Don’t you love comfy? Your favorite sheets…that plush robe at the hotel…a friend that’s always easy to be around? For many mixed media artists, their comfort zone paper is Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Heavyweight paper. Until now it was only available in full sheets, but this month, Strathmore is releasing their Heavyweight Mixed Media paper in standard pad sizes. I won the pads reviewed in this post in a Strathmore contest run in February 2018 prior to the market release. Join me as I explore how this luxurious paper performs with ink, watercolor, and a combination of the two. If you’d prefer a quick overview, skim the photos and bold print.
About Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Heavyweight Paper Pads
- 100% cotton
- 350 lb. (570g), 3 ply (2 identical sides)
- Archival, acid-free, lignin-free
- Internally sized
- Natural White with vellum texture on both sides
- 12 sheets per pad, glue bound, fold-over cover, heavy cardboard backer.
- Three sizes available: 6 x 8”, 9 x 12”, and 11 x 14”
The first time I get together with any paper, I want to just have fun and see if we click. I use the first sheet to swatch, doodle, or paint anything that comes into my head. I consider paper intuitive if it performs as expected, and challenging if it has limitations that are immediately obvious.
Watercolor: Intuitive. Buckling and curling issues are non-existent, and the vellum finish allows for flawless washes. Wet on wet performance was exceptional. See that double spiral? Wow. This paper knows how to show a girl a good time. Colors dried bright and true.
Ink: Mostly intuitive. Fountain, brush, and technical pens move smoothly and freely with just enough feedback to keep the tip from slipping. Permanent ink could be pulled out with clean water for 5-10 minutes before it dried to a waterproof finish. My Zebra G nib caught in the vellum texture and the lines feathered.
Graphite, Col-Erase, and Clearpoint erasable colored pencils (underdrawing): Intuitive. Pencils also move smoothly and freely with a little feedback on the matte vellum surface. Point weardown was normal and layout lines erased cleanly with a vinyl eraser. Erased areas didn’t affect painting in any way.
It seems Mixed Media Heavyweight and I are going to be good friends. Time to put our relationship to the test.
Ink Testing On Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Heavyweight Pad
I believe the best way to test paper is to use it as you normally would, but ink is finicky on sized cotton paper. I’m going to run a swatch test first and hopefully eliminate any nasty surprises while making actual art.
That was quite a workout. With the exception of the Zebra G nib, all of the pens and inks performed flawlessly on Mixed Media Heavyweight. The blue arrows on the left indicate where the top layer of paper lifted and ripped when I removed the sheet from the pad. The blue-circled smudges are where I dragged a ruler over freshly inked lines.
“Heart of the Forest” is a real location that needed the sparkle of a simple pen and ink rendering. I learned this free & energetic inking style from Alphonso Dunn’s videos and book. Micron pens are a dream to use on any of Strathmore’s vellum finish Mixed Media paper, including the 90# paper in the Visual Journal.
“Bananagram from the Doctor” was a fun, fast piece loosely based on the Japanese etagami style.
I pulled out all the stops for the ink test wrap party and layered on a masking tape frame, brush pen, watercolor, Uniball Vision (Eye), spatter, and even a coat of Dorland’s Wax that will allow this piece to go through the US Mail intact. Strathmore 500 Heavy Weight Mixed Media is the easiest sized cotton paper I’ve used with ink.
Ink Summary: The vellum surface of Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Heavyweight paper works well with technical, brush, fountain, and ball point ink pens. The sizing method allows dried waterproof ink to remain truly waterproof. Calligraphy and comic nibs catch and lines feather.
Watercolor Testing On Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Heavyweight Pad
I’m using the ubiquitous 140# Arches cold press as a control for this testing. My painting style – limited strokes of artist grade paint using squirrel brushes – is easy on paper. I’ll also be using a handful of textural techniques that intentionally stress the surface in some way during these tests. I like to think of this as taking a camping trip together: How is Mixed Media Heavyweight paper going to react when I take it out of it’s comfort zone? Will it buckle under pressure?
I’m going to start by establishing how thirsty the paper is. 300# paper can empty a brush faster than a toddler drains a sippy cup full of chocolate milk. This Strathmore paper is a 350# paper, but constructed in layers, so I don’t know what to expect. A fully loaded size 10 round da Vinci Kolinsky sable is used to run a 2.5” wide bead down the paper until the wash starts breaking up. The paper is testing at a normal ratio for 140# paper — double the square inches of the brush size.
All of the artist trading card techniques shown here are taught by Canadian artist, Karin Huehold. I prefer to test papers in real pieces rather than grids when possible. The cards were painted in pairs with the same wash puddles and brush. Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Heavy Weight on the left, Arches 140# on right.
When size or weight is an issue, individual sheets perform well simply held in the hand or on the lap. I’ve taken a low angle shot of this sketch so you can see how little the Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Heavyweight paper buckles or curls, even with a full coverage wet-in-wet wash.
Watercolor Summary: The Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Heavyweight paper was smooth and predictable for watercolor washes. Colors dried bright and true, and deep darks were achieved easily. The vellum surface was rough enough to prevent hard edges from forming, but smooth enough that organic marks had to be made intentionally. The paper remained flat, and the washes dried at about the same rate as 140# cold press. All of the textural techniques I tested worked well.
What I liked:
The 100% cotton Strathmore 500 Series Heavyweight Mixed Media paper with vellum finish is able to handle a wide variety of pens and inks as well as a full range of watercolor techniques. The product is intuitive to use, produces predictable results, and does not curl or buckle. The new pads are offered in convenient and familiar sizes that cater to small format artists and illustrators. I’ve already reduced the size and weight of my field kit by carrying 2 pieces of Strathmore 500 Mixed Media Heavyweight paper (4 working sides) instead of a journal and clips.
- I had trouble with the top ply of paper lifting or tearing when removing the paper from the smallest 6 x 8” pad. I did not experience any trouble with the 9 x 12” or 11 x 14” pads.
- For pure watercolor, the Strathmore 500 Mixed Media paper lacked the texture I enjoy in cold and rough press paper for giving an organic feel to my landscape pieces. I will have to use other methods to create texture and be more conscious of how my tools move on the surface.
- For pen and ink, I can’t use my dip pen with a Zebra G nib. That said, I primarily work with Microns, fountain pens, and brushes, all of which shine on this surface.
- How do I store finished pieces if I use both sides? Paper is too thick to bind or punch easily.
- Will artists realize that 500 series 100% Cotton Mixed Media paper is an entirely different product from the cellulose 400 series and be willing to try it? I don’t want to get attached to a product that’s only on the market for a short time.
Overall, I believe Strathmore has produced a seamless artist experience in this product that will be well-loved by artists who work in ink and watercolor. Sturdy, small, and lightweight, I can envision the Strathmore 500 series Mixed Media Heavyweight becoming the standard paper for the urban sketching and travel sketching communities. I hope to see this product rolled out in Artist Trading Cards, tiles, and coil-bound field journals in the future.
Have you ever used the 100% Cotton Strathmore Mixed Media in either 90# (Visual Journal, Strathmore 500 series Mixed Media sketchbooks) or sheets of the Mixed Media Heavyweight paper or Artboard in the 22 x 30″ size? How did it perform for you? Do you have another paper or artboard you love for ink and watercolor work?
Strathmore 500 Series Heavyweight Mixed Media Pads are now available on Amazon!