In several past demonstrations, I’ve mentioned using a ‘working mat assembly’ for colored pencil work. What I’m talking about is a lightweight, laptop drawing board on which I can work with a colored pencil project. I also use these supports to safely transport work and display it at shows or between sessions.
Over the years, I’ve collected a number of standard sizes, but they can also be built to size for non-standard projects.
This week, I want to show you how I build a laptop drawing board that is lightweight and stable.
3 sheets of corrugated cardboard
1 piece of mat board, uncut
1 piece of mat board with an opening
Tape, preferably packing tape
I salvage corrugated cardboard from incoming shipments of frames, mat board, painting supplies, and whatever other sources are available. For larger projects, I check with a furniture store or grocery store for discarded boxes.
Undamaged cardboard is best. A few scuffs and dings are acceptable, but stay away from pieces that are torn through or punctured.
You want three pieces of cardboard cut the same size as the outside dimensions of the mat you’ll be using around the art in progress. With a mat that has a 16×20 opening, the outside dimension may be 20×24.
So the first step is buying or cutting the mat. I often use discarded mats or buy standard sizes from Wal-Mart or other low-cost suppliers. Archival material is best and is recommended, but it’s not absolutely necessary for the drawing board, since exposure to art work will be limited.
Don’t cut the cardboard to include the flap unless there’s no way around it. Creases as shown above are acceptable, but make sure they are surface only. If you have to use a portion of flap, use that piece of cardboard in the middle when you assemble the drawing board.
Notice the corrugation on these three pieces doesn’t run the same direction. The top and bottom piece are cut with the ‘grain’. The middle piece is cut against the ‘grain’. Combining pieces with the corrugation in opposing directions provides the best possible strength with the least amount of weight possible. It doesn’t matter which is on top, but make sure the grain is alternating one piece to the next.
Make sure your cuts are straight and square. I use a large cutting board to cut materials to size. A straight edge and knife are also acceptable. You can also have a framer cut material for you.
The method of combining the pieces is personal preference. I like to tape across the corners with standard, heavy duty packing tape. This allows me to take the boards apart with minimal fuss if I need to.
My husband prefers hot glue. Lots of it. When he makes a shipping box with hot glue, it’s next to indestructible. It would make an excellent laptop drawing board, too, if the small amount of added weight and additional time in construction are not a factor for you.
Tape each of the corners as shown above, crossing the corner at a roughly 45-degree angle, then folding the tape over the opposite side. You can tape from front and back if you wish. I generally tape only from one side, but use a long enough piece of tape to have a couple inches overlapping the back along each side.
NOTE: Make certain the edges are lined up before you tape them.
When the pieces of cardboard are taped together, you’re ready for the mat board. This is your drawing surface, so use the smoothest mat board possible. I usually use the back side because it is firmer than the front. It resists impressions and scuffs much longer and is also usually the smoothest side.
If you don’t have mat board available, you can use a few sheets of heavy weight drawing paper. I’ve had suitable results with two or three sheets of 80 lb. drawing paper.
Whatever you use, you’ll want something thick enough to prevent the corrugation in the cardboard from showing up in your work. Place the drawing surface over the corrugated cardboard and tape it in place just as you did with the cardboard.
The final step is the mat through which you’ll view your work. The outside dimensions of the mat should be the same as the size of the cardboard and drawing surface for the best results.
The inside opening should be a little bit larger than the framed size of your project if you want the image to go all the way to the edge of the framed painting. You can also make the opening a little smaller than the final piece. If you do, the mat will create a margin of unused paper between the edge of the artwork and the framing mat for a unique and interesting framing treatment.
The mat also provides a place to rest your hand while working. If the laptop drawing board is very large, it is also a place to rest a bridge.
I don’t generally tape the mat to the laptop drawing board because I may want to remove it for photography or other purposes during the painting process.
Instead, I put a binder clip on both sides of each corner. If the laptop drawing board is very large, I may also put a binder clip in the center of the longest sides.
The Finished Product
This is the finished laptop drawing board with a drawing in place. As you can see, using the mat over the drawing allows you to check composition before transferring the drawing.
This laptop drawing board is 22×28 outside dimensions. The mat is 2″ wide, so the working area is 18×24.
It took 45 minutes to cut the cardboard, prepare the mat board I used for the drawing surface and assemble the laptop drawing board. Part of that was photographing the process, so 35 to 40 minutes in actual assembly.
The laptop drawing board weighs less than a pound and is solid enough to work across my lap in my favorite chair or at a horse show.
Speaking of traveling…. You can cut a second piece of mat board to the same outside dimensions, clamp it over the laptop drawing board with the working mat in between, and have suitable, lightweight protection for your work in progress while traveling or for storage.
If your work ends up in storage, make sure to use archival mat board under and over the artwork for best results.