Podcast 10: Long live paper!

I love paper. Thick, thin, smooth, chunky, and in this episode I share my passion for all its many wondrous forms.

Episode available here.  Please listen and let me know what you think. And please subscribe on your favorite podcast app and leave a pleasant and encouraging review.

Mentioned in this episode:

Complete transcript of episode:


DANNY: Welcome to art for all, the Sketchbook Skool podcast. I’m your host Danny Gregory.  Each week I bring you stories, ideas, interviews and inspiration to keep you company while you work on your own creative project.  Whether you are drawing, tattooing, editing a film, throwing a pot, knitting a scarf or baking a tart, I hope this episode inspires you. That’s our mission at Sketchbook Skool, to help encourage art for all. Including you, of course.

We are about to embark on a very exciting new kourse called “Watercolor Rules! And how to break them!” and we have spent the past few months of production thinking not just about water and color and rules but also about paper. Each of the teachers in this kourse has a different sort of favorite watercolor paper and it’s so interesting to see them discuss and demonstrate their choices. You’ll see what I mean on September 17 when the klasses begins.  Assuming of course that you have already signed up at sketchbook dot school.

Watercolor paper, hot pressed, cold pressed, deckled and blanket thick all the way up to a chunky 300 grams, well, it’s one of the loveliest sorts of paper and I am just a huge paper addict.  So I thought thought I’d spend this week’s episode rhapsodizing about paper in its many forms. Paper is so wonderful, so rich with uses and associations so I want to revel in it, wrap myself in paper, and talk about as many aspects of it as I can muster. I find that most creative people appreciate paper so I hope you’ll tolerate my waxing poetic on the subject  And besides it’s my birthday, so please indulge me. That will be my favorite gift.

What I think I’ll do for this episode is just deal out ideas, like so many crisp index cards, a diverse deck of thoughts and facts and observations about paper in all its forms. It’ll be a little random but we might spark some interesting connections in the process.

Here goes.

[SFX: Turning pages]

My mum taught me to appreciate paper early.

To riffle through blank journals and pinch the sheets between my finger pads.

To consider pulp and fiber.

To notice how a pen flows smoothly here while it bucks and protests there.

Since, I’ve met and felt quite intensely about so many different papers.

French toilet paper – crisp, waxy, impractically non-absorbent and harsh.

Little Italy deli sandwiches wrapped in thick white paper, once, sliced in half, then wrapped again.

At nine, I cut my finger in class and the teacher bound it tightly in green crepe paper, which, as I watched in horror, turned black with my blood.

Fibrous, mud-colored hand towels in bus station bathrooms.

Huge steel drawers of paper samples, gliding open on ball bearings  to reveal large $80 sheets of marbleized paper with deckle edges, hand-made in Brazil.

It’s not very hygienic, but I love when people lick their fingers tip to turn the page of a newspaper or book.  It’s an old person thing apparently, your fingertips get drier as you age and need some help to grip the paper. One more thing to look forward to.

SFX: cutting

That’s a lovely sound isn’t it? Heavy paper being cut with sharp scissors. It reminds me of grade school teachers.

SFX: More cutting

I remember buying paper from the school supply shop when I was a small boy at Canberra Grammar School.  That’s when I first learned the differences between quarto and foolscap.

25 sheets of paper were called a quire, twenty quires made  a ream which is 500 sheets, 2 reams make a bundle and 5 bundles made a bale. That’s 5000 sheets of paper.

We would often buy big solid sheets of lined paper, to write term papers on, folded once to make four pages, and the clerk would slip the individual sheets into brown paper bags which seemed a little redundant.

I loved composition books with that strange sponged ink design on the cover. 80 pages sewed in the middle gutter. I filled so many of them with math problems, handwriting exercises, and stories of knights and their dogs.

Then there were loose leaf binders and reinforcement rings which I would lick and stick on each hole.  There was a huge excitement in the more studious corners of the schoo ll library when the first pre-adhesive rings came out,What an innovation! Long rolls of blue waxed paper studded with sticky, peelable white circles. There’s no love like a young boy’s love of stationary.

In college we had special blue exam booklets, and I loved filling an entire 24-page book with evidence of my nerdiness and dreadful handwriting.

SFX: Crumpled paper

That’s the sound of work. Of creativity . Of editing, of frustration,. A false start become an opportunity to test your basketball shot into the waste paper basket.

I like that set of words too: waste paper basket. So much nicer than trash can.

How big is a sheet of paper, how long is a piece of string?

There’s a whole language and vocabulary around the sizes of paper.

For instance, a sheet of paper that’s 25 inches by 20 is called ‘royal’. Fold that paper in half, then han half again and then a third time and you get eight sheets and they’re called ’octavo’.

Other dvisions are called folio, quarto, sexto, duodecimo, sextodeximo. That’s 32 pages made up out of that one big royal sheet.

But then there are British and American systems to identify paper sizes and proportions too. The Imperial system starts with the emperor which is 4 feet by 6 feet. Cut it down and it successively becomes antiquarian, grand eagle, double elephant, atlas, colombier, and so on all the way down to broadsheet, pinched post, brief and pott with two ts.  

The French, being french, have their own system which goes from univers to grande monde, cavalier, coquille all the way down to tellier and cloche.  A lot of these size have special purposes too, Like Telliére which was used in old French bureaucratic documents or Robért which is reserved for anatomical drawings. Maybe this was named after Robért Ross, they guy we call  Bob Ross.

The Germans came up with the international paper size standard, the ISO 216,  which is numbingly mathematical. It’s based on a single aspect ratio of the square root of 2. Instead of just folding bits of paper in half, they use a formula which defines an A0 piece of paper as the fourth square root of 2 times one over the fourth square root of 2. In other words, 841 by 1,189 millimetres. Under this system, paper goes from A1 to C10 with various sizes and proportions, each having a precise geometric formula. I’m sure it’s terribly clever and precise but I prefer the whole business of double elephants and grand eagles, don’t you?

Speaking of business, business cards are a uniform size and proportion everywhere but in the US, Japan and, for some reason, Hungary.

I did some research into why we prefer 81/2 by 11 sheets of paper but the history is fuzzy.  I read somewhere that 11-inch length of the page is about a quarter of “the average maximum stretch of an experienced vatman’s arms.” in other words the men who pull sheets of paper out of the pulping vat as they are made.  I like that sort of organic approximation rather than the fourth root of two.

SFX: paper being torn from spiral binding.

I am very persnickety about the paper in my sketchbooks and that’s a taste that changes.  Smooth, hot press, rough cold press. 60 lb 100 lb. 300 lb. bright white, ivory, brown, black. SPiral bound, perfect bound. Landscape, portrait. SO many choices to meet my many moods.

That’s another reason why I am really looking forward to Sketchkon in Pasadena California this November 2nd through 4th .  It’s our first convention of people who love to draw and paint and I just can’t wait to be with hundreds and hundreds of other people who appreciate paper too.

Besides all the attendees and life models and the dozens of artists who will be giving presentations, there will also be experts from the greatest manufacturers of art supplies to advise us and demonstrate how to properly us the magical things they make.

There will be people from Hahnemühle who is our official sketchbook  sponsor They’ve been making paper for artists since 1584. They make specialized paper for painters, graphic artists, illustrators, bookbinders, photographers and printmakers and I can’t wait to learn more from them.

There will also be experts from Crescent who will demonstrate a new type of paper called RENDR which is the first paper that won’t show through when you use ink or paint or even heavy markers.  If you’ve ever had the experience of ruining a drawing when your marker bled through from the next page, you will want top see how this paper works in pads and sketchbooks. It’s really a godsend.

There will also be all sorts of companies who make the stuff we use on paper. Like Derwent who have been making coloured pencil since 1838. And Daler Rowney who are our  Official Marker & Ink Sponsor

And if you are excited about taking Watercolor Rules and how to break them when it starts in a couple of weeks, you’re also looking forward to meeting the folks from Winsor & Newton who will be the Official Color Sponsor of SketchKon. They’ll be bringing watercolor sets and and markers and more.  And Like all out sponsors,they’ll be giving free samples galore to all attendees. Zebra pens will be showing us some new line sof pens. Legion Paper will tell us about their beautiful sketchbooks. General Pencil will tell us about their fantastic products and Blick ARt Materials will be building an art supply store full of goodies right on the floor of the convention.

If you are an art supply fanatic like I am, these companies are another reason to come to Pasadena in November.  If you want to know a lot of other reasons, get over to Sketchkon.com (that’s Kon with a K) and sign up. We only have a few tickets left and they are going fast.


I love

Small edition books in slipcovers with cream-colored papers printed with cadmium red initial caps and black, debossed, letter-set type.

The lox-colored pages of the Financial Times.

Reading a glossy magazine on a hot day and discovering the ink has transferred to your moist hands , leaving a ghost on the page

Blotter paper, sucking up mistakes.

Crumbling pages of an ancient novel, its acidic yellow paper brittle and foxing

The word “foxing”. I love that too.

Oyster pails, the official name of those chinese takeout containers,

Manchettes those frilly paper collars you find on  the end of lamb chops

Pizza boxes.

Teabags. Square. Round. With and without strings. My favorite beverage passing through my favorite material.  But I don’t like cold, wet tea bags, like abandoned murder victims, slimy and disappointed that their glory is past. Too excremental.

Speaking of, toilet paper — the chinese invented it in the 6th century, just like the tea bag . Paper towels, they’re American, of course. Sanitary pads. Tissues. Kleenex. Diapers.

And on a more civilized side, paper doilies under cream cakes and cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

Lengths of butcher paper spooling off foot-thick rolls bolted to the counter in a steel frame, then ripped crisply along a bladed edge to be bound with unfurling skeins of red and white twisted twine.

A dental bib with its little necklace of steel balls and alligator clips, its dimpled paper absorbing my blood, spit and fear.

Heavy vellum that takes soft lead like a dream, then smudges posterity.

Sculpted papers at an artisanal paper mill, tectonic layers thick as egg cartons.

Juicy, creamy, thick stationery, too good to use.

Carbon copies on onion skin paper, paperclipped by brilliantined clerks in steel-rimmed spectacles, long dead.

Cartridge paper.  Hard, tough, used to pack shotgun shells. Cart-ridge paper. As crisp as what it describes.

Silk-screened poodles on pre-war wallpaper.

Foot-thick stacks of tissue paper on a store counter — enfolding plates, glasses, lingerie —  soft as carnation petals.

The dehumanizing grip of a paper-covered examination table sticking to my clammy buttocks.

Gridded, oily pages of a cheap, composition book. Made in China.

Toothpick-thin strips of heavy stock for sampling essential oils at the perfumery.

Distant newspapers, packed with an ebay purchase, stale with old cigarette smoke from far away.

Paper wedding anniversaries

Paper straws that gum up and collapse under vigorous sucking. Now they might be making a comeback, replacing their plastic cousins, enemies of the environment.

Spit balls masticated by 4th-grade, 3rd-rate goons.


My grandmother at her desk, shredding old accounts payable into confetti with her aluminum ruler.

The savage shock of a paper cut.

Bond. Hot pressed bond.

The sinful indulgence of any paper over 300 lbs.

Architects’ amber tracing paper ripped from rolls screwed to the drafting table, soon spidery with the lines of 6H mechanical lead and Rapidograph ink.

Drawing after dinner on paper restaurant tablecloths with a roller ball pen.

Collecting shirt cardboard for some eventual, unknown use.

Paper airplanes that only occasionally, shockingly fly where you aim them.

Old banknotes, greasy, soft and worn, with a sweet organic smell.

Gift wrap with a slight ribbed texture that creases like a razor’s edge to wrap around a box.

My ancient Ceylonese prayer book, its cover made of Bamboo slats, its pages slices of banana leaves filled with spidery Sanskrit script.

A fortune-telling paper fish that flops around in your palm to reveals your destiny,

  Kraft paper which is spelled with a ‘k’, and isn’t just for crafts. It’s paper made by the kraft process which is German for ‘strength’ and it pulps wood’s long fibres into strong, course paper for grocery bags and flower and candy wrappers and cement sacks. Krafty.


Our  houses are built with paper:

  • Wallpaper.
  • Sheet rock or gypsum board which is basically a plaster sandwich wrapped in a paper.
  • Sandpaper
  • Architects blueprint printed out on light sensitive paper
  • Paper is used in all the electric bits of the house because it’s a great insulator. Oddly it’s called fishpaper


Paper is where information is stored. SUre, there are those dang fangled computery things but paper makes up all the books and magazines and newspapers and zines and diaries and journals and sketchbooks and logbooks and diplomas and exam booklets and report cards and driver licenses and legal documents and registration papers and instruction sheets and user manuals — all those vital things we’ve been accumulating since the dawn of time.


Show me your papers!

Travel is full of paper. Boarding passses, train tickets, passports, baggage claim stubs, ridged passport pages, festooned with mysterious tracery to preserve my identity so much more securely than warehouses full of buzzing computer servers.Maps, hotel bills, B & B guest books, guidebooks, receipts. It’s a paper trail from home to the four corners of the world.


Immortal paper morphing from Love letters to refrigerator boxes to cat magazines to dental picks to gift wrap to parking tickets to baby wipes, refolding and crumpling to the end of time.

A magical fact I learned at eight: any sheet of paper, no matter how big, can only be folded in half and then again eight successive times. EIght and no more.  It’s a law of physics. Try to break it.

Filigranology. That’s the study of watermarks.

Folding a paper towel into a triangle when the coffee filters run out.

Ancient printers wearing hats of folded newspaper.

The heady smell of musty, rare books. The sweetest perfume.

Crinkly, stretchy crepe paper. Soak it and you can dye Easter eggs.

Paper balls lurking in the toes of new shoes.

Kids’ papier måche over withering balloons.

Lottery tickets, fractioned over and again, in the Treasure of Sierra Madre.

Construction paper on classroom walls and refrigerator art exhibits. Then into storage boxes when the artist goes to college.

Fish and chips in a vinegary newsprint cone.

The grimness of cheap motel glasses wrapped and sanitized for my protection. The matching paper belt encircling the toilet seat.

The surefire excitement of florist paper, encircling roses.

Ripping open a fresh 8 1/2 by 11 brick of copy paper to feed the printer.

The corpse of a forgotten note to self, transformed and illegible in the pocket of freshly laundered jeans.

The trembling promise and snowy expanse of a virgin sketchbook.


Is paper dead?

This week the  venerable, counter-culture newspaper, the Village Voice went out of business. The paper … folded. Actually it hasn’t been printed on paper for a year but now the website’s gone too. It’s a sad trend. No one seems to read newspapers and magazines any more. All the newsstands in my neighborhood have been turned into Verizon stores.

No one writes letters or sends postcards. Postage stamps and envelopes and stationary and greeting cards and checkbooks and passbooks are all on the wane. Books have been replaced by the Kindle. PDFs have replaced conference reports. File cabinets have gone the way of the buggy whip. Kids don’t doodle in the margins of their textbooks anymore because they all have Chromebooks and iPads.

Thanks to all the marijuana legalization, maybe the rolling paper business is booming.

There may not be any newspapers left to carry its own obituary but I am pretty sure that  the rumors of the death of paper are very exaggerated.

Long live paper!


Well, thanks for joining me on this odd odyssey. It looked like a good idea on paper and I hope it translated into your eardrums while you worked on your own creative project.

I also hope you and your watercolor sketchbook will be joining me and Koosje and Ian Sidaway and Ian Fennelly and August Wren and Inma Serrano in our new kourse Watercolor Rules and how to break them. You can find out more at Sketchbook.school.

And of course I hope you’ll think about coming to Sketchkon in Pasadena this November.  It will be pretty amazing and full of opportunities to learn more ways to work with paper.

If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave us a nice review.  And if you have any questions or comments, please email me at danny@sketchbookskool.com. Until next time, this is art for all from Sketchbook Skool and I’m your humble paper pusher, Danny Gregory.



4 thoughts on “Podcast 10: Long live paper!”

  1. My wife, Aleesha Sattva, was listening to your podcast and my ears perked up when you mentioned the mathematical basis behind the A0 size of paper. Being someone who’s focused on math, and who also writes a blog (albeit math-focused), I wrote a quick post on how to calculate the sizes of the sides of the paper. I quoted you and linked your blog and podcast into my post: https://mathfact-orials.blogspot.com/2018/09/algebra-rectangle-area-and-side-ratios.html


  2. Lovely post Dany about Paper and everything you’d want to know about it and more! I loved your description of words about paper as we cannot see it of course in a podcast. I loved the sound effects though as I had flashbacks of wastepaper baskets and cutting colored paper in school. I am a huge paper lover myself so it was a great listen. Love the idea of painting while listening. Must try that! Happy Saturday! I am joining Watercolor Rules! And I cannot wait!


  3. Lovely post Danny about Paper and everything you’d want to know about it and more! I loved your description of words about paper as we cannot see it of course in a podcast. I loved the sound effects though as I had flashbacks of wastepaper baskets and cutting colored paper in school. I am a huge paper lover myself so it was a great listen. Love the idea of painting while listening. Must try that! Happy Saturday! I am joining Watercolor Rules! And I cannot wait!


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