My Favorite Watercolor Papers

My Favorite Watercolor Papers

Time to talk about the art supplies I find the most useful for the type of work I do. Today’s topic is paper; specifically, my favorite watercolor papers.

Here’s the reader question.

Hi Carrie.

I have read a few of your articles on eliminating paper holes showing through colored pencil, but I would like to know which paper you recommend using to apply the water color or Inktense under painting before applying colored pencil. Multi-media, hot or cold pressed watercolor paper, or something else. Some watercolor papers have so much texture they are no fun to use for colored pencil drawings. Thank you.

The Different Types of Watercolor Paper

The reader mentioned the surface texture of some watercolor papers. That is probably the most important thing to consider when choosing watercolor paper for colored pencils.

There are two types of watercolor paper. Hot press and cold press. The type you choose makes a huge difference in how your art looks.

Cold press paper has more texture. The amount of texture differs, but it’s always a bit rougher than hot press watercolor paper and most traditional papers. The texture isn’t gritty; it’s more pebbly, and in my opinion, it’s unsuited to dry colored pencil work.

Hot press paper is smoother, but it’s not as smooth as Bristol. It also has a different feel. Rather than being slick feeling, like Bristol, it’s a bit softer. Almost velvety, sometimes.

So when it comes to choosing the right watercolor paper for your colored pencil work, make sure to look at the differences between cold press and hot press.

For more detailed information, you might want to read The Difference Between Hot Press and Cold Press Watercolor Papers.

Now, to my favorite watercolor papers.

My Favorite Watercolor Papers

I prefer 140lb because it’s very tough and thick enough to stand up to many layers of color and some abuse. It needs to be taped to a rigid drawing board of some kind for larger piece, or it will buckle if you get it really wet. But it’s ideal for smaller pieces or for pieces on which I use moderate amounts to moisture.

For a really heavy paper, you could try 300 lb hot press watercolor paper. 300 lb paper is quite thick and stands up very well under lots of water and layering. I used Strathmore 300 lb. watercolor paper for this piece several years ago and it was quite sturdy.

I did not note whether or not the paper was hot press, but in looking at the texture shown in the high resolution image, I think it was probably cold press. So you can do great work on cold press, but it does take more work.

The Brands I Like Most

The watercolor paper I use most is Canson L’Aquarelle 140lb hot press. It has a nice, velvety surface that works as well for completely dry colored pencil, as it does for watercolor and colored pencil mixed.

I’ve used it for larger works (8×10 usually) and for small studies of 6×9 or smaller. It’s very satisfactory for every technique I’ve tried; even some very experimental techniques.

The reason I prefer this paper is that it’s usually available at outlets such as Hobby Lobby, so if I need a pad quickly, and I stop by the store and pick one up. I prefer 9×12 inch pads, but it comes in other sizes, as well.

If you shop online, you can also find it in full sheets.

I’ve also used Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press and it feels almost like regular Stonehenge. It stands up to water extremely well, and you can use regular pencils on it just like on regular Stonehenge.

I got samples of this paper from the Legion company and wrote a review on my experiences here.

The two papers are pretty similar in every way but cost. Stonehenge is a bit more expensive than Canson L’Aquarelle, but I’ve been very happy with both.

Those are My Two Favorite Watercolor Papers

The truth is that almost any watercolor should work, and you can try almost any brand. When you buy paper, keep in mind how you want your finished artwork to look, and choose the paper accordingly.

Also knowing how you plan to use wet and dry media is important. The example I showed above involved a lot of watercolor work. I used colored pencils for glazing and details, so the additional texture was helpful.

If you don’t plan to use wet media for more than tinting the paper, then you may want to consider a hot press paper.

And don’t be afraid to try heavier papers. Sometimes that additional substance in the paper is just what you need; especially for larger works.

What to do When Your Paper Gets Slick

What to Do When Your Paper Gets Slick

So what do you do when your paper gets slick?

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

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.

What to do When Your Paper Gets Slick

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.

What to Do When Your Paper Gets Slick

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.

I recently wrote on this same topic for the store blog. You can read When Your Paper Gets Slick here for more information on this topic.

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!

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.

Paper Holes showing through Colored Pencil

Are paper holes showing through colored pencil layers a problem area for you? You’re not alone!

Today’s question comes from an artist who asked about that very thing. Here’s her question.

Hi Carrie,

I’m painting a subject in CP that I first planned to paint in WC, and it was drawn on a paper that is very textured. I only realized my error when I started the very dark parts. I’ve tried sharp pencils, burnishing, solvent, but nothing changed. I don’t mind the white showing through, but I don’t know if it’s acceptable.

And thank you for the tips on plants. My photo has lots of grass and I didn’t know how to approach it.

By the way, may I mix watercolor and colored pencils for the grass?

Thank you!

Mirian

Thank you for your question, Mirian. Your project sounds quite intriguing!

Personally, I usually don’t like paper holes showing through colored pencil in my finished art.

However, there have been times when it can be a great tool, especially in landscape drawings. Letting a bit of paper show through the color can help create the illusion of distance in a landscape. It’s also good for drawing fog or mist, or for creating texture.

In the end, it’s an entirely personal choice.

Paper Holes showing through Colored Pencil

Most colored pencil artists seem to prefer full color saturation (no paper showing through,) but it’s perfectly acceptable to have paper showing through the color.

Back when colored pencils first started coming into their own as a fine art medium, a lot of works had that sort of “grainy” look. That seemed to be the standard for colored pencil art.

I don’t know if artists consciously made that decision, or if it was due to the newness of the medium and the tools being used.

This is one of my first colored pencil horse portraits. The color is not at all as saturated as I now prefer it, but it’s what I knew to do (and what I knew HOW to do at the time.)

As I look at this again, I wonder what it would look like if I were to do it over.

You have to admit colored pencils, colored pencil artists, and colored pencil art has come a long way in the last few decades.

So if having a bit of paper showing through the color layers gives you the result you want, then use it.

Otherwise, keep layering and blending until you fill in those paper holes.

How to Fill in Paper Holes

There are several ways to fill in all the paper holes (also known as saturated color.)

Layering

My preferred method is simply adding color until the combination of layers covers the paper completely.

I used light pressure for this test sample, building up value and filling paper holes with several layers of blue. I used heavier pressure in the darkest area, but only after putting down quite a few layers with light pressure.

I did this sample on Bristol, which is a very smooth paper, but I could get similar results on toothier papers or even sanded papers. It just takes more layers.

Paper Holes showing through Colored Pencil

Now, I have a naturally light hand, so I can add dozens of layers if I want to. That helps fill in paper holes. But that’s not the only method out there.

Solvents

Blending periodically with solvent is a great way to blend smooth color and fill in paper holes. Make sure you have enough color on the paper to be blended, then use solvent sparingly. Don’t soak the paper! That could actually remove color.

If necessary, layer more color, then blend with solvent until the paper tooth is filled.

I’m surprised solvent didn’t work on the paper Mirian is using. It must be very toothy. But she should be able to alternate between laying and blending until the tooth is filled.

Burnishing

Burnishing is also a good way to fill paper holes. I burnished the salmon colored leaf in the upper left, and the three purple or pink leaves in the lower right.

Burnish sparingly and toward the end of the drawing process. Once you burnish, it’s difficult to layer more color over the top.

It’s possible that Mirian needs to use all three methods together, alternating between layering followed by solvent blending and layering followed by burnishing. I’ve never burnished and then blended with solvent, but it’s possible that might also help fill in the paper holes on Mirian’s drawing.

Mixing Watercolor and Colored Pencils

Another alternative is starting with water soluble media to lay down base colors, then applying colored pencil over the top.

This works with watercolors and watercolor pencils. Many artists also use inks or Derwent Inktense for base layers.

How to do a Water Soluble Under Drawing for a Landscape shows you one way to use water-based media under colored pencils for a landscape.

Paper Holes showing through Colored Pencil

Just make sure to do all the watercolor work first. Then let the paper dry completely and you can layer colored pencil over that.

You can use the same methods to combine watercolor paint and colored pencils. Watercolors and watercolor pencils are a great way to lay down base colors quickly and fill all the paper holes.

You will probably want to use a paper made for wet media, though. Otherwise you’ll have problems with the paper warping, buckling, and possibly falling apart!

The Bottom Line on Paper Holes and Colored Pencils

Whether or not you allow paper holes to show through layers of colored pencil in your finished work is up to you.

Some artists like that look. Some do not.

If you prefer smooth, saturated color, the tips I’ve shared will help you achieve it.

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 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.

The Best Papers for Blending Colored Pencils

Let’s talk about the best papers for blending colored pencils. Are some papers better for blending than others?

Unfortunately, there isn’t one single paper that’s absolutely best for blending colored pencils all the time or for every artist. Blending has more to do with the pencils you use, the way you draw, and the results you want to achieve.

The paper does make a difference, but probably not as much as you might think.

The Best Paper for Blending Colored Pencils

Blending colored pencils is all about smoothing out the color and filling the paper holes. You can do that on almost any paper. For example, I use Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes, Bristol Vellum, and Clairefontaine Pastelmat. The techniques vary, but I can fill the paper holes on each paper.

But there are a few general guidelines for selecting papers to make blending easier.

The Best Paper for Blending Colored Pencils

Smooth Papers versus Rougher Papers

As a rule, smoother papers like Bristol Vellum are easier to blend on because they have very little surface texture. Color goes down more smoothly, so there are fewer paper holes to fill in.

Some of the best papers for blending colored pencils are very smooth papers, such as Bristol.

The flip side to smooth papers is sanded art papers, which have a lot of tooth.

It seems like it would be harder to blend colored pencils on sanded art papers, but it’s actually easier. That’s because sanded papers take a lot more layers. You can keep adding color until the tooth is filled.

Another reason is that sanded art papers create pigment dust. That seems like wasted pigment at first glance, but use a stiff brush to push the dust around and into the tooth of the paper, and all of a sudden, you can blend beautiful, smooth color.

The fact of the matter is that you can blend smooth color on any kind of paper.

So let’s talk about the three things I mentioned earlier.

The Pencils You Use

The higher quality pencils you use, the easier it should be to blend, no matter what method you prefer. Better pencils have a higher percentage of pigment to binding agent. That means less binding agent and more pigment ends up on the paper. The more pigment on the paper, the better the colors blend.

I addressed the issue of pencils and blending in a recent post.

The Way You Draw

The way your draw is probably the most significant factor. If you like drawing with just a few layers of color applied with medium pressure or heavier, than you’re probably going to get the best results with a paper like Bristol. It’s smoother, and tougher. You can get good color saturation with a softer paper like Stonehenge, but you will crush the tooth of a softer paper.

Afternoon Graze is drawn on Bristol vellum. I was able to get rich color and good coverage by careful layering with light pressure.

If you draw with a light hand and like lots of layers, then the only papers you probably will not want to use are the smooth papers like Bristol. You’ll need something with enough tooth to hold multiple layers of color. Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes would be good papers to try.

And for those who like a more painterly look, sanded art papers are perfect.

Spring Storm is an original colored pencil on Pastelmat. Color saturation is good. There are no paper holes showing through, but the overall appearance is more painterly; less finely detailed.

The Results You Want to Achieve

Some artists like doing hyper-realistic art, in which you can’t tell the difference between their art and their reference photo.

Other artists prefer a sketchier style, and still others prefer a more painterly look.

The type of blending you need to do depends on the type of work you like. That in turn may determine the type of paper you use.

The Best Papers for Blending Colored Pencils

The best papers for blending are different for each artist. Some artists can get similar results on whatever paper they use, and they try lots of different papers.

Others find a paper they like and stick with it.

In either case, they’re able to blend effectively.

If you’re not satisfied with the way your blending looks on the paper you’re using, using another paper might be the solution. The best option is to try as many papers as you can afford to try until you find one that works for you.

However, I also challenge you to continue improving blending skills. The better you get at layering and blending colors, the happier you’ll be with the results.

No matter what paper you use.

Choosing Papers for Colored Pencils

Choosing Papers for Colored Pencils

Lets talk about choosing papers for colored pencils. There are a lot of options, and today’s reader wants to know about suitable papers.

Hi Carrie,

Could you please share your knowledge on suitable papers for different projects?

You may like to cover points such as what would be the best papers for portraits, paper with tooth or smoother papers, vellum, & what grades, etc.

It’s just so confusing and there is so much out there.

Thanks so much for your valued help.

Kind regards,

Suzanne

Suzanne, what a great question and great discussion points. Thank you!

Choosing Papers for Colored Pencils

As Suzanne mentioned, there are a lot of papers on the market. Especially if you’re new to colored pencils, making the right choice can be intimidating.

Let me remove some of the pressure. There is no Right Answer to this question. I will tell you what papers I like for portraits, and other projects, but my choices are based on my drawing style. They may not work for you.

It’s perfectly all right to try different types of paper. That’s what I did. But hopefully I’ll give you a place to begin with my recommendations.

Choosing Papers for Colored Pencils

Let me answer the easy question first. Suzanne mentions grades of paper. By that, I’m assuming she means quality. Always, always, always use the best paper you can afford. Unless you’re doodling or sketching, you’re likely to put a lot of time and effort into your work, so it deserves the best paper.

If Suzanne means the weight of the paper rather than the quality, then consider heavier papers. Canson makes two papers that are very similar. Canson Ingres paper and Mi-Teintes paper. They are very similar in surface texture and come in similar colors.

But the Ingres is only 27lb in weight (100gsm) while Mi-Teintes is 98lb in weight. That’s a significant difference. I have used both and was so dissatisfied with the feel of the Ingres that I almost didn’t try the Mi-Teintes.

You may not care for heavier paper, but they will stand up better under lots of layers. Most of them can also stand up under some solvent blending and erasing.

High quality is always best. Heavier weight is usually best.

The Way You Draw Makes a Difference

I have a naturally light hand and my drawings are developed through multiple layers. I don’t keep track of that information but would guess that the average is 20 to 40 layers to finish a drawing. Maybe more.

So I need a paper with enough tooth for all those layers. I like Stonehenge, but prefer Canson Mi-Teintes and I’m growing quite fond of Pastelmat. They all take a lot of color and still allow me to draw realistic pieces.

Someone who uses heavier pressure might prefer a toothy paper, but they could also use a smoother paper, since they wouldn’t need as many layers of color.

Suggestions for Different Types of Projects

Because drawing methods and styles differ so much, I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. But I will tell you how I choose papers for various projects.

Smooth or Reflective Subjects

In general, I use smoother papers like Bristol Vellum or Strathmore Artagain for subjects that need a polished look. Metallic, shiny things, for example. I used Bristol Vellum for this piece.

My preferred Bristol is Bienfang because it’s heavier than most Bristol in pads.

Portraits

For portraits, I use something that’s not too toothy but that can handle layers. I’ve done portraits on Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes, and Strathmore Artagain. This portrait was on Canson Mi-Teintes.

At present, I’m also doing one portrait on Bristol Vellum and another on Pastelmat.

Landscapes

For landscapes, I prefer Pastelmat, but can also do landscapes on Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes.

I’ve also done some wonderful work on 140lb hot pressed watercolor paper. My favorite is Stonehenge Aqua (which feels just like regular Stonehenge) and Canson L’Aquarelle 140lb hot press. Whatever brand of watercolor paper I use, I choose hot press because it’s smooth. 140lb watercolor paper is the lightest paper I trust.

This is my most recent landscape. I used dark gray Pastelmat.

To Recap Choosing Papers for Colored Pencils

In general, smoother papers are better for drawings that require a high level of detail and/or for artists who prefer drawing with fewer layers. They’re also good for mixed media with watercolor, watercolor pencils, or markers if they’re made to handle moisture.

Toothier papers are good for artists who do a lot of layering, want a more painterly look, or don’t require a lot of detail.

But tastes change.

You’ll probably find that your preferences change as you gain skills or experiment with new papers. That’s okay.

In fact, it’s part of the process of growing as an artist. So don’t be afraid to try new papers. You never know where you may find your next favorite paper!

Filling in Paper Holes on Stonehenge Paper

If you’ve ever had problems filling paper holes, you’ll be interested in today’s question. A reader asked about filling in paper holes on Stonehenge paper. Here’s the question.

What is the best paper to use for blending colored pencils?

I have tried Stonehenge which takes a lot layers but I find it difficult to fill in the pin holes that the colored pencil doesn’t cover.

Best Regards,

Dean

Thank you for your question, Dean.

Unfortunately, there isn’t one single paper that’s absolutely best for blending colored pencils all the time or for every artist.

Filling in Paper Holes on Stonehenge Paper

So rather than talk about papers, let’s talk about filling in those paper holes on Stonehenge paper.

Filling in Paper Holes on Stonehenge Paper

Blending is all about smoothing out the color and filling the paper holes. You can do that on almost any paper. I use Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes, Bristol Vellum, and Clairefontaine Pastelmat paper, just to name a few. The techniques vary, but I can fill the paper holes on each paper.

So there are ways to fill in the paper holes on Stonehenge paper, beginning with the pencils you use.

The Pencils You Use

The higher quality pencils you use, the easier it should be to blend, no matter what blending method you prefer. Better pencils put more pigment on the paper. The more pigment on the paper, the easier it is to blend, and the more paper holes you fill in.

I use a combination of Prismacolor and Faber-Castell Polychromos on Stonehenge with good results.

The Way You Draw

What I’m talking about here is the pressure you put on the pencil when you draw. If you draw with light pressure, you can put more layers on the paper. If you draw with heavy pressure, you limit the number of layers you can add.

That’s because you’re putting more binding agent as well as pigment on the paper. The binding agent fills the tooth of the paper without adding color, so it can hinder you. Especially if you use waxy pencils like Prismacolor.

I mentioned earlier the pencils I use on Stonehenge. I also have a very light hand and begin drawings with light pressure, and use the lightest possible pressure as long as possible.

Layering

Simple layering is the best—and easiest—way to fill in paper holes. At least for me. The more layers you add, the more the paper holes you fill in, especially when you keep your pencils sharp.

Use light pressure for as many layers as possible as described above. Gradually increase pressure as needed. Make each layer as smooth as you can.

Blending Between Layers

One thing that really helps me blend smooth color on Stonehenge is blending between layers. I use a variety of blending methods and tools depending on the result I want. Here are a few of my favorites.

Dry Blending with Paper Towel or Bath Tissue

Dry blending with paper towel or bath tissue is especially effective with Stonehenge paper because Stonehenge is so soft. It’s easy to do, too. Fold a piece of paper towel or bath tissue into a small square, then rub the part of the drawing you want to blend.

Blending with a Light Value Neutral Color to Blend

You can blend by blending with a light value neutral color. Use light or medium pressure to add a light color over a few layers of the other colors you’ve been using. The lighter color smooths out pencil strokes and unifies the previous layers of color.

I recommend a color similar to the color of your paper if you’re not using white paper. If you are using white paper, then a light gray is probably your best choice.

Burnishing

Burnishing is using heavy pressure to “press” the layers of color together. It’s best to burnish toward the end of the drawing process, because burnishing flattens the paper and makes it difficult to add more color.

I hesitate to recommend burnishing because it’s easy to scuff the surface of Stonehenge, even with a lot of color on the paper. But it is effective if you don’t burnish a lot and are careful.

My Best Tips for Filling in Paper Tooth on Stonehenge Paper

I get the feeling that Dean really likes drawing on Stonehenge paper, but is discouraged about the difficulty of filling in those pesky paper holes. If that’s the case, then these tips should help him.

They’ll help you, too, if you also have problems filling in paper holes. And they work on most art papers.

With enough layers or with the use of blending methods like burnishing and solvent blends, it is possible to fill in all the paper holes on Stonehenge and other papers.

It just takes more layers and more time.