Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

Today’s question comes from Sally, who needs a few suggestions for restoring tooth to drawing paper that has gotten slick. Most of us have had to work with paper that got slick before we finished the drawing. Yes, even me!

Here’s Sally’s question.

What can you do for more tooth when you need to add more layers to blend the colors softer.

I am working on lightening up my hand, but after the layers, I blend with a colorless blender and there are times that the pencil gets waxy, and will not accept any blending colors to soften up the color changes.

I use the Prismacolor line and different papers, and just bought Strathmore Color Pencil paper and it doesn’t seem to hold any more than the Strathmore sketch or mixed media.

Is there any way to renew the tooth ???

Thank you, Sally

Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

Sally’s problem is common, especially for those of us who love softer, waxier colored pencils. It’s such a common problem that before I answer Sally’s question, I’d like to explain why the problem happens.

Why Drawing Paper Becomes Slick

The biggest reason for paper becoming slick is the accumulation of pigment and binding agent. Every colored pencil is made with a binding agent to hold the pigment in lead form. When you draw, you put pigment AND binding agent on the paper.

There is no way to get around this and still create art with colored pencils.

The more layers you do, the more pigment and binding agent works it’s way into the tooth of the paper. Pretty soon, all you have is the slick surface of color layers. All those layers bury the tooth.

All colored pencils contain wax in the binding agent. Wax-based pencils contain more wax than other ingredients, while oil-based pencils contain more oil than wax.

So the waxier your pencils, the more likely you’ll fill the tooth of the paper before you finish. That’s what’s happening to Sally.

Ways to Avoid Getting Slick Paper

It helps to know how to avoid getting slick paper before you finish a drawing. Sally mentioned one: working with a light hand. But that’s not the only way.

Switching to oil-based pencils or combining them with wax-based pencils is another way to avoid making slick paper. Binding agents that are primarily oil don’t clog up the tooth of the paper as much as wax-based binding agents. So whenever you use an oil-based pencil, you put less wax on the paper.

Less wax on the paper, less slickness.

Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

For those who don’t like the feel of oil-based pencils, try a toothier paper. The more texture the paper has, the more difficult it is to fill the tooth. You can layer more colors without making the paper slick.

Using colorless blenders sparingly is another way to avoid slick paper. Colorless blenders are essentially a pencil that’s nothing but binding agent. That’s why they blend so well.

But they also fill up the tooth of the paper very quickly.

Since most of us burnish when we use a colorless blender, we’re also crushing the tooth of the paper. Once the tooth has been crushed, restoring tooth is difficult, if not impossible.

It’s okay to use colorless blenders, but save them until the end of your drawing.

The last suggestion is blending with solvent. Solvent breaks down the binding agent so the pigment can be blended. It’s also a great way to fill the tooth with color without filling the tooth with binding agent.

Ways to Restore Tooth to Paper

Most workable fixatives for dry media work on colored pencils. Prismacolor used to make a fixative designed for colored pencils, but that product is no longer available, and if you can find it on a second-hand website, you’ll probably pay a pretty penny for it.

Dick Blick offers a selection of workable fixatives. If you choose to use one, make sure you use one made for dry media.

Since I’ve been working more often on sanded art papers, I’ve started using Brush & Pencil’s ACP Textured Fixative. But that dries to a thin film, so it works best on papers that are thicker like sanded art papers or on rigid supports.

Whatever type of fixative you use, test it on a sample first to make sure it doesn’t discolor the paper or your drawing. Follow the instructions on the can, and work in a well-ventilated area.

I’ve also had limited success cutting through the slickness of too much color and pigment by blending with rubbing alcohol.

Solvents are also sometimes helpful in cutting down slickness.

Rubbing alcohol dissolves the wax binder enough to soften the surface, which sometimes restores a bit of tooth.

Odorless mineral spirits also cut back the binding agent, but they also blend more thoroughly. If you only want to dissolve a little wax without a lot of blending, rubbing alcohol is the best option.

However, neither solvent will completely restore the tooth of the paper, so they may be of limited use.

If you decide to try solvents, test them first on a scrap of the same type of paper with similar applications of color.

Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

The way to deal with slick paper is to avoid the slickness. The methods I described above will help you do that.

But even if you take all those precautions, if you like layering lots of layers, you will sooner or later end up with slick paper. When that happens, it pays to know how to restore at least a little bit of tooth so you can finish!

Metallic Colored Pencils: My Thoughts

My Thoughts on Metallic Colored Pencils

Lets talk about specialty pencils today; namely those pencils labeled as metallic colored pencils.

E. Mark Gross will get us started with his question:

I sometimes use pencils with the metallic description.  I’ve seen metallic pencils by Prismacolor, Caran d’Ache, General, Stampin Up.

Do you have any favorite types? Do you have particular situations where you find metallic pencils work well or poorly?

Mark has asked two questions, so I’ll answer in two parts.

My Thoughts on Metallic Colored Pencils

My Thoughts on Metallic Colored Pencils

I don’t really have favorite metallic pencils, so I’ll share a list of those I have. The list isn’t very long.

The Pencils I Have

I’ve purchased full sets of three or four different lines of colored pencils, so I have metallic pencils. Since I’ve purchased more than one set of some lines, I have quite a few metallic pencils!

There is a good representation of Prismacolor Metallic Copper, Metallic Gold, and Metallic Silver in my pencil stash. I also have a metallic green Prismacolor. I think I used that color once to draw trees in the far background for a landscape piece. More on that in a moment.

I have a couple of metallic colors of Prismacolor Verithin pencils.

The full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos includes Copper, Gold and Silver.

And I recently purchased a full set of Blick Studio Colored Pencils, so I have Gold and Silver in that line.

Other than the Prismacolor Soft Core and Prismacolor Verithin, I’ve used none of them.

The Ways I Use Them

When I first started using colored pencils, I tried the metallic colors to draw the metallic parts of horse bridles. That makes sense, but it didn’t work. The bits, buckles, and other details looked flat when I drew them with metallic colors. I got better results using non-metallic colors and focusing on values, edges, and transitions to draw metal and/or reflective objects.

A couple of years ago, I used Prismacolor metallic pencils (gold, silver, and copper) on black paper. I was trying a lot of things at the time, and decided to include the metallic colors in my experiments. The drawings in this post were all drawn with metallic Prismacolor colors.

The colors were fun to work with. Color went down very nicely and surprisingly smooth. On the whole, the sketches turned out well. I liked the results.

As I mentioned above, there’s also a vague memory that I tried Prismacolor Metallic Green in a landscape drawing thinking that muted green would be good for drawing distance. It is a nice color and it may have worked in that drawing, but it apparently didn’t work all that well because I’ve not used it again.

The Problems I Have With Metallic Colors

The biggest problem I see with metallic pencils is that the metallic qualities don’t show up in images of the artwork. You have to be looking at the original to see those qualities.

All of the illustrations in this post were drawn with Prismacolor metallic colored pencils. The colors look metallic in real life. They have a nice, subtle sheen.

But there’s nothing special about them (other than interesting colors) when you view images of the original drawings. The sheen disappears in digital images, reproductions and all other non-original forms of that art.

Those are My Thoughts on Metallic Colored Pencils

I don’t have much more to say about metallic colored pencils of any type or brand because I don’t use them.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun to draw with or to use as accents.

In the right places and on the right papers.

Got a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

The Drawing Boards I’ve Used

The Drawing Boards I've Used

Today, I’d like to share the drawing boards I’ve used for colored pencil work over the years. They’re so easy (and cheap!) you’ll be amazed you haven’t thought of it yourself.

This post comes in response to a reader question, so let’s take a look at that to get us started.

Hi Carrie,

Could you please tell me what you use under the paper of your colored pencil pieces? My table leaves unwanted marks on the paper.

What a great question! Thank you!

First, I need to explain that I don’t draw at a drawing table very often, and even when I do, I have my drawing mounted to a rigid support for stability. So I don’t have problems with the surface of the table creating unwanted marks in my drawing.

Since I do a lot of work sitting on the couch or standing at a drafting table, I keep works-in-progress mounted on light-weight, portable surfaces.

But you can also use drawing boards this way and they can be very efficient.

The Drawing Boards I’ve Used

I’ve been using colored pencils since the 1990s, and have been using them exclusively since 2017. So I’ve used a lot of different types of drawing boards.

Professional Boards

The first drawing boards were small, 16 x 21 inches. I used them because I had them. As I recall, they were part of the supply list for a correspondence course I took as a teenager. Art Instruction Schools, if anyone is interested. A good course that covers everything. I still have the binders!

Because I bought these boards in the late 70s, they were wood, so they were on the heavy side. But they were very smooth and very well made. It was easy to mount paper to them with ordinary masking tape (I didn’t know any better back then,) and work with them in my lap or propped up on a desk or table. When I wasn’t working, I could lean them against a wall or on an easel and the art was visible, accessible, and out of the way.

I still have one of them, but I no longer use it even though it’s still a good drawing board. The main reason is the weight. It’s just too uncomfortable to sit with it on my lap these days. Age, I guess.

It’s also a bit on the bulky side compared to the types of drawing boards I use now, and it’s nowhere near as portable. So it’s in storage.

This exact drawing board is no longer available, but Dick Blick sells a similar model that’s very lightweight and comes in a variety of sizes.

Richeson Drawing Clip Board

A few years later, I purchased two drawing clip boards, one large and one small. These boards are very light, have very smooth surfaces, and were excellent to draw on. They are fitted with two strong clips on one side, and a grip hole at the top, so you can easily carry them. They also have a strong, wide extra large rubber band to hold paper securely, so you don’t need to tape your paper down if you don’t want to.

I’ve since given the larger one away because it was too big for what I needed. I still use the smaller one, but it’s on my oil painting easel with art clipped onto it. More on that in a moment.

The Drawing Boards I've Used

These are very nice drawing boards, and they’re not that expensive. You can get them from Dick Blick for less than $20 each at the time of this writing.

The reason I no longer use them for drawing is that they just didn’t fit my needs. They may be perfect for you.

Homemade Laptop Drawing Boards

When my main artwork was horse portraits, I went to two big equine trade shows every year, and as many smaller local horse shows as I could manage. I tried to have something to work on at these venues, especially the longer shows. Most drawing boards just didn’t fit into a medium-sized sedan loaded up with artwork, marketing tools, and a complete display system.

So I started looking around for a workable solution.

It didn’t take long to realize I could make my own lightweight, laptop drawing boards for next to no money, and I could make as many as I needed, in whatever size I needed. They worked great! I made them to carry a work-in-progress safely, cleanly, and in a manner that allowed me to work on a piece during lull times at shows, but still display the work on an easel when I wasn’t working.

These are totally hand made, and I describe how I did it in a post titled Build a Lightweight Laptop Drawing Board. If you’re interested, the step-by-step directions will help you build your own.

The great thing about these is that they’re inexpensive, you can create the type of drawing surface you want, and you can display works-in-progress without having to remove it from the drawing board.

My Current Favorite Drawing Boards

Given the shortage of time to draw, I’ve been working small the last several years. The majority of my work is 9×12 or smaller. That size makes it possible to scan pieces if I’m putting together a tutorial. But speed and scanning are not the only benefits.

I buy most papers in 9×12 inch pads. When the pads are empty, I don’t throw them away. I use them for drawing boards for my small pieces if they have rigid backing.

The beauty of using empty drawing pads for drawing boards is that they’re very lightweight. I can take them anywhere, or lean them on a shelf between working sessions. I can also have more than one piece in progress at a time, and each one has it’s own drawing board.

To cover the artwork if necessary, I leave the cover on the pad. And if I want to travel with them, I can easily slide them into a resealable, archival clear plastic envelope, and tuck them into a briefcase, a piece of luggage or a tote bag.

They’re also free. You’ve already paid for the paper and used it up, so the empty pad cover and back is no extra charge. It’s also a great way to reduce the amount of waste that comes with any artistic endeavor.

In other words, they’re perfect!

Subscribers to my newsletter learned how to turn empty drawing pads into nifty, next to no-cost drawing boards. For exclusive how-to articles and other features, subscribe to the newsletter!

Those are the Drawing Boards I’ve Used

Any one of these tools provides a smooth, mark-free drawing surface. Not all of them will suit your drawing preferences or taste, but that’s the beauty of art. There are very few Must Do All The Time answers.

And if you really just need a smooth surface to put between your artwork and your favorite drawing table, get a sheet of good, archival mat board. Cut it to the size you need, then lay it on your table top whenever you want to draw.

Make sure to use the back, because that’s the smoothest side, no matter what type of mat board you use. You can get full sheets at a good frame shop or online, and chances are it will be less expensive than most drawing boards.

Best of all, you can use it on different tables with little or no fuss.

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers

I’ve talked a lot in the past about Stonehenge paper. More recently, I’ve talked about sanded art papers. So today, I’m comparing Stonehenge and sanded art papers.

Here’s the reader question to start the discussion.

Can you discuss the differences in using Stonehenge 90 or 120lb vs sanded paper for colored pencil portraits?

Several years ago I completed a colored pencil portrait of my son’s family dog using sanded paper. They have asked me to do portraits of the two dogs they now have and want to group the portraits together.

I loved the velvety look of the finished project on sanded paper. However [I] found the paper difficult to work with. I’ve also evolved in my style and technique. While I want them to be somewhat similar in style I would prefer a different paper. I use a lot of layers and prefer color saturation. These two dogs are very light in color where the previous portrait I did was a very dark color. I usually keep my backgrounds very simple and prefer a monochrome color palette.

Your thoughts?

Thank you, Sharon

Before I go any further, I want to thank Sharon for her question, and especially for the background on the question. It’s always helpful to know where a reader is coming from.

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers

There is a world of difference between sanded art paper and Stonehenge, no matter what the subject.

The most notable difference is the surface texture. Stonehenge is soft and almost velvety in feel, while sanded art paper is gritty.

Consequently, color goes onto each type of paper differently.

In the illustration below, I used a sharp pencil and light pressure to draw each of the lines. The left half is Stonehenge, and the right half is Fisher 400 sanded pastel paper.

The pencil left marks on both papers, but the marks on Stonehenge are much lighter, while the marks on the Fisher 400 are darker, even with light pressure.

The top two lines were drawn with the tip of the pencil. I held the pencil in a more horizontal grip and used the side of the pencil for the bottom two lines.

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers

It’s easy to develop strong color on sanded papers because the grit of the paper almost seems to “grab” the color from the pencil. This is true with all of the sanded papers and pencils I’ve used.

Pencils layer differently, too.

The samples on top in the illustration below show shading on both papers. The color is not smooth on either paper, but it’s smoother on the Stonehenge than on the Fisher 400.

I shaded the bottom areas with the side of the pencil, then used the tip to draw hair-like strokes. The strokes on the Stonehenge (left) look more like hair than the strokes on the Fisher 400. That’s because the Fisher 400 flattened the tip of the pencil with the first few strokes.

it is possible to layer enough color on both papers to get rich, saturated color. But you can add more layers on sanded art paper than on the Stonehenge.

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers

Sturdiness

Sanded art paper is quite solid and gritty. It takes a lot of layers, but it also takes a lot of punishment. You can use any kind of pressure on it without damaging it.

Stonehenge can take a lot of layers, but it’s a soft, velvety paper, so it’s very easy to damage. I’ve often said that looking at it cross-eyed can leave a mark!

Drawing Methods

Many of the same drawing methods can be used on both papers, but their effectiveness varies.

But as you saw above, even light pressure on sanded art papers produces darker color layers than the same amount of pressure on Stonehenge. The first time I used sanded art paper, that seemed like a negative. I have such a naturally light hand and have gotten used to drawing that way that I was put off by the results of the lightest layering on sanded paper.

But I soon learned that I could add so many more layers to the sanded paper that the pressure I used didn’t matter as much.

One thing you can do easily on sanded art papers that you can’t do on Stonehenge is lift color. In some cases, you can also get back to the color of the paper with mounting putty when you draw on sanded art paper.

This piece is an older piece on Fisher 400. One of the first pieces I did on sanded art paper. When I decided to rework it, I needed to lift color. As you can see, repeated use of mounting putty removed a lot of color. The lightest areas in and around the tree are the paper showing through.

I can also lift color on Stonehenge, but I cannot remove color back to the paper. Lighten it, yes. Remove it, not without risk of damaging the paper.

Highlights

You can layer light colors over dark colors on Stonehenge, but all you’ll accomplish is tinting the darker color. It’s next to impossible to create bright highlights over darker colors on Stonehenge or other traditional paper.

But you can add light highlights over darker colors on most sanded art papers. This illustration is on Clairefontaine Pastelmat. I drew these ears by alternating strokes of dark and light colors. That’s pretty much the same method I’d use on Stonehenge.

When I drew the small portion of visible neck, however, I shaded the area with dark colors, then went back and “flicked in” the lighter marks. I was able to do that because there was still plenty of tooth on the paper when I finished shading the base layers.

Layering

Both types of paper take a lot of layers, as already mentioned.

But you can layer with light, medium or heavy pressure throughout the drawing process when you use sanded art papers.

Stonehenge requires light pressure for as long as possible in order to get the maximum number of layers. Of course you can use heavier pressure, but you will fill up the tooth of the paper. You also run the risk of scuffing the paper.

You have no such worries with sanded art papers. I reworked the background on this piece several times. This illustration shows just three phases. I could have worked the background yet again after finishing the horse if I wanted to because there was still plenty of tooth left on this sheet of Pastelmat.

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers: My recommendation for Sharon (and you!)

Sharon is right. Sanded art papers do produce lovely, velvety textures AND they are difficult to work with. I don’t blame her for wanting to try something different.

I encourage Sharon to try Stonehenge, but I also suggest she do something for herself first. Get a feel for it. Push it to its limits and see what kind of results you get.

That’s the best way to try any new paper. If you like what you see and the paper makes your work easier, then by all means use it. If you don’t like it, no harm done. You haven’t ruined a portrait!

I hope that’s helpful. The problem with paper is that no two artists work exactly the same way, and what works for one artist may not work for another.

If it seems like I prefer sanded art papers, it’s because I do. After years of using Stonehenge, I’ve discovered I can produce better work on sanded art papers, no matter what I draw.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the best paper for everyone else.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

Economic Colored Pencil Sharpening

Sharpeners are one of the more frequently discussed topics here, and I continue to get questions about them. Today, let’s take a look at the subject from a different angle: let’s talk about a few economical ways to sharpen colored pencils.

But first, since this is Q&A Wednesday, here’s the reader’s question.

What is the best – and most economical – way to sharpen colored pencils, particularly the softer ones?

I use an electric sharpener for graphite but it seems to “eat” colored pencils quite rapidly. Thank you.

Kathy

I want to thank Kathy for asking this question. Most people want to know the best sharpeners. That’s an impossible question to answer because there are so many factors to consider.

But very few people ask economical ways to sharpen colored pencils. And there is a difference.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

But before we get started, let’s consider sharpeners.

A Few Words About Sharpeners

The purpose of pencil sharpeners is eating pencils. Whenever you sharpen a pencil with a mechanical sharpener, the sharpener has to chew up enough of the lead to make a sharp point.

That’s true for graphite pencils, and it’s true for colored pencils.

But there are ways to sharpen pencils so less of the pigment is wasted.

Kathy’s Sharpener

I also suggest that Kathy find out if her electric sharpener is an auto-stop model. Sharpeners with an auto-stop feature automatically stop sharpening when the pencil is sharp.

Other types of electric sharpeners continue sharpening until you remove the pencil. It’s very easy to sharpen a pencil to a nub quickly if you don’t pay attention to the sharpener while you’re sharpening.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

A Sharp Knife Works Wonders

The absolute best way to sharpen pencils with minimum waste is by sharpening them with a knife.

I use an X-acto knife, but any knife sharp enough to cut through the wood casing is suitable.

Sharpening pencils with an X-acto knife is also a great way to sharpen a pencil that’s prone to breaking. You can whittle away the wood casing with very little pressure on the pigment core itself.

This method requires extreme caution! It’s easy to cut yourself while sharpening pencils, and we most certainly do not want that!

How to Hand Sharpen Colored Pencils

Use a knife with a finely sharpened blade.

Hold the pencil in your non-dominant hand with the exposed pigment core facing away from you.

Hold the knife in your dominant hand, with the blade at a slight angle to the pencil. As you can see in the illustration below, the knife blade is nearly lying on the sharpened wood casing. This keeps you from gouging too much of the wood casing with each stroke.

Push the blade downward along the pencil with your thumb. Use light pressure and make as thin a cut as you can.

Hold the knife at a slight angle to the pencil and stroke away from yourself. Turn the pencil after each cutting stroke.

Always stroke away from yourself.

Turn the pencil between strokes and work around the pencil two or three times or until the sharpened end is as smooth or even as you prefer or until as much pigment core is exposed as you need.

Pointing the Pencil

To get a needle-sharp point, rub the pencil on an emery board. Roll the pencil as you stroke it along the emery board until the point is as sharp as you want it to be.

A sanding block or sand paper (not sanded art paper) also works for fine tuning a newly sharpened pencil.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Pencils

One Word of Caution

Hand sharpening with a knife is a very economical way to sharpen pencils. But it’s not a fast method. For the best results, work slowly and carefully. Always stroke away from yourself, and always keep your knife sharp.

It also requires practice, just like drawing. So be patient. Injuries happen when you rush, so go slow and be careful.

Other Benefits of Hand Sharpening Pencils

Sharpening pencils with a knife allows you to more easily save pigment shavings. You can then soften them with solvent or Brush & Pencil’s Touch-Up Texture and use them like paint.

If you decide to use this sharpening method, get several small containers with screw-on caps to store the pigment. Label each one with the color and brand of pencil (if you use more than one type of pencil.) Then, when you need that color to “paint” with, you can mix a small amount of solvent or Touch-Up Texture and make use of this otherwise wasted pigment.

I found this very helpful article on sharpening pencils with a knife. The demonstration is with a graphite pencil, but the process is the same.

Pay Attention to the Length of the Sharpened Point

The length of the exposed pigment core on a freshly sharpened pencil also makes a difference.

The longer the tip, the more pigment has been left in the pencil sharpener.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils
The length of the exposed pigment core makes a difference in how much pigment is wasted in sharpening. As a rule, the longer the point, the more pigment is left in the sharpener.

There are times when you want a longer tip. Glazing with the side of the pencil works best if the exposed pigment is quite long.

But you really don’t need a long pigment core for most work, so look for a sharpener that doesn’t sharpen this way.

Keep Points Sharp While You Draw

One way I keep sharp tips on pencils is by alternating glazing with other types of layering.

I always turn my pencil in my fingers as I draw. I don’t know when or how I developed that habit, but I do it even when writing longhand with a pen. Turning your pencil helps keep the tip from getting flat on one side.

But it doesn’t keep the point sharp.

If, however, you do a little layering with the side of the pencil AND you turn the pencil as you draw, the tip will stay sharper longer.

And that pigment ends up on the paper, not in the sharpener!

Three Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

And there you have it. Two suggestions for economical colored pencil sharpening, and a bonus suggestion for maintaining sharper points.

I hope you find them helpful.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details

Today’s question comes from a reader who wants to know the best paper and pencils for drawing details. Here’s her question.

Can you share a table or grid, anything, that would match the best pencil(s) and best surface combinations for artwork type, e.g. portraits (in hyper realism or whimsical. Landscapes, still life, etc)? I have learned mainly portraits on Stonehenge and I never get the effect I hope for.

Thanks, Romona

Romona,

Thank you for your questions. The short answer is no. I don’t have a list of the best surface and pencil combinations for every subject and every type of drawing. Nor do I know of one.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details

What I do have are a few basic principles from years of using colored pencils on different types of papers and other surfaces.

So let me share those.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details

Paper

As a rule, the more detail you want in your art, the smoother paper you probably need. It’s easier to draw details and create smooth color on smoother papers, because they have less tooth.

But that isn’t the only consideration.

Stonehenge is fairly smooth, but it’s also soft. It takes a lot of layers, but it’s easily scuffed. The last portrait I did failed on Stonehenge because I couldn’t get enough layers without scuffing the paper.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details
This is Stonehenge paper. The blue in the middle is color layered over a piece of Stonehenge. The deckle edge is the type of edge on full sheets.

Bristol is a good, smooth paper with a somewhat harder surface. You can draw a lot of detail on it, but may have problems layering. Because Bristol has so little tooth, it sometimes doesn’t take very many layers.

Canson Mi-Teintes is a pastel paper that can also be used for colored pencil. The front and back are two different textures, so you get two surfaces with each sheet.

When I first tried it, I didn’t think it would be any good for drawing details, even if I used the back. But I soon learned differently and now prefer it to Stonehenge. For me, it’s the best combination of smoothness and strength.

140lb hot press watercolor paper is great for drawing details. It takes moisture very well, so you can use it with water-based media and colored pencils combined. It also handles solvent blending very well.

Stonehenge Aqua feels like regular Stonehenge and can be drawn on much the same, but it’s much sturdier than regular Stonehenge.

I’ve also used Canson’s L’Aquarelle watercolor paper and it performs very well with colored pencils wet or dry.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details

Exceptions to Every Rule

Unfortunately, these principles don’t always apply.

Remember that failed portrait I mentioned above? The one that failed on Stonehenge? I completed it successfully on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, which is a sand paper-like surface. Sanded art papers are fast becoming my go-to papers for portraits and landscapes.

The bottom line on the question of paper is that you need to try several different papers of the type you think will work for you based on the principles above.

But also be prepared to discover that the unexpected surface may be the right one for you.

Pencils

As for the pencils, what I’ve found is that a combination of pencils works best for me.

In the past, I used Prismacolor Verithin pencils for under drawings because they’re thinner and harder than regular Prismacolor pencils. They are not as saturated as regular Prismacolor pencils, but I don’t need saturation for under drawings. I needed a pencil that allowed me to draw values and details without leaving much wax on the paper. Verithin pencils do that.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details
The two pencils at the top are Prismacolor Soft Core pencils. They are what most artists think of when they think of Prismacolor pencils. The two bottom pencils are Prismacolor Verithin pencils. You can see how much thinner they are than the soft core pencils. This makes them great for drawing details.

These days, I use Faber-Castell Polychromos more than Verithin. They’re harder than regular Prismacolors so they give me much the same result as Verithin pencils, but they have a far superior color selection.

Then I layer softer pencils over the under drawing. Usually a mix of Polychromos and Prismacolor regular.

The basic rule of thumb with pencils is that harder pencils are better for drawing detail and softer pencils are better for layering color.

However, artists of all types use one type or the other exclusively to make great art.

In other words, there is no hard-and-fast rule for pencils any more than there is for paper.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details

If you have a pencil that you like, then stick with that for now. Try different papers until you find one that works with the pencils you have and that gives you the results you’re looking for.

You might also search for videos of colored pencil artists who use the same pencils you use, and see what paper they’re using. That can be a good place to begin your search, and can save time and money in the long-run.

But I also want to suggest that you keep drawing. The difficulty may not be with the pencils and paper themselves, but with your skill level. Especially if you’re still relatively new to colored pencils.

Skill level is easy to improve.

Just keep drawing.

My Review of Titanium White

My Review of Titanium White

I mentioned a few posts ago that I’d started experimenting with some of the products by Brush & Pencil. Today, I’d like to offer my review of Titanium White pigment and share one particularly exciting (to me) unexpected benefit.

My Review of Titanium White

Titanium White is pure, white pigment; the same pigment used in making white pencils. The pigment, which comes in powder form, can be applied dry by brush or sponge applicator. You can also mix it with Touch-Up Texture and paint it onto a work-in-progress.

Since there is no filler in the pigment, it goes onto the paper fairly opaque, but you can spread it thin enough to create varying degrees of translucency.

Titanium White pigment and white colored pencils work extremely well together. Use Titanium White pigment for larger areas, and pencils for smaller areas or details. Alyona Nickelsen uses Titanium White and white colored pencils to lighten parts of her under paintings before the color glazing phase.

Because it’s powder with no filler or binder, you must seal it with ACP Textured Fixative before adding more color.

You can remove Titanium White pigment with mounting putty until it’s sealed. Then it becomes permanent.

My experience with this product is still limited to two experiments. One wet, and one dry.

Titanium White mixed with Touch-Up Texture

My first experiment with Titanium White involved a small landscape called Blazing Sunset. When the landscape looked like this, I thought I’d finished it. It looked complete.

Review of Titanium White mixed with Touch-Up Texture

Then I decided to add a bright gleam of sunlight streaming through the clouds.

I tried layering lighter colors over the sky, but in vain. Even sealing the painting with ACP Textured Fixative didn’t help. Those bright values continued to elude me.

As you can see here, it was a pretty good painting. The additional details added to my overall satisfaction, but it still wasn’t quite right.

So I mixed up a small amount of Titanium White with Touch-Up Texture, then painted that over the sun. It went onto the painting very easily and dried quickly.

And it completely covered up everything underneath.

The illustration above shows the patch of sunshine with traditional color layering. The illustration below shows the Titanium White mixture painted over the area. Quite a significant difference!

Once the surface dried, I glazed color over it to get the right colors for that area and I finished the painting with no further setbacks.

The result was very pleasing. The improvement delighted me to no end.

I was even more delighted with what happened on the next experiment.

Using the Pigment Dry

I recently decided that a horse portrait wasn’t working and set it aside for later work. In the back of my mind, I’d already decided the portrait was a failure, but I lacked the courage to say so out loud. So I tucked it away in a closet with the thought that I’d stumble across it sometime in the future and be able to finish it.

Sometime that night, the thought came to mind that I should try Titanium White pigment on it. I knew the pigment was opaque mixed with Touch-Up Texture. Was it opaque enough dry to cover a failed drawing so I could start over? It was worth a try.

The next day, I started spreading Titanium White pigment over the paper. I tapped a little bit out of the container, then used a sponge applicator to spread it around and blend it into the tooth of the paper (Clairefontaine Pastelmat.)

One application covered the paper. The drawing was still visible, but I could draw over it if I wished.

Review of Titanium White used dry.

I put down a second application and the drawing was even less visible. I knew it was still there and could still see it.

Would it show through a new drawing? I didn’t think so.

I could have added a third application, and I did think about it.

Instead, I sealed the surface with three light coats of ACP Textured Fixative, letting each coat dry completely before applying the next. Three applications completely sealed the Titanium White. I could lift no white pigment by drawing my finger across the surface.

I ended up applying another layer of Titanium White. Once it’s sealed again, it will be ready for a new drawing.

That’s My Review of Titanium White Pigment

For now.

Yes. Only one of my experiments involved using Titanium White pigment the way it’s marketed. But you have to admit that the second experiment opens a lot of doors for saving drawings that might otherwise fail.

Do I recommend Titanium White pigment?

Absolutely.

For my money, this successful experiment makes Titanium White worth its purchase price. I don’t abandon that many works-in-progress anymore, but if I can blot out an entire drawing with this product, then I can certainly cover a small part of a drawing if it goes wrong.

And that does happen more often than I’d like to admit.

My First Impressions of Lux Archival Paper

Trying new pencils and papers is always fun, even if the projects don’t turn out. I’ve been doing some experimenting this winter, and I’d like to share my first impressions of Lux Archival paper.

I’m especially happy with this report, because all three projects so far have turned out!

My First Impressions of Lux Archival Paper

About Lux Archival

Lux Archival is a non-absorbent, sanded paper created by Alyona Nickelsen of Brush & Pencil. She wanted a toothy paper that was completely archival, front to back. Unable to find one already on the market, she developed her own.

It’s available in packs of 8×10, 11×14, 16×20 and 24×36 or in a 48-inch by 5-yard roll. In the smaller sizes, it’s quite sturdy and didn’t curl or buckle even when I worked on it without taping it to a rigid support.

Lux Archival is designed for dry media, but also handles wet media. I have yet to use watercolor pencils or solvent blending, but I understand it stands up under both.

White is the only color available, but you don’t really need any other color, since it’s so easy to shade backgrounds in any color you like.

The surface is gritty but very fine with an even texture that’s very easy to draw on and that takes color easily.

Lux Archival is a bit on the expensive side, but if you’re doing client work or work designed for sale, then it’s well worth the expense. But then I spent years buying canvases for oil paintings. A good sanded paper is still inexpensive by comparison.

My First Impressions of Lux Archival Paper

It wasn’t my intention to try Lux Archival. I really wanted Alyona’s book, Colored Pencil Painting Portraits. My intention was to learn her methods more completely so I could finish a horse portrait I’d taken on and was struggling with.

The book came with several samples, including pencils, small packets of Powder Blender and Titanium White, and a 4-inch by 6-inch sample of Lux Archival.

I’d heard so much about this paper that I was reluctant to try it before finishing the portrait. The portrait was on it’s second incarnation after a switch from Stonehenge to Pastelmat. I like Pastelmat but was having difficulty with this particular piece. So I was afraid that finding I liked Lux Archival better would make me want to start the portrait over again.

So I waited. The wait was worth it!

My First Two Projects

My first projects were two small sketches, one plein air, and one from memory. I used a limited palette for both. I also tried new pencils, Derwent Lightfast pencils, with the first one, shown here.

Derwent Lightfast pencils are quite soft, so they put color on the Lux Archival very well. I loved the way they felt on this paper. It was easy to layer color and build values just by adding layers.

However, the combination of sanded paper and soft pencils made it difficult to get fine marks. I was able to draw some of those small twigs by “striking” the paper with short strokes and light pressure. The “stop-start” nature of those strokes mimicked the affects of fine lines to draw twigs.

Overall, I was quite happy with the results of this plein air piece, even with a very limited palette (only three colors.)

For the second test, I used Faber-Castell Polychromos Crimson. Polychromos pencils are harder pencils, so it was a bit easier to get fine marks. But the paper still “grabbed” color very easily.

I was able to get a good range of values even using only one color because the paper takes so many layers of color.

The harder pencils allowed me to draw finer lines, but getting a good, crisp line with so few layers was a challenge.

Even so, I was very pleased with these two sketches. Each one took 20 minutes or less to finish, and there was still enough tooth left to do much more.

A Full Up Drawing

The third drawing was a full up landscape based on a photograph supplied to me by fellow artist Carol Leather. A stunning sunset seen through a stand of bare trees, this was exactly the type of project I wanted to try on Lux Archival. The colorful sky was the real test.

I also used some of the other Brush & Pencil products such as Powder Blender, ACP Textured Fixative, Touch-Up Texture, and Titanium White. So this was a test of all the products, not just the paper.

My First Impressions of Lux Archival Paper

Lux Archival was sheer joy to work with!

Especially the smooth colors of the sky. I was able to do in less than an hour what it would take hours to do on regular paper. Combining Lux Archival with Powder Blender, ACP Textured Fixative, and ACP Final Fixative further improved the drawing experience.

This small piece was finished in six hours, which included preparing the paper and spray room time applying Textured Fixative or Final Fixative.

A Couple of Warnings

Like any sanded support, Lux Archival produces a lot of pigment dust. It’s easy to blend that dust into the tooth of the paper, however, so it’s not wasted.

But you will need to seal your artwork at some point. I sealed Blazing Sunset with ACP Textured Fixative several times during the drawing process. That keeps the pigment in place, and allowed me to draw over previous layers without disturbing them.

When the piece was finished, I sealed it again, then used ACP Final Fixative on it.

I don’t recommend using only ACP Final Fixative. When I tried that with the first sketch, the wet spray blotched pigment in one place. Not seriously, but noticeably.

Those are my first impressions of Lux Archival Paper.

So do I recommend Lux Archival?

Absolutely and without hesitation!

I look forward to doing larger work on this paper in the near future. I also hope to try it with animal art when time allows.

If you’re doing work for clients, exhibit, or sale, this is a beautiful paper for smooth color and for detail.

Is it worth the price? A pack of ten 8-inch by 10-inch sheets is only $30 or $3 per sheet. For a professional artist—or any artist who wants to be a professional—that is not a bad price.

Customer service is also top notch when you buy directly from Brush & Pencil.

Whether you use it regularly or not, I hope you’ll give Lux Archival a try.

Varnishing Colored Pencil Art

Is varnishing colored pencil art necessary?

There is a lot of debate about this issue, so it’s no surprise I get questions on this topic on a fairly regular basis. Here’s today’s reader question.

Hi Carrie,

Firstly may I say how informative and helpful your tutorials are.

I am currently working on my first art drawing with Prismacolor pencils, it’s a picture of my daughter’s Beagle which I hope to have finished in time for her birthday next month.

What I wanted to ask is do you recommend spraying the picture with a fixative spray before framing?

Kind regards,

Dave

This is an important question for a couple of reasons. First, it gives me the opportunity to talk about why varnishing could be important.

It also gives me the opportunity to talk about when and how you might want to varnish.

Varnishing Colored Pencil Art

Varnishing Colored Pencil Art

Why Varnishing Artwork is Important

Some time ago, I wrote a couple of articles on varnishing colored pencils. Do You Really Need to Varnish Colored Pencil Art discussed the advantages and disadvantages to varnishing colored pencil art. In brief, the primary reasons to varnish colored pencil artwork are controlling wax bloom, protecting the surface of the artwork, and restoring tooth.

Since Dave is talking about finished work, the third reason doesn’t apply. So let’s look at the other two.

Oil painters have varnished their work for centuries. A good coat of varnish on an oil painting seals the surface of the painting and keeps dust, dirt and grime off it. All that dust, dirt, and grime settles on the coat of varnish. When a painting needs to be cleaned, the varnish is carefully stripped away and replaced with fresh varnish. The painting itself is not damaged.

Since more colored pencil works are framed under glass, the glass keeps the dust, dirt, and grime from reaching the surface of the artwork. So in one way, the glass serves the same purpose as the varnish. You don’t need varnish to protect the surface of colored pencil art framed under glass.

A light coat of varnish is also helpful in controlling wax bloom. But the only time wax bloom is really a problem is when you apply color with heavy pressure and/or when you use a lot of dark colors.

Wax bloom happens when the wax binder in colored pencils rises to the surface of a drawing. In the illustration below, the misty looking section on the right is wax bloom.

Wax bloom is easy to remove. Just wipe the drawing lightly with paper towel. For a finished drawing, a light coat or two of varnish helps prevent wax bloom.

So Should You Varnish Your Colored Pencil Art?

Yes. Sometimes.

If you draw with a naturally heavy hand, or a piece has a lot of dark colors, then you may want to consider varnishing the finished piece. You’ll still want to frame it under glass if you used traditional drawing papers, because the glass protects the paper from damage. The varnish will help keep wax bloom to a minimum.

Varnishing works on non-absorbent papers like sanded pastel papers, Pastelmat or Lux Archival is a good idea, especially if framed without glass. For that type of work, varnish serves the same purpose that it serves for oil paintings. Varnish keeps dirt off the artwork and can be removed and replaced if necessary.

If you do decide to varnish a drawing on sanded art paper, make sure you seal the drawing first with something like ACP Textured Fixative so removing the varnish doesn’t damage the art.

Do You Really Need to Varnish Colored Pencil Art Before Framing It?

The answer depends on the type of paper you use and how you intend to frame the work.

Varnishing is one of those issues that some artists swear by and others avoid at all costs. So the best advice I can offer is to consider the way you work in general, and then evaluate each piece.

You may find that varnishing is helpful on some pieces and unnecessary on others.

When to Use Prismacolor Grays

Have you ever noticed how many gray pencils there are in most full sets of pencils? Have you ever wondered when to use grays? You’re not alone. Today’s reader question comes from Rice, who asked when to use Prismacolor grays.

There are so many Greys in my Prismacolor set. French Grey, Warm Grey, and Cool Grey. When do I use them, and how do I decide which ones to use?

I don’t use gray pencils very often, even when drawing gray subjects. But gray colors are useful, so let me share a few tips.

When to Use Prismacolor Grays

When to Use Prismacolor Grays

Since there are a lot of Prismacolor grays, how do you decide when and how to use them?

Color Temperature

A good rule of thumb is to use the cool grays when the gray you want to draw is a cooler gray. (Cool grays are a little blue than the warm grays.)

If you’re drawing a landscape or a subject with a background, use cool grays. Layering a cool gray over the background makes it look further away.

Warm grays are a little yellower than cool grays. They work best for drawing grays that lean a little bit toward yellow or that are in the foreground.

French Greys are an odd sort of color. They’re definitely warm, but they’re more brown than gray. They work very well for skin tones with animals. Dark horses, cats or dogs often have darker grays around their eyes, noses, and mouths, and French greys work very well in these areas.

I’ve seen stunning art finished using nothing but French Grey colors. Using the full range of French Greys can be very effective for half-tone art.

Tone Down Colors That Get Too Bright

Sometimes, you may find the colors you’ve put on the paper are too bright. They’re the right color; they’re just too obvious.

Grays are a perfect way to tone down too-bright colors. Match the type of gray with the type of color, though. Mix warm grays with other warm colors to tone those colors down. Mix cool grays with cool colors.

Match the value of the gray to the value of the other color whether you use cool or warm gray.

Blending

Some artists alternate several layers of color with what they call a blending layer. They layer a warm gray that’s a light value over the work they’ve already done to smooth out the color and develop saturation. I have tried this technique a couple of times and it does work.

Apply blending layers with light pressure and careful stroking. Use a sharp pencil, too.

Three Ways to Use Prismacolor Grays

These three tips for using gray colors should help you find a use for them. But even if you don’t, don’t worry about it. I have so many gray Prismacolor pencils in my stash, that I’ll never use them all!

Because I don’t use grays very often.

I hope that helps.