What do you use to finish your colored pencil artwork? Do you use something different if you use a different substrate?
When I first saw this question, I thought the reader wanted to know how I finish drawing colored pencil drawings.
Then I looked at the question again and realized that might not be what the reader wanted to know. Maybe they really wanted to know if I use a final fixative to “finish” a drawing.
After all, the reader mentioned different substrates and that makes more sense if we’re talking about final fixatives. The way I finish drawing a drawing is the same no matter what kind of paper I draw on.
But whether or not I use a final fixative does matter depending on the paper.
So I went back and rethought my answer.
How I Finish Colored Pencil Drawings
Most of the time, I finish drawing colored pencil drawings by making final adjustments. I make a few notes on the back (title, date of completion, type of paper, pencils, and other comments.) Then I slip the drawing into a protective, archival clear plastic envelope and either ship it or store it.
That’s because most of my work was on traditional drawing papers. For years, that’s all I used.
I rarely use final fixatives on artwork created on traditional paper. About the only time I do is when I need to control wax bloom. I see no need to use final fixatives on most other artwork.
However, the type of paper does make a difference and there are some papers that require final fixative.
The Paper Does Matter
When I work on sanded art papers, I use a light coat of final fixative on the finished drawing. That’s because drawing on sanded art papers creates pigment dust. If I don’t use a fixative on work like that, the dust may fall off the drawing.
Many artists remove the dust by blowing the dust off. They might also hold the drawing a bit past vertical and lightly tap it on a hard surface. The dust falls off without damaging the artwork, and can be disposed of. Pastel artists use the same methods because pastels also produce dust. A lot of it.
I prefer dry blending to push the dust down into the grit of the paper during the drawing process.
Powder Blender helps you blend colored pencil by acting as a dry lubricant. Apply a little Powder Blender before you start drawing and you’ll be able to blend colors effortlessly. You can add color, blend, add more color, and blend some more.
In fact, you’ll be able to continue blending for an unlimited amount of layers.
You can also lift color too. It’s better than erasing and you can remove color all the way to the paper if you want to. Brush & Pencil designed Textured Fixative to make those layers of color and Powder Blender permanent. It also adds texture to the surface of the paper, allowing you to continue adding color.
It’s important when using these products to use the Final Fixative when you finish a piece. The Final Fixative makes the entire drawing permanent.
It also seals the drawing. That’s important if you want to varnish a finished piece. The varnish can later be removed and replaced without damaging the drawing underneath. Oil painters often use a similar process to protect their paintings and make it possible to clean them later.
That’s How I Finish Colored Pencil Drawings
I don’t always finish colored pencil drawings with final fixative, and I rarely varnish them. My drawing methods simply do not require a final fixative unless I’m working on sanded art paper.
And I prefer not to varnish artwork, but I rarely did that with oil paintings either.
Whether or not you use a final fixative, a varnish, or nothing at all is mostly a personal decision. But I hope describing what I do (and why) helps you decide.
You’re in the zone, adding layer after layer, blending color, creating contrast and harmony. Then it happens. You pick up another pencil, start layering and…
…your pencil skids across the surface without leaving any color.
That happened to Eloise, who asked the following question:
When you have put so many layers on and you can’t get any more down, what do you do?
What to do When Your Paper Gets Slick
Prevention is the Best Cure
The best way to deal with slick paper is to avoid it. The best way to avoid slick paper is drawing on sanded art paper.
Sanded art paper takes a lot of layers without the tooth filling up. It doesn’t really matter what type of sanded paper you use. I’ve been experimenting with Lux Archival, Clairefontaine Pastelmat, Fisher 400, and Uart. They each have enough tooth to take a practically endless number of layers, but they each have unique characteristics. They behave differently.
It also makes a difference what type of pencil you use, as I’m learning with this week’s sketching habit. Some pencils work better on sanded papers, than other pencils.
Your style of drawing also makes a difference, so you may have to experiment to find the right combination.
If you don’t care for sanded art papers, Canson Mi-Teintes is a more traditional paper that falls somewhere between sanded and traditional papers. I can’t recall ever ending up with a slick drawing surface while using Mi-Teintes.
In fairness, however, I must also mention that most of my work on Canson Mi-Teintes has been vignette-style portraits like Portrait of a Black Horse. I usually use colored paper, and chose a color that works for the background and the middle values.
In other words, I didn’t have to apply a lot of color.
Whatever type of paper you use, you can also avoid (or at least delay) the build up of too much color by applying each layer with the lightest pressure possible. You’ll have to increase pressure slightly during the drawing process, but don’t use heavy pressure until the end.
Also don’t burnish until after the drawing is nearly finished.
Cures for Slick Paper
Most of the time, paper gets slick when you reach the maximum amount of color the paper will grab onto and hold.
Sometimes, workable fixative made for dry media helps restore a bit of surface texture. A couple of light coats may restore enough tooth for you to finish the piece.
But that’s not guaranteed. I’ve had mixed results with workable fixative.
A light blend with rubbing alcohol could also help. Rubbing alcohol cuts the wax binder in colored pencils a little bit, and that may be enough to allow you to finish a drawing.
It’s also possible to lift enough color with mounting putty to allow you to add more color, but unless you need to change a color or value, lifting color is really a step backward.
If you get the idea that there isn’t much you can do once your paper gets slick, you’re getting the right idea.
That’s why I spent so much time talking about ways to avoid slick paper. In this case, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Christmas arrived early! The mail carrier delivered a box containing Alyona Nickelsnen’s Colored Pencil Painting Portraits book and several free samples!
If you’re looking for a way to treat yourself this Christmas, this may interest you.
Colored Pencil Painting Portraits Book
Alyona has published two books. The other is her Colored Pencil Painting Bible. Both are well-written and packed with information, and once I decided to buy one, it took a while to decide which one.
My choice might surprise you because I don’t do portraits of people. My favorite subjects are horses and other animals, and landscapes.
But I’ve been an artist long enough to know that sound art principles are sound art principles regardless of the subject. Whatever Alyona teaches about painting people also applies to the next horse, dog, cat or landscape I draw.
That wasn’t the only reason I chose this book, however.
The book comes with a collection of free samples. I ask you, how could I pass up free samples? Especially when some of them are on my art supply wish list?
And The Free Samples Are…
The package includes five pencils. In order of the illustration below:
Faber-Castell Polychromos (Crimson.) I already use and like these pencils, so the big surprise was the color.
Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer (Purple Violet) is the artist grade watercolor companion line to the Polychromos pencils. I’ve had my eye on a set of these for a year or two, so I look forward to trying this pencil.
Caran d’Ache Pablo (Salmon) is a thinner, harder pencil than the popular Caran d’Ache Luminance. They are to Luminance what Prismacolor Verithin are to Prismacolor Premier pencils. I’ve heard artists say they hate them because they’re hard while other artists talk about how smoothly they layer over Pastelmat.
Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor (True Blue.) I have vague memories of having used Lyra pencils in the distant past. I know I had one of their Splender Blenders and loved it. These pencils are oil-based (as are the Polychromos,) so should be a good fit.
Caran d’Ache Supracolor II Soft (Salmon) is similar in appearance to the Pablos, but is a watercolor pencil.
Powder Blender & Titanium White
Two small packets with sponge applicators also accompanied the book and pencils. One is Colored Pencil Titanium White, the other is Colored Pencil Powder Blender.
As I write this post, I have a couple of portraits on Pastelmat on my easel, and I’m eager to see how the Powder Blender performs.
But reading time comes first. I need to see how these two excellent tools should be used before I start experimenting.
Especially since one of the portraits is paid for!
If you’ve been following this blog for very long, I hope you’ve read some of Peggy Osborne’s excellent tutorials. My personal favorite is the rooster on black paper. Peggy uses Titanium White with Touch-Up Texture with tutorial.
I’ve been using sanded art papers of one kind and another for years, beginning with Uart’s Premium Sanded art papers. It took a while to get used to the feel, but one I learned how to make the best use of them, they became favorites.
Since that sample pack from Uart, I’ve also tried Fisher 400, and Clairefontaine Pastelmat. Pastelmat is currently my preference.
Although no two brands of sanded art papers are identical, they do have two things in common.
First, the drawing surfaces are archival. They don’t fade, and they don’t get brittle or fragile with age.
Second, the substrates aren’t archival. Most of them are buffered, so whatever acids they might contain can’t easily reach the drawing surface.
Most of them are also moisture intolerant. You can use solvent on them, but they don’t play well with liquid mediums. Not even oil paints, which I have tried.
Lux Archival, on the other hand, is fully archival and acid-free, front and back. It’s also suitable for liquid mediums, as well as most traditional dry mediums. I read that to mean that I can use watercolor pencils on it as well as dry colored pencils!
Colored Pencil Painting Portraits Book
I’m planning a review of the Colored Pencil Painting Portraits book after I’ve read through it.
It’s also my plan to review the paper and products, possibly with a short tutorial. That sample paper is only 4×6 inches, after all. The perfect size for a quick landscape or tree study.
As I mentioned at the beginning, if you’re looking for something special for yourself, consider this book and accessories. You don’t have to be a portrait artist to make good use of it. At $25.99 plus shipping, you can hardly go wrong.
Today’s reader question comes from a reader who wants to know the best transfer paper for detailed drawings. Here’s what she has to say.
What transfer paper works best for getting intricate designs onto art paper?
[I] have tried a generic brand of wax less transfer paper but it transferred a line drawing that was way too dark and I can’t erase it. How can I avoid that in the future if I need a detailed line drawing that won’t smudge while I am working on it, but also won’t be too dark? Is the Saral brand a better choice and is it erasable?
Thank you for your question, Gail.
The Best Transfer Paper for Detailed Drawings
I’m not sure there is any such thing as a transfer paper works better for detailed drawings than for less detailed drawings. Artists need to consider two other factors, in addition to the transfer paper itself.
The drawing paper you’re using and the pressure with which you normally draw.
Let’s look at the drawing paper you’re transferring to. Some papers take marks more easily than other papers. Stonehenge marks very easily, while a sanded paper is a lot more difficult to leave unwanted marks on.
Other papers, like Bristol and drafting film, are more difficult to leave marks on, so you get very few accidental marks.
That means that you have less likelihood of getting really dark transfer lines or smudges on some papers than others. So I’d experiment a little bit with different drawing papers to see what results you get.
The second thing to consider is the amount of pressure you normally draw with. I have a naturally light hand, so unless I’m extremely careless, I usually end up with very few stray marks after transferring a drawing.
But if you happen to have a naturally heavier hand, then you’re more likely to leave unwanted stray marks during the transfer process. Heavy-handed artists are also quite likely to end up with a transferred line drawing that’s dark.
There are ways to prevent stray marks. The easiest way is to lay a piece of drawing paper between your hand and your line drawing. Your hand rests on the bridge instead of the drawing paper and that protects the drawing paper from too-dark lines and accidental smudges.
Gail’s Specific Questions
So what about Gail’s specific questions?
Saral Transfer Paper
I’ve used Saral transfer paper, but it’s been quite a long while.
I don’t remember that Saral was particularly easy to erase or particularly difficult to erase. I recall no smudging or other problems, either. Overall, it’s a good product and easy to use.
I have used old-fashioned carbon paper, Saral grease-less transfer paper, and home-made paper. I’ve been satisfied with all three.
I now use home-made transfer paper almost exclusively. It’s easy to make, easy to use, and easy to clean up smudges on. I make transfer paper by shading a sheet of ordinary printer paper with graphite using a 2B to 6B pencil.
You get the same affect by shading the back of your line drawing. I have used this method, but not often because it leaves the line drawing messy. Especially if the line drawing is on tracing paper. If that doesn’t bother you, then carboning the back of each drawing is the easiest way to transfer a drawing.
To get lighter transfer lines, use a harder pencil to make the transfer paper—2B or HB for example. 2B pencils are a little bit harder the 4B or 6B, so they leave fewer smudges and are easier to erase.
But most line drawings transferred with graphite are easily cleaned up after you transfer the line drawing.
Most of these transfer papers work equally well for detailed drawings and less detailed drawings.
Over the years, I’ve received questions about fixing damage. Usually, the questioner wanted to know how to fix damage to a drawing in progress. Today, I want to talk about fixing damaged drawing paper that hasn’t been drawn on yet.
I used to think any damage was the end of a drawing, because I didn’t know how to fix any kind of damage. I trashed a lot of drawings before learning differently.
Most paper companies take a great deal of care to assure their paper reaches you crisp, clean, and undamaged. Even some retailers give extreme care to the storage of the paper they sell.
But from the time paper leaves the factory until you put it on your easel or drawing board, there’s plenty of opportunity for something to happen. Sooner or later, it will happen to you.
Damage doesn’t mean the paper is trash, though. There are ways to repair even some forms of serious damage.
Fixing Damaged Drawing Paper
Avoiding damaged drawing paper is, of course, the best option. The following suggestions tell you how to look for damage to unused paper.
When You Buy in Person
If you’re buying in person, examine every sheet of paper before you buy it. Look for scuffs, dents, creases, scratches and other kinds of surface damage. Unless you’re absolutely certain you can work with or easily remove damage (or if the store gives you a deep discount,) don’t buy damaged paper.
When You Unpack a Shipped Order
When you buy online and your order arrives, examine every sheet at once. If you find damaged paper, contact customer support and ask about refunds, returns, or exchanges on the damaged paper. Resolving the issue differs from company to company, but chances are good that something will be done if you purchased from a reputable company.
I’ve purchased from Dick Blick often enough to have encountered occasional problems. I’ve returnned items for an exchange, kept the item and received a new one, or returned the item for a discount or refund, depending on the item.
DO NOT accept damaged goods without at least making an effort to contact the seller. Give them the opportunity to make things right.
What to Look For
Look for stains, discoloration, or any other marks that cannot be easily erased. Check both sides of the paper.
Hold the paper up to the light and see if any parts of it look thinner than the rest. If there are thin spots, that’s damage you can’t fix and probably don’t want.
Hold it so bright light slants across the surface. This is the best way to find scratches or impressed lines. Look for scuffed surfaces, too. What you do with that paper is up to you. After all, if you use some of the following suggestions, you will be able to use it.
Fixing damaged drawing paper doesn’t have to be complicated, difficult or time-consuming.
Types of Damage
This illustration shows an unused sheet of Stonehenge with a dent.
The dent isn’t serious. In fact, I wouldn’t consider it damage at all. It won’t affect a drawing and will “press out” as I work with the paper.
But it is easy enough to repair.
Step 1: Place the paper between two clean, rigid supports that are larger than the piece of paper. Mat board works great, but you can use other sturdy items.
Step 2: Place a weight of some type on top of your drawing paper “sandwich.” A coffee table book is good. It’s heavy enough to “press” the paper sandwich, but big enough to spread the weight evenly. I don’t recommend small books such as mass market paperbacks because they’re not heavy enough. Dictionaries are too heavy.
Step 3: Press the drawing paper this way overnight or for up to 24 hours. That should be enough time to reduce the dent without compressing the rest of the paper.
There is only one solution to badly torn paper. Cropping. The easiest and fastest solution is to cut the paper along the tear, then trim the resulting pieces to “square up” the corners.
But where and how you crop the paper depends largely on where the tear is, how big the original sheet of paper is, and your own creativity.
Another solution you might consider.
A lot of the better papers come with deckled edges. If you frame artwork so that it’s mounted with the edges showing, deckled edges can enhance the artwork nicely.
Even small pieces of paper can then become the support for unique works of art in which the drawing paper is as creative in appearance as whatever you draw on it.
How do you make deckled edges?
One way is to purchase a straight edge with a deckled edge. Lay it on your paper, then carefully tear the paper along that deckled edge.
You can also tear the paper completely into two pieces by hand. Fold the paper forward and backward enough to break the paper fibers, then carefully tear it along the fold.
Creases are very difficult to repair, usually because the paper wasn’t just bent; it was folded. They will show up in your artwork, so unless you can think of a way to incorporate the crease into your artwork, the best thing to do is trim the crease out.
You can, of course, do that with a mat cutter, paper cutter, or an X-Acto knife and rule.
But before you start cutting, consider folding the paper backward and forward a couple of times to break the paper fibers, then carefully tearing it along the crease as described above.
Carefully tearing paper this way produces a feathered edge that can be used to your advantage.
However, if the paper is too heavy for that, go ahead and cut it.
3 Ways of Fixing Damaged Drawing Paper
These repairs work on a variety of drawing papers. The softness and surface treatment of the paper you’re using may require you to adjust your methods.
But if you’re careful and patient, and if you don’t panic, most damage can be repaired.
Let’s take a moment talk about the difference between hot press and cold press papers.
I know this subject can easily become complex, especially to those of us who have never used watercolors. But watercolor paper is a great paper for colored pencil work, too, so knowing a little about it can help you make a better choice.
So I’m keeping this discussion short and sweet by concentrating on the primary difference.
The Difference Between Hot Press and Cold Press Papers
The biggest difference between hot press and cold press papers is surface texture. Hot press papers are generally smoother (sometimes much smoother) than cold press papers.
Cold press paper is pressed with cold rollers or plates. These plates press the surface fibers down somewhat, leaving some surface texture. The amount of texture varies from paper to paper and company to company, but in all cases, cold press paper is toothier than hot press paper.
Cold-press paper is the most popular and versatile and is suitable for most media, depending on its weight. It’s a favorite for watercolor artists because it’s more absorbent and tends to stay wet a little longer than hot press paper.
Hot press paper passes through heated rollers or plates. The heated presses press the paper fibers down more completely, producing a smoother paper. Some texture remains. Hot press paper is not as smooth as Bristol, for example, but it’s much smoother than cold press paper.
Hot pressed paper is ideal for highly-detailed illustrations, printmaking, etching, drafting, sketching, and drawing. Yes. Even colored pencil drawing.
The type of watercolor paper (or any paper) you use depends largely on the art you want to create. If you like highly detailed artwork, use a paper sturdy enough to handle lots of layers and smooth enough to easily fill the tooth. Weight is important, but so is surface texture.
If you prefer a more painterly look, then choose paper with a bit more surface texture.
The watercolor papers I use are Canson L’Aquarelle and Stonehenge Aqua, both 140lb hot press. Both look and feel like Stonehenge traditional paper. I use watercolor or watercolor pencil under traditional pencils on both papers.
I also use only traditional colored pencils on both with good results.
Both papers—and probably any other artist grade 140lb hot press paper—are good for my drawing methods for landscapes. I’ve yet to do an animal portrait on either.
Nor have I tried cold press watercolor paper because I prefer smoother papers. But as I mentioned above, if you prefer a more painterly look for your art, give them a try.
Buy the smallest pad of each you can find and experiment. If you know a watercolor artist, ask him or her for advice. Or maybe a small demo.
You may even contact some of the more popular paper companies. Many of them offer free samples. The samples are often small—5×7 or less—but they’re large enough to find out what works and what doesn’t.
Are you looking for a durable support that can stand up to deep solvent blending and erasing without damage? Have you considered trying canvas with colored pencils?
I know you have questions. I sure do, and I can’t think of anyone better able to answer them than today’s guest blogger, John Ursillo. John has been using colored pencils on canvas since 2007. Today, he’ll tell you how he came to canvas as a colored pencil support, and why he likes it.
Please welcome John Ursillo.
Canvas with Colored Pencils
by John Ursillo, CPSA
When discussing technique with fellow colored pencil (CP) artists, I sometimes meet with a doubtful look should the subject of using canvas as a support come up. “Why canvas? What’s wrong with paper? What made you go there and why?”
This has changed over the years as other artists have adopted the canvas…but I still get the soft-voiced comments of gallery viewers of “How the h… does he do that?” I like to explain, and Carrie has given me a wonderful chance here.
Anything wrong with paper?
Absolutely nothing! I have nothing against paper as a support, having done and continue doing many pieces on a wide variety of papers from the time I picked up my first set of colored pencils in 1984. Paper was all I knew to use!
How I Started Using Canvas with Colored Pencils
I caught on to using canvas in 2007 as the coming together of two seeming separate events:
First, I had my interest focused on doing a nautical piece based on a ship I photographed in New Zealand in 2004. Much of the drawing involved weathered, rusted hull plating with a unique, surface texture–right “down my alley”!
Second, I tried, but could not capture it in test runs on the papers used for my normal colored pencil (CP) techniques no matter how I tried. Not just the texture but also the luminosity of the color was off–it just would not seem real–in fact it seemed very “ho hum” and “why bother?”
As a possible “what if?” solution I remembered a snippet I had recently read in the CPSA publication To The Point. It discussed small scale use of odorless mineral spirits to dissolve CP when working on paper. I had already tried that and liked it–for small areas. Would it work on a larger scale?
The hardware store variety mineral spirits from my garage did dissolve the CP but when used over more than a small area it soaked into the paper and even left some color blooming out around the wet spot when it dried. Further experiment didn’t resolve these problems and I was about to give up.
A “What If” Moment
But, I’m an engineer and problems are our daily bread. My Left-brain Engineer side determined to get an answer, one way or the other.
Then…another brainstorm. In those days I was painting in oils as well as doing CP pieces. I had a piece of canvas board sitting around waiting for a project. Engineer said “Canvas doesn’t absorb mineral spirits right?. Hmmm…what if?”
My first attempts were messy. But as I got the “hang of” this new support and the new way of using CP, my left brain told my Right Brain everything was “OK, go ahead, what are you waiting for?”
The result was a 20 x 16” piece, “The Venture” (see below) that became my second acceptance to the CPSA International (2010), led to an invitation to conduct workshops at the 2012 CPSA Convention, and the work was subsequently accepted by the American Society of Marine Artists (ASMA) for their 16th traveling exhibit.
The vessel depicted is the actual tramp steamer used as the set for and digital model prototype of the “SS Venture” featured in the 2005 film “King Kong”.
I was visiting my daughter ‘down under’ when she worked with Weta Digital on the film. She got us onto the secured quay where the ship was moored, so it was a unique “up close and personal” experience of a piece of maritime history. I discovered this gallant lady was eventually declared unseaworthy and too expensive to restore or maintain. She was ceremoniously scuttled (sunk on purpose) in the deep, stormy waters of Cook Strait, between the North and South Islands of New Zealand in 2010.
A fitting end.
Why I Like Canvas
I was, and continue to be, sold on canvas as a support for CP and artist’s mineral spirits as a solvent. Perfecting the technique took time, and I continue to surprise myself with each new piece’s opportunity to learn more.
I continue to use various papers as well, but canvas has been adopted as my primary support.
In my opinion there are some salient advantages to using canvas as a support for Colored Pencil work.
Deep Saturated Color
Getting deep saturated color using CP dry on canvas involves much pressure and a very sharp pencil to get color down into the weave of the canvas. Pencil wear is high. Why? The white of the canvas shows through in the pits of the weave. Easily build up lighter passages using the white weave of the canvas just as with a rougher paper. This is valuable for doing work that requires an “airy” feeling, especially skies and atmospheric effects.
Vibrant colors can be built up by using an under drawing/painting to fill in the tooth without killing it. Use complementary colors in the under drawing/painting to add interest and vibrance to colors laid over them.
The weave of good canvas is very tough and difficult to destroy, either by burnishing or erasing thoroughly with a white eraser and water, making both small and major changes possible.
No Framing Necessary
Canvas is available pre-mounted in both large and small sizes. The lack of need for a frame makes large CP pieces possible that would otherwise be prohibitive to glaze, frame and ship. An unglazed (no glass) CP work on canvas is no more fragile that an oil or acrylic on canvas when properly handled.
Excellent for Solvent Blending
The appearance of lightfast CP applied dry is greatly enhanced through use of solvent UV protective coating such as fixative and varnish.
Color saturation is easier to achieve when solvent is used–even for very thin, single layer passages. The colors in a finished piece on canvas have a vibrance different from works on paper because of the property of light penetrating the color layers and reflecting off the brilliant white surface.
More Painterly Affects
Lastly, and in my opinion, a deciding factor. Because of the nature of the surface, CP work on canvas compels a more “painterly” and immediate technique than dry CP on paper. Don’t get me wrong. Both approaches have their important place in the genre of CP works. But some subjects obviously work better on one versus the other. I work on both.
Choosing the Right Canvas
Canvas brands, like papers, vary widely in texture from coarse to ultra-fine. I have tested many of the brands commonly available in local art supply houses or from internet vendors with high customer ratings. The only ones I looked at were: archival throughout, had brilliant white gesso coating, Fine, regular weave, lack of foreign matter in the coating, and a finger-touch texture like velvet. But these stood out:
Blick’s Premiere canvas line: a consistently fine product for this use.
Archival Watercolor Canvas made by Fredrix. Its texture is more like a portrait canvas that Blick’s.
Both come in stretched or board-mounted and have well aligned, regular medium-smooth weave and brilliant white gessoed working surface – archival throughout. Each has a feeling like velvet of a very fine
paper. They also come in common rectangular dimensions as well as square, oblong and curved shapes (Blick).The Fredrix Canvas has a very fine weave, much like portrait canvas. I choose this when I want the canvas weave to be almost, but not quite, inconspicuous.
For artists new to CP on canvas I recommend a canvas board. If you get your canvas from a local art supply store, review the criteria I described about and require the clerk to let you open and feel the surface. If he/she won’t, go to a store that will.
For an overall look at my many pieces done on canvas I direct the reader to my website, www.bearcubstudio.com.
So What do You Think about Canvas with Colored Pencils?
My thanks to John for sharing his experiences with using canvas with colored pencils.
I started out using oil paints on canvas, so John’s method intrigues me. What about you?
John is the featured artist in the May issue of CP Magic, where you can read more about his unique technique, as well as his artistic journey.