says in the title: sketching. Just getting some ideas down in pencil. Where problems usually arise is when you begin using other mediums, especially ‘wet’ mediums such as paints and ink. The very basic sketchbooks you can find almost anywhere (such as budget shops) are usually not suitable for anything more than just getting down some ideas in pencil.

Over the years I’ve learnt to feel my paper before choosing in addition to looking at the description/symbols on the front of the book/pad (more on this later). Generally, cheap papers are quite rough to the touch and will feel thin. Slightly higher quality paper will feel thicker, but may also have a rough texture. But BEWARE! If you do choose a cheap sketchbook for just doodling it’s good to know that cheaper kinds of paper won’t usually stand very much erasing. Ever seen higher quality paper advertised as being ‘acid free’? This is beneficial because it means your work is less likely to fade and the paper less likely to break down.

Let’s talk about cartridge paper…this type of paper is widely available and a lot of illustrators and artists are happy to use it.  If you do decide to go for basic cartridge paper for paints such as watercolour bear in mind it must first be prepared. Painting directly on to lower GSM* cartridge paper will cause buckling and you’ll end up with a wibbly painting! The process of preparing paper for watercolours/gouache is known as ‘stretching’. It’ll take a little effort to do, so if you’re desperate to get stuck in to some work straight away using wet mediums it’s best to avoid low GSM cartridge, or make sure you have a stash of pre-prepared sheets. I learnt how to stretch paper on an ‘introduction to art’ summer school at a local college when I was 15 and found the course a real stepping stone into GCSE art, which then progressed to A level, which then progressed to a degree. By the time you reach university it’ll just be assumed that you know these basics. It’s good to look out for taster courses or holiday schools at local colleges/uni’s as you could pick up some skills that prove useful for the rest of your artistic journey. You can find so many videos on Youtube showing you how to stretch paper: link

Now we’ve covered the cheaper ‘everyday’ papers let’s look into specifics. The good news is that a lot of the sketchbooks they stock in art and hobby stores usually have guides on the front, it’s just a matter of reading the symbols and understanding what certain things mean. Something I found confusing for a while was ‘hot pressed’ and ‘cold pressed’. It’s actually as simple as this: hot-pressed paper has a smoother, finer surface, whilst cold-pressed has a more textured surface. Some pads don’t even mention these terms though and keep it more straight-forward by saying ‘smooth’ or ‘grained’. It’s really a matter of personal reference, I use both depending on the finish I want.  As I usually work with a lot of detail I generally avoid heavily grained papers as lines can be less ‘crisp’. Thanks to the information on a lot of sketchbooks it’s actually now easier than ever to select your book. Some pads will say ‘mixed media’, meaning that generally any medium is ‘safe’ to use, others will say ‘watercolour’ or ‘drawing’ (Daler  Rowney label their sketchbooks really well making it easier to select one). As for symbols, they’re easy to work out; a paintbrush head means it’s suitable for paint, a fountain pen means fountain pens can be used, a fineliner/pen means drawing pens may be used and what looks like a conte stick means pastels can be used. But there’s one area that I know confuses a lot of people…GSM*. This stands for ‘grams per square metre’. Basically, the higher the GSM the heavier the paper, meaning it can handle more. GSM is sometimes written as ‘G/M2’. Papers with high GSM are usually labelled as ‘heavyweight’.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to understand what paper you’re using before you begin an important project, mainly to avoid frustration over things like buckling, bleeding, eroding etc. I think the most important thing you can do is read the specs of the paper (even individual sheets in art/craft stores will usually have a little label telling you hot/cold pressed and GSM) and if you’re not sure then ask!

Time for some recommendations! For general doodling and really rough work I carry around a small ‘Graduate‘ sketchbook. These are Daler Rowney’s reasonable, lower GSM books that come in various sizes. Hobbycraft also offer their own version of these, with a similar GSM and a very modest price tag. For work that I plan to use (for exhibitions, card designs etc) I rarely stray far from Daler Rowney finegrain heavyweight paper as I find it can hold all mediums really well. I’ve used pastels, oils, gouache, pens, pencil and I’m always happy with the results (though be careful if working on small areas in oils especially oils that have been thinned as sometimes you can get a ‘halo’). I also recommend Daler Rowney’s smooth heavyweight when I want less of a textured surface. If I’m solely using gouache or watercolour I may also opt for their Aquafine smooth pad.

So that’s it, your guide to choosing the perfect sketchbook. Happy creating!

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