White Paper is So Overrated
During my second year of teaching, I helped to open a new school. I was given a rather large budget in order to stock and supply an art room with both consumables and equipment. This was prior to the days of heavy social media usage, and I was not well-connected to other teachers of Art. I used my wits and spent most of the budget on large items like a kiln, potter’s wheel, easels, paper-cutter, scissors, lino cutters, etc. etc. It was actually very hard to spend all of that money (oh those glorious halcyon days!), but if I didn’t spend all of it by a specific date the funds would be allocated elsewhere. So, in the end, I defaulted to what I thought was practicality and bought a wide variety of white paper.
But, ugh, white paper is overrated.
It is as if we are taught that our default way of being and creating is to start off “white.” Consider, when someone says, “start with a blank slate” we often think of an empty sheet of white paper. But, uh, last I checked, slates are dark grey or green. There are some social discourses we could have about the fact our societal default setting seems to be white (ahem), but that is a discussion for another time. When we were little, we were given white paper on which to create. Colored paper was for cutting and gluing; not writing or drawing. And, yeah, I get that white paper might be the best for writing - what with contrast being important for legibility…But, why the heck as artists and creatives do we default to white? Well, it is probably because we remember that little sheet of white paper we were given as kids or the white paper of our coloring books.
One of the most asked questions I get is, “How do you get the kids to color so fully?” The short answer is that I trick them; I rarely use white paper. In Art school my professors (and yours too) made me use colored papers and conte crayons to draw. They taught me that I could use paper as a value AND that I could also use the paper to manipulate value. I got tired of my students doing (what I call) wimpy “social studies map coloring” in my Art class. It seemed to me that they were phoning-in when it came to coloring, and I was spending a ridiculous amount of time engaged in cajoling (and explaining to them) them to color more fully. So, I just thought to myself, “Enough! Enough with wasting this time. Let’s give the kids colored paper.”
So, I did. I still do. And, their work is so much stronger for it. I find them actually thinking about how the colors they put down will interact with the color of the paper. I often give them five to six different colored paper choices and I am fascinated with what they pick and how they pick it. It brings diversity to their work…And, yes, they do color more fully which lends their work a more sophisticated polish and finish.
Now, I order more colored paper than I do white paper. In fact, I ran out of white paper in November of the last school year and I never re-ordered it. I decided to see just how far we could push the colored paper. I haven’t yet found the boundary.
What about you? Do you use colored paper for drawing?