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Brazil is not all about football

Just before Christmas last year ABBA approached the Vintage Paper Company for some samples of their Brazilian Calfskin Vellum for our members to test. Two of our experienced vellum water-colourists, Sandra Doyle and Gaynor Dickeson kindly agreed to review this product. Their experiences with the medium will be published in two sequential posts. Sandra starts with her post this week and Gaynor writes about her experience in two weeks time. We hope you enjoy the two posts, we certainly did. The company that has generously agreed to supply the vellum is Vintage Paper Company A retailer of heritage fine-art papers and bookbinding supplies located in Stromness, Orkney, U.K.

Details about the vellum they can supply can be found HERE.

The ABBA Team

Sandra Doyle - Painting on Vellum

The vellum arrived cockled, but flattened nicely after pressing between watercolour paper, blotting paper and a pile of heavy books.

White vellum:

I've not seen vellum as white as this before, so I think it would suit delicately pale subjects beautifully, however, as the idea was to test the vellum I chose to paint Holly because the dark shiny leaves and bright berries would stretch the vellum's ability to hold layers of paint and yet allow the lifting of paint in the shiny areas.

Figure 1. Vellum taped to board

I began painting in my usual way with the vellum lightly taped to a board (Figure 1) and a light abrading with pumice powder, but soon found it cockled badly. I think this was largely due to its uneven thickness.

As shown in Figure 2 this piece also had a transparent area (a) transparent veining (b), which gave the appearance of creases, and roughened patches (c). This photo was taken in an angled low light to show these areas more clearly.

Figure 2. Washed light to emphasise vellum surface.

I decided that I had no option but to mount it. This not only solved the cockling, but also any transparency as the watercolour paper below came through equally on the transparent and translucent areas. The small rough areas were avoided or incorporated into the gnarly part of the holly branch.

I used Fabriano Artistico between the vellum and the board on this occasion but think that had I been painting say a delicate pink flower, for instance, I would use a paper with optical brighteners, such as Fabriano 5.

The surface was really beautiful to work on. It is very smooth, ideal for fine lines and details, allows layers of watercolour to be built up without disturbing those below, and yet allows the paint to be easily lifted off if necessary. There was also no sign of surface scratches or scrapes which I sometimes find to have occurred in the preparation of vellum as shown in the detailed image in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Detail of image on vellum surface.

Figure 4. The finished artwork.

Natural Vellum:

The natural vellum sample is evenly paper thin, less extreme in its cockling, but still required mounting. The surface properties seem to be the same as the white sample, presumably prepared in the same way. It doesn't show much in the way of veining but is marbled in creamy shades and covered in evenly spaced tiny brown dots where the hairs have been removed as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Magnified section showing surface texture.

I like to paint dried or woody subjects on natural vellum, so decided on the Sweet Chestnut Tree I have been visiting over the past year and this is shown in Figure 6


I have found that the surface accepts paint similarly to the white.

Figure 6. Sweet Chestnut study.


I love this vellum's surface to work on. I know that I have only tried two samples, but I suspect that each piece will have very individual properties, as is often the case with vellum, and will always require mounting.

I'm looking forward to acquiring another white piece to try those delicate pinks, we have a beautiful Almond Tree flowering nearby, but that is for another day...

Sandra Doyle

April, 2020

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