Sketching on Drafting Film

Sketching on Drafting Film

Today’s post is a demo about sketching on drafting film.

I’ve seen a lot of excellent work on drafting film and have admired the artists who use it so well. Their work prompted me to give drafting film a try.

I did only a few sketches on it and didn’t like it at all. In fact, I didn’t even bother writing a review of it, I was so dissatisfied.

Then along came Bonnie Sheckter and the February 2022 issue of CP Magic!. In case you aren’t familiar with Bonnie’s work, she does the most exquisite, soul-searching portraits I’ve seen, and she works on drafting film. Working with her on the interview and hearing her thoughts about using drafting film prompted me to get out my drafting film and give it another try.

The first sketch was better—and more satisfying—than those early sketches. So I decided to do more sketching on drafting film, and to try some of Bonnie’s methods. Just to see how they worked.

Long story short, this little tutorial is the result.

Before We Begin Sketching on Drafting Film….

I’m using artist grade drafting film from Grafix. Grafix was kind enough to send me samples last year when I was asking questions about working on drafting film in order to answer a reader question. This particular sample is Matte One Side .005″.

Grafix also makes Duralar, which is their student grade drafting film. It’s a little slicker than the artist grade drafting film, but it’s also quite usable for colored pencil work. If you want to follow along, and if Duralar is all you have, you can use it for this exercise.

I also decided to sketch from one of my many tree photos. This is the photo I chose. I’m not drawing all of the image, and my goal is not 100% accuracy. I just wanted a model to draw from.

You’re welcome to draw from this image, too, or chose a reference photo of your own.

Sketching on Drafting Film

Step 1: Sketching Small Branches

I sketched two groups of smaller branches on one side of the drafting film, using a sharp Prismacolor pencil. I chose Dark Brown because that’s a good sketching color and it’s dark enough for a wide range of values. Besides, I like earth tones. You can use any color you wish.

I used light pressure to sketch in two groups of small branches growing from the main branch. I did not spend a lot of time getting them exactly right. As mentioned above, all I wanted was the “personality” of the branch.

A sharp pencil is important on drafting film. It makes better contact with a very smooth surface. Since you can’t get a lot of layers on drafting film, making the most with every mark is important.

This is the finished first step as viewed from the back.

Sketching on Drafting Film

Below is the same image as viewed from the front.

I need to mention that the appearance of discoloration is the result of the color and translucency of the drafting film. I put a clean sheet of printer paper behind the sketch when I scanned it, but was not able to get a pure white image.

That’s okay. Drafting film isn’t white!

Step 2

Next, I turned the drafting film right side up and started drawing the main shapes.

I need to tell you now that the “front” turned out to be the slick side of the drafting film. On Matte One Side drafting film, one side is matte and perfect for drawing. The other side is slick. You can draw on it, as you see below, but it is more difficult.

Also, notice those dark, little specks. Those are pencil crumbs. I had to press quite hard to draw the larger branches, and the specks were the result.

I did not have the same results drawing on the matte side of the drafting film. So be aware that if you draw on slick drafting film, you may get these kinds of specks.

Sketching on Drafting Film

Step 3

Notice in the illustration above that the sketch on the back of the film is visible through the drawing on the front. That will never do!

So I turned the film over again to remove color from the back. Bonnie Sheckter mentioned that color could easily be removed from drafting film, and I wanted to try it for myself.

You know what? It worked!

I used a click eraser to carefully remove the parts of the background sketch that overlapped the main branches. The color came off very easily. I was very pleased, and can see the advantages of drawing more complex things on drafting film.

Step 4

To finish this sketch, I darkened the shadows and middle values on the main branches and added a few more details. I also added some smaller branches and twigs curling around the front of the main branch.

I did all this work on the back side of the drafting film (the matte side.)

Then I brushed the crumbs and specks off the front (the slick side,) and this sketch was finished.

So What Do I Think About Drafting Film Now?

Two things.

The first thing is my overall impression that drafting film really is a good drawing surface and can be used for a lot of different kinds of artwork. Even single color sketches like this. I really enjoyed sketching on drafting film this time, and I look forward to doing more sketches this way.

I also learned that it’s far easier to draw on a matte surface. It’s easier to get dark values on matte drafting film, too.

I was also able to put color on the surface more easily on the matte side, than on the slick side. Color application was also cleaner. There were no specks on the matte side. However, the specks on the slick side were easy enough to remove with a drafting brush or clean cloth. If you use a cloth, use very light pressure to remove the specks.

It is important to know what type of drafting film you’re using (or buying.) Matte Two Sides gives you the most flexibility. But if you plan to work on only one side, you can use Matte One Side.

Have you drawn on drafting film before? Did you do a sketch on drafting film following this tutorial?

If you answered “yes” to either question, let us know what you think about drafting film in the comments below.

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  1. Patricia Wilson

    So, how does this drafting film compare to vellum? I know that they describe the drafting film as being polyester which to me means fabric and vellum is paper(?). So, would you get the same results on both of these? This was very interesting and wasn’t aware of this drafting film for crafters. Thank you.

    1. Patricia,

      Thank you for your questions.

      Drafting film is actually a form of plastic. It’s much smoother than vellum paper. Even Bristol feels a bit “toothy” after working on drafting film. I didn’t realize that until I did a demo piece on Bristol Vellum AFTER doing the demo piece for this post. There’s quite a difference.

      It takes fewer layers than Bristol Vellum, but you can also lift color to create highlights or correct mistakes. You need to be a little more deliberate in choosing the colors you use, since you have fewer layers to blend by layering.

      You could get similar results, but not exactly the same.

      The biggest advantage as far as I’m concerned is the ability to draw on both sides, because drafting film is translucent.

      That can also be a disadvantage. I have to find another way to make notations on my drawings! I usually make notations on the back of each piece, but those notations would show through on drafting film!

  2. Diane Masek-Blow

    I have tried drafting film (did some small tutorials), and gotten good results, but don’t care for the “feel” of it. You do have to plan ahead, since you can’t get many layers on it, but subtraction techniques work great on it (you can “erase” in the highlights rather than saving them like you do on other papers).

    1. Diane,

      Thank you for reading this post and for sharing your thoughts.

      I like the way color looks on drafting film, and I’ve done enough work with graphite to know how helpful erasing to create highlights and lighter values can be.

      But I’m not sure I like the feel of working on drafting film either. I much prefer sanded art papers.

      However, I do still have some left, so I may continue experimenting. I’d really like to do a landscape on it at least once. Matte Two Sides, of course!

  3. Hazel

    I have tried drafting film to get a 3D effect. I liked it and want to do more to get the effect that I want. it is fun to try new things! I’m glad to see your post here as another reference. Thanks.

  4. Kim

    Another great post Carrie.
    I’ll have to revisit this technique of using drafting film with
    colored pencils.
    Many years ago, I experimented with pen and ink on drafting
    film and found it to be very desirable in creating marks on this
    surface. I really liked the fact that I was able to get a decent
    amount of detail using this substrate and was intrigued with
    the fact that there was little to no bleeding with making marks
    using pen and ink.

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