Andre Jute: Early morning mist over the Bay of Quinte, watercolour and gouache

A year or three ago John Saxon, a chum from the Thorn cycling forum, published a photo of the backyard of his friends from just over the mountain where I was born, the mountain separating the two towns strikingly prominent in his photo. I promised to paint the scene but, when eventually I finished the painting, it was wretched, not fit for consumption by man or beast. If you think I’m joking, even my cat sneered at it. I’ve earned my living in the arts for too long to be sensitive to the vagaries of critics and, having been a critic myself, am only too familiar with the constant struggle to keep criticism pure from contamination by external considerations. But my cat keeps my knees warm in the winter, which no critic has yet offered to do, so I pay close attention to her opinion. Between my cat and I we buried that painting.

All the same, not wanting to offer John an explanation that starts, “My cat and I…” in the tones of Her Majesty’s Yule tidings from herself and her Corgis, I was glad when he published another inspiring photograph, albeit from another hemisphere and a different continent.

John’s first photo and my discarded painting are of the Karroo at Prince Albert in South Africa, the Karroo being a semi-desert area though John’s friends live in a charming green spot on a river. John’s second photograph is of the Bay of Quinte in Ontario, Canada, an entirely different milieu. Not that either painting is representational, because I can’t be bothered with those when a superior camera fits in your shirt pocket and adds only a few grammes to your cycling paraphernalia.

As you can see, it’s the inspiration that counts, with the two images serendipitously influencing the final outcome.

Andre Jute: Early morning mist over Bay of Quinte, watercolour and gouache on grey Ingres paper, A4, 2017
Andre Jute: Early morning mist over Bay of Quinte, watercolour and gouache on grey Ingres paper, A4, 2017

For the painters and sketchers reading this, a few technical notes:

The paper is Fabriano’s Tiziano, which has a substantial cotton content but is all the same intended for pastel work. I don’t work in pastels often but I like this 160gsm paper for binding sketchbooks because you get in quite a few pages without making the book too clumsily thick and heavy, and it lends itself to watercolor work by flattening well after moderate buckling. Water media in some form or another accounts for possibly three-quarters of what I do in my custom sketchbooks so paper which buckles permanently under water is papyrus non grata.

Though I generally don’t do a pencil sketch before I start work with the brush, in this instance the division of the area into large blocks was so critical to the outcome that I made a rough pencil division. The 5.6mm clutch pencil I used belongs to a small pen and pencil kit carried with A6 (say 6x4in) sketchbooks; it is a Koh-i-Noor 5311, a recreation of a vintage clutch pencil. It’s a favorite of mine though my brush cases each includes a perfectly good 2mm clutch pencil.

The palette chosen consisted of the watercolors Cerulean Blue PB35, Ultramarine Finest PB29, Perylene Green PBk31, Dioxazine Violet PV23, the latter two for the mixes to a greenish near-black since I don’t normally have a “real” black in most of my go-to paint boxes, plus the gouache Permanent White PW6, all from Winsor & Newton except the Ultramarine which is from Schmincke. You can see the sort of palette that I choose from in the photo of the box of paints after I’d already taken out the gouache white, as that one was obvious.

Here the gouache white lies on the brush case for this size of watercolor with the first obvious brush already taken out of the elastic. Generally speaking, I usually manage to complete any A4/Imperial Octavo (11×7.5in) painting or smaller with one to infrequently as many as five brushes selected only from this case.

The brushes selected consisted of a cheap supermarket synthetic for mixing paints and scrubbing on the surface if required (not required, in this instance done by local blotting with a folded sheet of kitchen roll, included on far right of photo, and overpainting by gouache, but you never know when you need a scrubber), a 5/8″ Handover Kolinsky Sable Oval Wash brush with a keen edge with which I did the main work, including some dry brushing that may appear to have been done by the specialty brushes mentioned next, a Red Sable Fan branded by Jackson’s, my London art materials pushers, and for painting the grasses and leaves a Taklon Filbert Comb from Royal’s Soft Grip line, from which line of several series I have quite a few brushes in various sizes and shapes.

Andre Jute is a novelist and painter — and a cyclist — who lives in West Cork.

Come Join my Tea Party: Tinting your own Art Paper with — wait for it! — Tea.

As I pointed out the other day when I described the genesis and construction of my Unsewn, Unstapled Sliding Quarter-Imperial 100% Cotton Embossed Leather Multimedia Sketchbook, most sketchbooks you can buy are rubbish by lowest common denominator makers for lowest common denominator consumer units.

andre_jute_sketchbooksThe Greek watercolorist Marialena Sarris says it is no accident that so many artists take the time to make their own custom sketchbooks. She’s right. That is certainly my experience. At the right is a very small selection of the sketchbooks, custom-made and bought, that I use. The two alrounders in sight are both my custom concoctions. The paper in bought books is always too lightweight and of too low a quality to satisfy for long, and in the few books which have first class paper, the binding is a barrier to employing the book satisfactorily.

These problems multiply themselves when the poor bewildered artist wants a multimedia sketchbook in which to work with both wet and dry media.

andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_cold_press2_800pxwBut if you think finding a white sketchbook is a pain, try finding a tinted paper (never mind a book!) that won’t disintegrate, or, if it remains together, buckle, then curl up and die, the moment it you bring a wet brush near it.

Ironically, one of the better colored papers available is the lightweight (160gsm) pastel paper from Canson, Mi Teintes, not because it loves water so much but because somehow, after buckling quite frighteningly at the application of water, it can be pressed acceptably flat again.

Even more ironically, the only good watercolour paper commonly available in tints is the student grade non-cotton Bockingford paper. Though Bockingford is archival and highly regarded well beyond academia, the tints are aimed at printing wedding invitations and stationary for genteel ladies, and too limp by far for my sort of slash and dash work with high strong colors.

So what can you do if you must absolutely have tinted paper of a certain quality, in my case 300gr 100% cotton in at least two finishes, NOT and Hot Press?

It ain’t rocket science. You can tint your preferred paper with an absolute minimum of equipment, all of which you probably saw the last time you were in your bathroom and your kitchen. The tinting materials are probably standing on your kitchen shelves too.

andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_11x15in_800pxwYour tinting substance must bond with the cotton paper, or whatever paper you’re tinting, and once dry must not wash out. It must not be acid, because acid destroys the paper rather shortly; vinegar and lemon are not wanted. It must not rot in the paper; pink mayonnaise won’t do it! It must not cause the paper to yellow over time. It must dissolve in water, or mix with it, or otherwise color the water so as to tint the paper, because the water will be your medium to carry the tint into the paper. The most common sunstance found in most kitchens which meets all these requirement is tea. Spices, used for cooking, may also work, but if you’re helping yourself in a kitchen that is not your domain, you’d better ask your better half before you grab the saffron or turmeric because many spices are pricey and difficult to get.

For tools you need a basin or bowl or tray a bit bigger than the paper you want to tint because you need to soak the paper in the colored water, another flat tray to dry a sheet of paper in, and a new kitchen sponge, and away you go. For the drying part, a clean, smooth, flat table or kitchen counter will do as well. You don’t need a stretching board: the weight of the paper and the water in it will flatten it very effectively against a smooth surface.

You gotta get the right tea, of course, especially if you’re a man, otherwise you won’t sound like an expert. I suppose that even Earl Grey, whose still paler bergamot cousin Lady Grey I drink with extra lime and honey, will tint paper a delicate yellow, or something.

But I already knew I wanted a dusty tan, strong but not too dark, for working on with sepia ink and a special, very beautiful amber ink I made for washes with the sepia, oil pencils but especially sanguine oil, earth-based water colors — everything you would use for that faux vintage look, both wet and dry. For this the right tea is the commando’s favorite, Red Bush, which I drink when I can’t be bothered to make a pot of something fancier.

The advantage of tea is that the tint is easily adjustable. I put two Red Bush teabags (Lidl house brand, whatever that is) in a half liter of hot water in a glass jug so I could check the color. White plastic also works. After a while I adjusted the color to slightly redder by adding an infusion of cherry tea that I was brewing up separately because I found it in a cupboard and wanted to see whether it was indeed a red tea. (It is brownish with a red cast; it might tint paper a dusty pink if I ever need a dusty pink…) You can probably also use green Chinese tea but I didn’t find any and it was too late to call the takeaway to deliver some. I went with what I had.

I worked in my bathroom because it has a full-length bath to contain the mess. Depending on how good your relationship with the housekeeper is, you might want to start work on quarter-sheets and leave the mess-making size of full imperial sheets (22.30in) until you have learned how to handle the wet paper without spraying tea-stained drops everywhere.


First pour the tea concentrate in the soaking bowl or basin or tray or whatever. You need just enough to float a sheet of paper. Add water to your concentrate to get the right amount of water, or the right depth of colour. My actual tinting solution was more the color in the photograph below than the one above.

In diluting the colour with water, you should keep in mind that a 300gsm sheet will have to lie in the water at least 20 minutes to be thorough soaked so it will dry flat, and a 630gsm sheet of paper had better be in there a minimum of one hour. These factors influence how dark a mixture you want to start with.

You may wish to experiment first with a small offcut of paper and a stopwatch. I didn’t bother with poncey nonsense like that.

Put the sheet of paper in the soaking dish. Use the sponge rather than your fingers to push it so water washes over it. Now leave it alone. Don’t fiddle with it or you’ll put fingermarks on it.

Depending on the strength of your mixture and the tint you want, you may wish to leave the paper in the tinting solution longer than the minimum time to soak its particular thickness thoroughly, as required for flattening it again. However, you should not leave it in the water so long that it disintegrates, or that sizing is altogether washed out, or that the surface is destroyed. Forty minutes to an hour may well be a maximum for most weights papers if you are not to run the risk of losing all the sizing in the paper, and thus alter its handling qualities, perhaps adversely.


When the paper has taken on the tint you want, take it out by the edges between the pads of your fingertips. Try not to put nailmarks into the paper; be sure to take off rings; best to use tongs such as you can buy at photographic stores for darkroom use to handle the paper.

Wave the paper very gently so that the water rolls off it, then place it flat on the drying tray or table. Press it gently, rather than wiping it, with the sponge. Resist the temptation to lift up a corner to see; the back of the sheet is definitely the same color as the front. Don’t put it in front of a heater. I left my entire apparatus in the bathroom, which is generally a warm room, but the bath is at least eight feet from the heater.

The paper should be dry in about 24 hours. You know it is dry when a corner pops loose from the tray or table and raises itself only a little way. A dry sheet will slide on the surface of the tray easily.

You can now reuse the tinting water for the next sheet. Different base papers (Arches Aquarelle, Fabriano Artistico, Saunders Waterford) are different colors and will tint differently not only according to their base colors but according to the manufaturing treatment, especially the various applications of sizing (in the vat so it goes inside, on the surface, both), and even within brands between the different-textured surfaces of the paper, Hot Press or NOT.

The paper shown below, as bought and tinted, is Fabriano Artistico 100% cotton 300gr. The soaking time was the full two hours, and the surface of the paper is bit rougher than when I started. I like this particular tint very much, especially considering that I had something very much like it in mind when I bought the sepia ink I want to use on it, and made the amber ink I will use for shading.

The surface is still good for pen and wash work, but for the next sheet, in order to get the near enough the same appealing tint without even the minor chance of damage we have established with our first run, I will add more concentrate of tea tint, and make the soaking exposure shorter.


I have stopwatches and timers, of course, no fewer than four to hand as I write this: in my flying watch on my arm, in my iPhone in my pocket, in the Mac on which I write this, and in my diving watch in a wooden box on my desk because I’m fitting a new rubber strap to it in hope of a summer.

But in this rough and ready tinting method, I don’t even try for a perfectly consistent tint across the several pages I make. If I like the tint, it is right, regardless of whether it precisely matches any page I made previously on a color meter, which I haven’t even taken from the drawer. It is enough that the tint, whatever it is, is even across the quarter-sheet.

Pot luck and good luck suits me just fine. Try it, you too might like it.

There are three parts to this article:

Andre Jute’s Unsewn, Unstapled Sliding Quarter Imperial 100% Cotton Embossed Leather Multimedia Sketchbook

Simplified Instructions for Making Andre Jute’s Unsewn, Unstapled Sketchhbook

Tinting your own Art Paper with — wait for it! — Tea (you are on this part)

Andre Jute is a novelist and painter.

With thanks to Marialena Sarris for research and lots of constructive tips.

Copyright © 2015 Andre Jute




Simplified Instructions for Making Andre Jute’s Unsewn, Unstapled Sliding Quarter Imperial 100% Cotton Embossed Leather Multimedia Sketchbook

Alitogata wrote:Though I didn’t get exactly how you made it I think that it is perfect! ( and now I’m jealous and I want one of the same).  :)

Here’s a simplified description:

There are four components required to construct this sliding book:

1. Signatures of your preferred paper. The signatures are not sewn, stapled or glued, just folded spreads tipped in. Their height controls all the other measurements. You may also want some thin paper for protection interleaves.


2. A signature holder. I used hollow plastic strips from a magazine holder; they look like an elongated 0. You can make your own from a strip of stiff cardboard or plastic with slits or holes to guide a string for each signature. The string goes right over the paper, with about 5mm space top and bottom, not through the paper. The signature holder also is loose: it “floats” on the inner cover. The signatures are not any way attached to each other. The operation of this book depends on their independence.

3. An inner cover cut to the full height of the space inside the strings, i.e. taller than your signatures. This is used for both vertical positioning control and as a slider mechanism to let the book lie flat. It is fed through under all the strings but on top of the string holder. It is not fixed to anything at all. It is helpful if this inner cover is smooth card or film, but flexible. I in fact use two cards, one for the front and one for the back, overlapping at the signature holder, not fixed to each other, for extra-smooth operation, but a single sheet of card will probably do you.


4. An outer cover, slightly larger than the inner cover. This must on the inside have either a fixed flap on each side inside which the inner cover can slide, or a vertical strip under which the inner cover can slide. This sliding space must be the same height as the total height inside the strings on the signature holder, closely matched to the inner cover. The flap is good also for lateral control, but I found it unnecessary if the materials for the book are chosen right. Vertical control is essential, so match the height of the slide closely to the height of the inner cover. Nothing at all in the book is firmly attached to the cover by glue, sewing or staples.

5. Optional for those who want a hard cover. Two separate stiffeners to slide between the outer and inner covers, one at the front and one at the back.


1. The inner cover is slid under the signature retainer strings on top of the string spacer, so hiding most of it.

2. The inner cover ends are slid into the flaps or strips on the outer cover. Position the signature retainer in the middle.

3. Insert each signature under a string so that the string lies in the fold. Arrange the signatures to lie half to the left and half to the right so that you can see the spine is position correctly.


4. Test the efficacy your choice of material textures and weights, and the punctilio of your construction. Close the book. Clasp it lightly by the spine, hold with opening end downwards and shake. Repeat for the ends. If the paper remains inside the book, and the edge is as even as you can expect with such thick deckled edge paper, you’re done. Your book will lie flat, hold it’s position by friction and weight of paper, close correctly, stay closed, and every spread will be indivually removable and used as an uninterupted spread by simply taking it out and putting it on top of its signature. Try it. Paint something.

5. Optional for those who want hard covers, two stiffeners to fit loosely (unglued, unsewn, unstapled, eh?) between the inner and outer covers at the front and the back. You should not stiffen the spine because the signature retainer needs to take on various attitudes to make this book work as intended. However, 300gsm paper even in a stack a few sheets thick is already pretty stiff, and when you have a block like my big book, stiffeners in the cover are superfluous.

Good luck.

There are three parts to this article:

Andre Jute’s Unsewn, Unstapled Sliding Quarter Imperial 100% Cotton Embossed Leather Multimedia Sketchbook

Simplified Instructions for Making Andre Jute’s Unsewn, Unstapled Sketchhbook (you are on this part)

Tinting your own Art Paper with — wait for it! — Tea

Andre Jute is a novelist and painter.

Copyright © 2015 Andre Jute

Andre Jute’s Unsewn, Unstapled Sliding Quarter Imperial 100% Cotton Embossed Leather Multimedia Sketchbook

Most bought sketchbooks are adequate only to the most undiscriminating sketchers. In almost all cases the paper just isn’t good enough, too thin or too weak to take much water or rubbing out or handling. In a few cases where the paper is good quality cotton, the book is so tightly sewn it won’t lie flat, or difficult to handle because it is ringbound on the short side (landscape format); always something unsatisfactory.

andre_jute_sketchbooksThe solution is to make your own. I have several sketchbooks I’ve made myself in a variety of leather covers, in various sizes up to A5, roughly 8×6. Those are all intended to go outside with me and the smaller ones are routinely popped in my pockets in case I see something I want to sketch.

andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_32sh_300gsm_all_cotton_800pxwBut for my desk I wanted something larger, say up to quarter imperial size, 15×11 inches. It would be useful if the same book handled 11×7.5in, octavo or one-eight imperial size, as I generally don’t have a lot of time and like finishing a sketch in one or at most two goes at it.

The large oxblood item is a custom-made Italian cover of embossed semi-soft leather, lined in silk for reasons that will soon become obvious. Open it measures 19in by 12.25in, edge to edge.

The next task after obtaining a suitable cover is to rip the 100% cotton paper and these are the tools I used: a blunted heavyweight stainless steel scalloped carving knife, bought at the charity shop for pennies, to give my sheets that vintage deckle edge; and a good quality bone folder, lying on the cover.andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_ripping_800pxw

Note that there’s no ruler. The paper is used as its own measure. You simply fold the sheet lengthways in half, flatten the edge with two runs of the bone folder in opposite directions, then rip it along the fold with the knife. You can get a larger deckle by hold the paper down with the blade of the knife, one hand on the blade and using the other hand to tear the paper against the scallops on the knife, but this risks ruining the sheet if you don’t do it right; 300gsm paper can be amazingly obstructive, especially if you’re tearing it against the grain. Then fold one long strip to 2mm short of half, and the other to 4mm short of half, and rip again.

andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_veritcal_fix_800pxwOnce the paper is ripped to near enough quarter sheets of 15x11in, they are folded to 11×7.5in, and signatures of 4 folds, eight pages are made up, the shorter spreads going to the inside in decreasing order, so that the edge of the book can be relatively even. You can staple or sew the signatures into a book; search for instructions on the net. My method is different. I like sketchbooks where all pages lie flat, and where any page in a signature can be pulled out and put in the middle to use as a spread. That requires some innovative thinking.

andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_construction_800pxwMy big sketchbook has no staples, no sewing, no glue, no pegs, no metal clasps, nothing. Instead all the signatures are hung on plastic strips from partwork covers (you could use twine strung on a piece of cardboard instead) and held together by the natural friction of cotton paper. It lies flat when open by the very slight slack in the plastic strips I used as retainers and by sliding against the silk lining of the casing. andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_11x15in_800pxwNote that, unlike in traditional bookbinding, there is no connection whatsoever between the signatures, nor between the signatures and the cover. The red card in the second photo above that appears to be a cover is instead a mechanism for fixing the book vertically by running through the plastic strips and the inside retainers of the leather cover at full height. There are separate front and rear cover cards and they overlap in the plastic strips but are not glued to each other, to the plastic strips, or to the cover. andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_32sh_300gsm_800pxwThe whole affair slides with a little stiction, and that with the good design is enough to hold it together. Furthermore, it opens perfectly flat, at any page or spread, though this assembly method makes working across pages irrelevant because every sheet can be removed and used as a spread by simply putting it on top of the signature to which it belongs.

andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_cold_press_800pxwThis particular version of  my Sliding Quarter Imperial Multimedia Sketchbook was built with one sheet each of Fabriano Artistico NOT  and Hot Press, and one sheet each of Saunders Waterford NOT and Hot Press, all of it 300gsm 100% cotton paper. I also had sheets of Arches NOT and HP standing by but the book was getting a bit thick already. Weight doesn’t matter too much in a tabletop sketchbook, but all the same it needs to be at least briefcase portable  for big adventures, and mustn’t be so heavy that you contemplate moving it without enthusiasm.

andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_cold_press2_800pxwIt contains 16 spreads (counting one side only) of quarter imperial sheet size, or 32 sheets (counting one side only) of 11×7.5in. 32 sheets/64pp of 300gsm cotton paper makes a book that with covers is an inch thick at the opening end and thicker at the spine. Between the thick paper, the stiff card for vertical control, and the silk-lined leather cover, it still weighs less than the two pounds which was my target.  That’s not excessive for such a large, thick, versatile book of novel construction.

andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_hot_press_paper_800pxwAll the paper will handle wet media like watercolours, pen and ink, etc, and the Hot Press papers will take considerable rubbing out and other handling in charcoal or pencil work. There are thin protective sheets at the back to be slipped between pages that shouldn’t rub, plus bond paper to soak up excess water should I decide to go wild with lavis.

There are three parts to this article:

Andre Jute’s Unsewn, Unstapled Sliding Quarter Imperial 100% Cotton Embossed Leather Multimedia Sketchbook (you are on this part)

Simplified Instructions for Making Andre Jute’s Unsewn, Unstapled Sketchhbook

Tinting your own Art Paper with — wait for it! — Tea

Andre Jute is a novelist and painter.

Copyright © 2015 Andre Jute