27 May 2009

what has happened to arches?

yes, what has happened to arches papers? i thought my occasional bad experiences with their 600gsm sheets (specifically the double elephant or 29" x 41" sheets) were just luck of the half irish. what kind of bad experiences? how about a tuft of what appeared to be lint mixed with human hair stuck in the middle of the sheet, buried in the pulp, that had to be carefully trimmed down to the surface? or, in another sheet, a patch of denser pulp that repelled paint even when the patch was scraped slightly and scrubbed with a brush as paint was applied.

then a painter i admire wrote me about problems *she* was having with arches sheets, problems she took to the manufacturer and to which Arches responded in a generous manner. but one off gestures to repair the relationship with the artist do not get at the underlying problems with the paper.

case in point: the 29" x 41" figure nude of sienna, which i had to abandon because of inexplicable blotching across her ... well, across the part of the image that i could not disguise with texture, pattern, dark values or strong color contrasts.

i know how to store and handle papers; i wash my hands before handling papers, and i do not bruise or abrade papers accidentally or on purpose. these blotches get darker grossly darker when the paper is wet, implying the flaw is in the pulp.

the companion painting disclosed a different flaw -- a small cluster or spray of white dots, each about 1mm in diameter, covering an irregular, elongated area about 6 cm/sq. these dots, whatever they are, repel paint and cannot be worn down or lifted by judicious scraping with an xacto knife. they appear in a mid valued area where i can probably disguise them with texture.

i am a habitual user of Arches watercolor blocks, both the 300gsm and 600gsm sheets, and in general the 300gsm (140 lb.) blocks have a rock solid consistency. i recently purchased some 20 year old 300gsm blocks from an artist who wanted to offload her inventory, and the quality of the 300gsm sheets 20 years ago and today is indistinguishable.

in contrast, the 600gsm block sheets seem a little erratic to me; the surface in particular seems less finished and more unpredictable. so i have a conjecture: all the 600gsm weight papers are made in a separate line or at a separate manufactory, under separate or subsidiary management from the higher volume plants. if so, someone from Arches corporate (well, Arjo Wiggins or whoever owns them now) should drive out to that plant and do a quality and process review. something unhappy is happening to arches papers.

8 comments:

Jeanette said...

I agree, something is happening to Arches paper. I've had problems with a layer of the paper lifting when I removed masking fluid - something that's never happened to me before with this paper.

Nick said...

Too bad, a little higher and you could have covered it with a tramp stamp.
I've never had problems with paper that I can recall. I buy rolls of Arches or Fabriano, whatever's on sale. I know David Burge has had lots of problems such as you describe with Blue Lake - an otherwise wonderful paper - and has all but sworn it off.

ida said...

Hi Brucie - Glad to hear you're going public with this Arches issue. Friend of mine had the same problem (sample 1) four years ago on her fresh new paper. I rarely use Arches, but do have 20 year old 140# sheets. They feel so solid. I admire your color mixes, and thanks so much for sharing.
Ida

masmoulin said...

Hello,
Bruce I love this blog and all your big work in handprint.com
Best regards
Pierre alias masmoulin

Carol Carter said...

hi bruce.

yes.. i have had problem w arches. i continue to have problems.... using up my supply. the pulp seems more pithy/papery than before.. and lifts off when you scrub or scratch. it's almost like the paper is 'too soft'.!
have you heard from arches? i'd be curious as to what they say.

carol

Catherine said...

Hello Bruce,
We arrived to the same conclusion with some of my artists friends. I heard that the firm Canson owns Arches now.
If each disappointed artist writes to Arches, I hope the company will try to "rethink" its paper ...
Best regards,
Catherine (Belgium)

David Burge said...

As Nick said, I suffer my man at Blue Lake and still support him, I get 20 sheets a year of home grown paper, it has unique qualities, especially for portraiture.
The difference between Maurice at BL and Arches is that he's a one man band and been the maker of some magnificent stuff, and as it goes some absolute rubbish. I think the original product has disappeared beneath the layers of adjustments. Maybe no more blotches but a very different paper which doesn't have the poetry of the old circa 2002 version which was a real hand made product.
One would not expect a problem with the big 3 european manufacters though.

ej said...

I recently started using some of the sheets from a block of Arches 140 lb hot press. It wasn't until I held one up to the light near the window that I saw that it had the texture of linen or some other fairly fine fabric. I thought I had held up the underside but, no, same thing on both sides. Usually the hot press is beautifully smooth. I compared it to the paper from a previous block purchased about the same time (a couple years earlier) and the difference was obvious.

I know you'll shudder, but I'm going back to using Cartiera Magnani hot press, which is so smooth it's like working on bristol without the fragility. Wonderful stuff for the kind of work I do, and substantially lower cost than Arches.