3 Excellent Drawing Paper Alternatives

In a previous post, I shared my thoughts on drawing papers you can use with colored pencils. But paper isn’t the only thing you can draw on, so this week, let’s take a look at three other surfaces that make for interesting colored pencil artwork.

3 Excellent Drawing Paper Alternatives

3 Drawing Paper Alternatives

Mat Board

That’s right. The same material you use to frame your colored pencil drawings can also be drawn on. This drawing was drawn on gray mat board with a medium texture.

Colored Pencil Portrait of Blizzard Babe
Portrait of Blizzard Babe
Colored Pencil on Gray Mat Board

That’s one of the things I like about mat board. Unlike paper, there’s a wide variety of textures available from rough and almost “pebbly” to egg shell smooth. If you want something truly unique, you can also use suede mat board. Gemma Gylling has been using suede board for years and creates the most phenomenal pet and wildlife artwork. Sue Ziegler also makes extraordinary use of suede mat board for her equine and canine portraits.

Mat board also comes in a wide variety of colors, so if you like experimenting with colored supports, give mat board a try. I chose a gray mat board for Portrait of Blizzard Babe (above) because the gray provided an excellent basic color for this wonderful light gray filly and because it reduced the amount of time necessary to produce the portrait.

Mat board comes in full sheets and can be purchased online or at any reputable framer. While you can draw on any type of mat board, use archival or museum quality mat board for your best work. Lesser quality mat board often contains acids that can leach into artwork and cause discoloration.

Sanded Papers

Pastel artists have been using sanded papers and supports for years, but what about colored pencil? Are sanded papers any good for that?

Here’s a small work I did on UArt Sanded Pastel paper. The support is sand paper! Granted, it’s not the same quality as sand paper purchased from a hardware store or lumber yard, but it looks the same and it behaves the same when it comes to drawing.

Spring in CP
Spring in Colored Pencil
Colored Pencil on UArt Sanded Paper

Most sanded papers are heavier by nature than standard drawing papers, but many are also available as rigid supports. UArt has a line of sanded pastel panels and Ampersand Art Supply has flat panels and cradled panels in a variety of depths. They even have toned panels!

It’s very difficult to get a high degree of detail with these supports if they’re coarse (and UArt produces some very coarse surfaces), but most of them are guaranteed archival and most of them can also be framed with or without glass. A big advantage for many colored pencil artists.


That’s right. Basic wood!

When it comes to wood, however, make sure to stick with the types of wood proven by decades of use as oil painting supports. Birches and hardwoods have been popular among oil painters for a long time and they’re also wonderful with colored pencils.

Colored Pencil on Wood
Colored Pencil on Wood

One of the neatest things about wood is that you can find it almost everywhere. Literally. Several years ago, we cut down an old Maple in our front yard. It had been dying for a couple of years, thanks to carpenter ants. After the tree was removed, I collected a few pieces with the intention of drawing on them after they’d cured for a year or two.

But I got a few small pieces from another source and have made a drawing or two on those. The small landscape shown above was drawn on a piece of wood six or seven inches long and roughly two inches tall.

Wood can be drawn on with just a little sanding—which is what I did—or with the more involved preparation of planing and varnishing or painting. You can leave it fairly textured or sand it smooth.

And that little landscape drawing? The piece of wood was thick enough that it stood up on its own! No framing or hanging necessary. It was just right for display on a shelf or a desk.

Two Recommendations

When trying a new surface, it’s best to experiment a little before you start a major work. The more exotic the surface, the more necessary the experimentation.

The drawings on sanded pastel paper and wood shown above are both very small. The sanded pastel paper is actually an ACEO (3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches). Each piece was large enough to give me a good idea of how color went onto the surface, but not so large that it took days to finish it. I think each of those drawings took no more than an hour and probably a lot less.

Also, whenever you try a new support, it’s a good idea to do a piece that you can keep around for a while. Especially with untested supports. You want to get some idea of how permanent the artwork will be on each support and the only way to determine that is to keep a small drawing so you can look at it. I can’t think of very much that would be worse than selling a lot of drawings on an unproven support and having customers return them when the artwork failed to last.

Beyond that, I encourage you to try supports and have fun.

Have you used unusual supports for drawing? What did you use and how well did it work for colored pencil?

3 Replies to “3 Excellent Drawing Paper Alternatives”

  1. I have a couple of pieces of driftwood , been around for quite a while, I was going to paint on them but saw this article about surfaces and wondered if u have ever used this, would be neat if the pencils worked, surfaces r smooth mostly but
    couple of rougher spots
    wonder if I should use some gesso to smooth out, don’t want to sand as bit fragile
    for rubbing I think

    would be interested in your thoughts on this
    just found your site so am excited to see it all thanks

    1. Dianne,

      As a matter of fact, I have drawn on wood with colored pencils. In my case, it was a piece of an old silver Maple that used to be in our front yard. It died, and we took it down ourselves. I kept several pieces to draw on. The long landscape in this article is drawn on a piece of that wood.

      I may have sanded the wood a little bit, but I didn’t paint it, gesso it, or prep it in any other way. The wood grain is part of the drawing, and appears as bare ground at the bottom of the landscape.

      I can’t tell you how archival it is because I gave it as a gift to someone who saw it and liked it.

      So give your driftwood a try!


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