Tips for Drawing on Black Paper

Tips for Drawing on Black Paper

Today’s topic is one a lot of colored pencil artists can never learn enough about. Drawing on black paper is something most of us want to try at least once, but it’s also something we have questions about. Here’s today’s question to get us started.

Hi Carrie,

One of the things that intrigues me about colored pencils is eventually working on black paper. My question is this.

How do I know which colors are going to be the most vibrant on black?

Also, is there anything different in technique about working on black paper vs white paper?  Am especially wondering about bright highlights on black.

Gail

Thank you for a great question, Gail. The old adage that if one person asks a question, dozens of other people also want to know is definitely proven with this question!

Gail has actually asked two questions. Both are important, so I’ll answer each one in turn.

Tips for Drawing on Black Paper

Looking for Vibrant Colors

No color looks as vibrant on black paper as it looks on white paper. Colored pencils are translucent by nature, so unless you apply color with very heavy pressure, the color of the paper affects the color layers.

But you can look for colors that are high contrast to black. A bright, medium value or lighter red looks more vibrant on black paper than a darker red, for example. I used Prismacolor Scarlet Lake on the left and Prismacolor Raspberry on the right. The more layers and heavier pressure I used with each color, the brighter the color is. But burnishing the Raspberry will never make it as bright as the Scarlet Lake.

Also, choose lighter colors than the colors you see in the reference photo. The color that looks perfect when you compare it to your reference photo may be too dark when you put it on black paper. So look for a lighter version of that color for your drawing.

This takes some practice, so I suggest you keep a scrap of black paper handy to test colors. That saves you using the wrong colors on your drawing. It also saves a lot of headaches.

And if you plan to use black paper often, save those color swatches for future reference! Labeled by color, of course!

Adjusting Your Drawing Technique

Start with a White Under Drawing

Whether you start with an under drawing or not with white paper, consider doing an under drawing on black or dark-colored papers.

And you’ll probably want to consider using white for the under drawing (although Helen Carter did a great tutorial with a yellow under painting in the June 2020 issue of CP Magic.)

This sample shows Scarlet Lake and Raspberry layered over White. I applied all three colors with varying pressure and numbers of layers.

A white or light-colored under drawing acts as a buffer between the paper and color layers. The black of the paper doesn’t dim the color layers quite as much if you put color over a white under drawing.

This isn’t absolute, of course. I didn’t use an under drawing for this horse drawing. But I also wasn’t doing a “finished portrait.” As I recall, I did this head study in a single day, and was basically just playing around with colored pencils and dark paper.

But it shows that you can start with local colors on black paper. You don’t need an under drawing.

Light Values First

The most important thing to remember about working on black paper is that you need to work in reverse. Instead of establishing the dark values and working toward the light values, establish the lightest values first and work toward the dark values.

It’s still important to create a good range of values, with dark darks and light lights. But instead of shading the dark values, shade the light values.

When working on white paper, I start by establishing the shadows, because they give my subject form. But I have to start by shading the highlights when I draw on black paper.

With this little study, for example, I began by lightly sketching the large branches, and then continued to brighten them as I drew. I increased the brightness by adding more layers of white or by increasing the pressure. Sometimes both.

The darkest shadows are the black of the paper.

Tips for Drawing on Black Paper

Yes, I used only one color on this study, but the process is the same when I use a full palette.

Layer, Layer, Layer

This isn’t any different than working on white or light-colored paper, except that you need to add light values and colors over and over.

Light colors sometimes seem to seep into dark-colored paper. At least that’s the way it seems to me. So every time I work on a more complex piece like this one, I have to redo the light colors.

That’s also often the last thing I do to finish a piece.

A lot depends on the paper you use, of course. Toothy papers like Canson Mi-Teintes take more layers to fill, so you have to add lighter colors again and again.

Smoother papers like Strathmore Artagain have less tooth to fill. Artagain comes in a very lovely black that’s fairly easy to work with. I prefer their black paper to the much softer Stonehenge, as a matter of fact, but I’ve had success with all of them.

The Four Most Important Tips for Drawing on Black Paper

In most other ways, drawing on black paper is no different than drawing on any other color of paper. Pay attention to how you put the color on the paper, the strokes you use, and so on, and you’ll do fine.

Best Papers to use with Titanium White

The first question for December Q&A month concerns the best papers to use with titanium white.

Here’s the question.

What exact types of paper work best with Titanium White?  You told me that they would have to be heavier types, so just wondered specifically which ones would work?  I tried to find this out by searching on the internet and couldn’t get this question answered.

Gail

Best Papers to use with Titanium White

Gail has asked a great question. I yet to use Titanium White mixture, and I know many others of you probably haven’t either. So let’s talk a little bit about what Titanium White is first, then answer Gail’s question.

What is Titanium White

Colored pencil artist Alyona Nickelson developed Titanium white as a fully archival way to add or restore bright white highlights to ancolored pencil drawing. It can be used dry and applied with a sponge applicator to any part of a drawing you want to lighten.

Most artists I’ve seen using titanium white mix it with another Brush & Pencil product, Touchup Texture. Touchup Texture is restores surface texture to a drawing that is too slick to take more color. Just shake it up, brush it on, let it dry, and continue drawing.

Mix Titanium White and Touchup Texture, and brush it onto a drawing to add sparkling highlights. Once it’s dry, you can draw over it to add color. It looks like a fantastic product and an excellent addition to any colored pencil tool box.

Peggy Osborne, who has written several tutorials for this blog, uses this mixture in many of her projects, including How to Draw an Irish Setter and How to Draw White Fur.

The Best Papers to use with Titanium White

Some of the Brush & Pencil products require either a sanded paper or rigid support. Powder blender is one such.

But I was unable to find anything specific on the best papers to use with Titanium White. Many of the artists whose videos I watched while researching this question used sanded papers for their demos. Most of them were using Pastelmat, but that’s because that’s their go-to surface anyway.

Peggy has seven tutorials published on this blog and she used Titanium White mixture on almost all of them. Papers she used included heavyweight vellum from Bee Paper, mat board, Strathmore Mixed Media Paper, Canson Mi-Teintes Pastel Paper, Robert Bateman Series 110-pound paper, and Pastelmat.

What Peggy Osborne Recommends

So I asked Peggy what papers she found worked the best with Titanium White. Here’s what she had to say.

I can only answer this per my own experience. I have used the mixture on a number of different types of paper. But I normally use a thicker paper with tooth. I don’t how this mixture would work on a smooth, thin paper.

The mixture is fragile and you would not be able to roll your artwork to say, place in a tube [for shipping.] It is meant to stay flat or it will flake off.

This being said, I think the mixture would work on most papers. It is normally applied to the colored pencil so if there are several layers of pencil for the mixture to stick to then it should be fine.

Hope this helps.

Peggy

What are the Best Papers to use with Titanium White?

It really looks like Titanium White works on any high-quality drawing paper. Heavier papers like Canson Mi-Teintes and sanded supports like Uart or Pastelmat seem to me to be the best alternatives, but as Peggy says, it appears suitable for most good drawing papers.

So if you have a favorite drawing paper and want to try Titanium White on it, go ahead. Make sure to do a test swatch first, though. There’s no sense in ruining an otherwise good drawing if the experiment doesn’t work.

I’ll do my own tests when I get the opportunity and write up my experiences. In the meantime, feel free to share with us how your drawings turned out in the comments below.

Fixing Damaged Drawing Paper

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.

Fixing Damaged Drawing Paper

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

Dents

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.

Fixing Damaged Drawing
When you shine a light across a piece of paper, it’s easier to see dents and other minor surface imperfections. I held a lamp just above the paper to photograph this. This type of damage can be easily removed by placing the paper between two rigid surfaces and putting a weight of some sort on top for a day or two.

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.

Torn 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.

Stonehenge paper and many others are sold with two deckled edges. These are “raw” untrimmed edges. You can create something similar by carefully cropping torn paper along the tear.

Creases

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.

Why?

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.

Additional Reading

To see how these methods work, read Hiding Scratches, Dents, and Scrapes in Your Good Drawing Paper on EmptyEasel.

The Difference Between Hot Press and Cold Press Papers

The Difference Between Hot Press & Cold Press Watercolor Papers

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.

Read Which Paper is Best for Colored Pencils? for more paper basics.

How to Decide Which Paper to Use

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.

For more detailed information on hot and cold press watercolor papers, read Cold Press vs Hot Press watercolor paper – Here’s how to choose ! It’s written for watercolor artists, but the paper information is good for colored pencil artists, as well.

Still Undecided?

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.

And you can’t ask for more than that!

The Best Black Paper for Colored Pencil Art

Today I’d like to talk about black paper; specifically, the best black paper for colored pencil art.

The post comes in response to a reader question. Here’s the question.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to ask for information. As a very senior citizen, one of my joys is and has been doing colored pencil work. I would like to try doing colored pencil work on a black surface. I love doing wildlife and so I thought the process would be dramatic.

Can you please suggest the proper black surface on which to do colored pencil work and what type of colored pencil [oil or wax? brand?] that would be most effective.

The Best Black Paper for Colored Pencil Art

First of all, thank you to the reader for the question. I’m always happy to make recommendations and suggestions based on personal experience and observation.

The Best Black Paper for Colored Pencil Art

The reader is right. Black paper can make for very dramatic drawings. I’ve used it several times with wonderful results.

And I’ve used a few different types of paper, so can offer suggestions for that, as well.

But there are other questions, too, so let’s tackle each one of them.

Pencils to Use on Black Paper

Both wax- and oil-based pencils work well with black paper. I’ve used Prismacolor Premier and Faber-Castell pencils on colored paper. Both are suitable either by themselves or in combination.

Caran d’Ache Luminance are reported to be more opaque than most other colored pencils. If that is true (I haven’t used them so can’t say one way or another,) then they would be a good pencil for use on darker and black paper.

In short, the best thing to do is test the pencils you have on small pieces of paper first. If you’re dissatisfied with those, try other pencils. Buy two or three pencils at a time to see which work best for you. Then buy as many colors as you need (or a full set) of that brand.

A good way to try more expensive pencils is to buy just a few open stock to try. I bought these two Derwent Lightfast pencils when ordering other supplies. Choose your favorite colors in each brand for th best comparisons.

My Favorite Black Paper

As for the best paper, the papers that suit my drawing style (I do lots of layering) best are Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Tientes. Both come in black.

Stonehenge is a 90-pound paper with a smooth, velvety texture. It stands up well under layering and can take a lot of color. If you mount it to a rigid support, it also performs well with moderate solvent blending and dries flat.

Canson Mi-Teintes is pastel paper, so it’s quite rough on the front. The back is ideal for colored pencil, but it is still rougher than Stonehenge. It’s a little bit heavier than Stonehenge—98-pounds—so is my personal preference. It’s good with moderate amounts of solvent and holds up well under layering.

Canson Mi-Teintes is among the best black papers for colored pencil art.
Christmas Tree-O was drawn on dark, blue-black or black Canson Mi-Teintes. The brighter colors required a lot of layering, but I used no solvent blending on this piece.

Other Black Papers I’ve Used

Strathmore Artagain art paper is another black paper I’ve used and liked. Artagain is a 60-pound paper made from 30% post consumer paper. It feels almost like Bristol, but with a bit more tooth.

I used Strathmore Artagain paper for this more stylized portrait. Artagain is a nice, Bristol-like paper, but it isn’t quite a black as some of the other papers. You can see the dark shading I did with Black around the dog.

You might also try mat board. Mat board comes in a variety of types and textures. For the best results, use a museum quality mat board such as Crescent so your artwork lasts for years.

Mat board is a rigid support. Don’t blend with solvent or use wet media. Do layer color to your heart’s content!

I always liked mat board because I could get large sheets for bigger projects. And matting a piece with the same mat board it’s drawn on gives it a bit more sparkle (in my opinion.)

White Legs Running is a very old piece that I THINK was drawn on a rough-surface mat board. Mat board is great because it comes in so many surface textures, as well as colors.

The Most Important Thing to Remember About Using Black Paper of Any Kind

The most important thing to remember about using black paper is that the colors you put on it look different than they look on white paper. Sometimes, the black paper seems to “absorb” the color, so you have to put more layers of the light colors on the paper to make them look bright.

A white under drawing is also a good way to start a drawing on black paper. Peggy Osborne recently drew a rooster on black paper and you can read her tutorial here.

Whatever paper you draw on and whatever pencils you use, have fun and experiment a little before doing a serious piece. That’s the absolute best way to find best black paper for colored pencil for your art.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Colored Pencil Art

Today’s reader question comes from a reader who wants to know the best paper and pencils for colored pencil art. Here’s the question.

Hi Carrie.

In your opinion, which are the best coloured pencils to use for drawing and which is the ideal substrate to use? I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you for the question. Other than questions about blending and layering, this is probably one of the more often asked questions asked of artists.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Colored Pencil Art

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer beyond my encouragement that you buy the best of both that you can afford.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Colored Pencil Art

There are so many different drawing methods and styles that what works for me may not work for you. The best paper and pencils for you depends on what gives you the results you want, and what fits your budget.

So I’m going to address it from two points of view: Craft art and fine art. I’ll also offer general suggestions on what to look for and a few things to avoid.

The Best Paper for Craft Art

Craft art includes adult coloring books, greeting cards, art trading cards, stamping, and so on. Short-term art that doesn’t need to be archival in order to be useful or marketable.

The best paper and pencils for craft art.
Image by A_Different_Perspective from Pixabay

I also include artwork from which you make reproductions, but which you have no intention of selling as an original.

Adult coloring books are usually printed on inexpensive drawing paper so you have no choice in the paper unless you print the pages yourself. Coloring books printed on better paper are available, but you will pay for the improved quality.

Blank greeting card stock comes in a variety of qualities. Canson and Strathmore are two well-known paper companies that also sell artist-quality blank card stock. Other companies sell less expensive card stock, so you can pick and choose and try different papers until you find one that works well for you.

Strathmore makes a line of drawing papers ranging from newsprint, which isn’t archival, to high-quality drawing paper. Many other paper manufacturers also make different grades of paper.

Beyond that, any pad of good drawing paper will allow you to do what you need or want to do as far as craft art. I don’t do craft art, so recommend you try a few and see which you like best.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

And there’s absolutely nothing other than price keeping you from using high-quality paper for craft purposes. If your budget is flexible, give those pricey papers a try and see what you think.

The Best Pencils for Craft Art

You can use almost any pencil for craft art, from the most expensive to the least. Look for the best combination of price, color selection, and availability in your area.

In the United States, Prismacolor is probably the best combination of those four features. They have a stunning collection of colors and are a good value. Some quality issues exist, but broken leads, split casing, and warped pencils are sporadic, at worst.

Blick Studio Colored Pencils are also a good brand to consider. High quality, low cost, and color selection are their strongest selling points. They are available only through Dick Blick, but can be purchased online as well as in Blick stores.

If you buy a full set online, buy from a respected and trustworthy outlet such as Dick Blick. You can’t beat Dick Blick for customer service and if you end up with a bad purchase, they will make it right.

After that, you can buy open stock (single pencils) and look for things like warped pencils and split casings if you buy in person.

Image by Hartmut Jaster from Pixabay

Other brands to consider are Bruynzeel Design, and Derwent Coloursoft.

I don’t recommend pencils such as Crayola or any other scholastic pencils. You can do craft art with scholastic pencils, but the colors aren’t usually as bright or the pencils as well pigmented. It takes more effort to get the same results you could get with better pencils.

The Best Paper for Fine Art

Fine art includes portraits and other types of commission art, exhibit art, and art you want to sell. Artwork in this category needs to last a long time without fading or otherwise deteriorating, so you need the most archival paper and pencils you can afford.

Look for papers that are high-quality. Usually that means non-acidic.

You should also opt for papers made from cotton fibers, since those fibers are the strongest and longest lasting. Avoid papers made from cellulose fibers.

I prefer papers that are sturdy. 98lb paper is about the lightest I’ll use for fine art applications. Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes are both 98-pound papers and are sturdy enough to stand up under solvents and watercolor pencils in moderate amounts.

Stonehenge Aqua and Canson L’Aquarelle 140lb hot press papers are also excellent papers. Both are made for watercolor painting, but both have a great texture for dry work, too. The biggest drawback is that they come in white only and cost more than regular drawing paper.

I also use Uart Sanded Pastel Paper, Bienfang Bristol Vellum, and Strathmore Artagain recycled paper. All are worth trying if you haven’t yet found a favorite paper.

The Best Pencils for Fine Art

Pencils should be lightfast tested and rated. The best pencils usually have a somewhat limited selection of colors because the companies have opted not to include fugitive (fading) colors in their selection.

Caran d’Ache Luminance and Pablos, for example, are about the best pencils on the market and come in only 76 or 80 colors. They have a good color selection, but lack many of the bright, jewel-tone colors that tend to fade the most.

Other high-quality brands are Faber-Castell Polychromos and Derwent Lightfast.

Image by Thanks for your Like • donations welcome from Pixabay

My Favorite Paper

This is a close call, since I use a variety of papers ranging from very smooth Bristol Vellum to sanded art paper. But the paper I use most often (by a narrow margin) is Canson Mi-Teintes. Why? Mostly the colors. Canson Mi-Teintes comes in a rainbow of colors that are perfect when I want to do a portrait-style drawing with a plain background.

Portrait of a Black Horse is drawn on Steel Gray Canson Mi-Teintes paper. The paper has enough tooth for lots of layering, and the color was the perfect middle value.

Stonehenge and Stonehenge Aqua are the next favorite papers. The 140lb hot press Stonehenge Aqua looks and feels like white Stonehenge regular paper, but handles wet media better. Dry media works extremely well on it, so I can see the day coming when I no longer use regular Stonehenge.

After that, it’s a toss up and I often choose papers based on what I have in stock most of the time when I don’t want to work on either of those listed above.

The papers I currently have in stock are:

My Favorite Pencils

At present, I have only two brands of pencils. A full set of Prismacolor pencils (with all the non-lightfast colors removed) and a full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos.

Wax-based Prismacolor pencils are quite soft. They lay down easily and are capable of a high degree of blending with or without solvent. They can be sharpened well enough to draw a lot of detail, but tend to break if you apply too much pressure.

The best paper and pencils for Afternoon Graze was Prismacolor pencils on Bristol Vellum paper.
Afternoon Graze was drawn entirely with Prismacolor Premier pencils on Bristol vellum 146lb paper. The combination of soft, wax-based pencils and smooth paper helped me draw detail with a minimum of effort.

Oil-based Polychromos are harder, so they resist breaking even when sharpened to a sharper point. They don’t create wax bloom, but they also don’t burnish quite as well as the softer Prismacolor pencils.

I use both brands in most drawings. Usually, I start with Polychromos, then switch to Prismacolor when I need to lay down more color or want to burnish.

But I also mix them if I need a color that’s only available in one brand.

I used Prismacolor and Polychromos for this drawing, also on Bristol Vellum.

Pencils I’d recommend for the serious fine artist (or anyone who wants to become a serious fine artist) include:

I don’t currently use and never used any of these brands, but they come from companies with a good name in the industry and with a proven customer-service track record. I trust them to provide a quality product.

The list includes hard and soft pencils, wax-based and oil-based. Buy a few colors in open stock and try them to find those you like best.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Your Art

Those are my recommendations for the best paper and pencils for colored pencil art.

As mentioned before, it’s difficult to do more than make general recommendations and share my favorites because there are so many ways to make art.

So my best advice is to find an artist creating the type of artwork you want to create and see what paper and pencils they use.

Colored Pencils on Drafting Film: Where to Find Help

Today’s question comes from a reader looking for help using colored pencils on drafting film. Here’s the question:

I need instruction on handling Dura-lar drafting film. Do you know of any books or articles regarding this ground?

Thank you for your question. Drafting film is popular now, so there’s a lot of information available.

Where to Find Help Using Colored Pencils on Drafting Film

While I have yet to try drafting film personally, I am always watching videos and participating in discussions, so I can point you in the right direction! Following are a few of the better sources I’ve discovered.

Where to Find Help Using Colored Pencils on Drafting Film

Since there are so many resources available, let me share a few videos, then a few books and printed material, and finally social media resources. Some of them will deal specifically with Dura-Lar.

Videos about Drafting Film

Lisa Ann Watkins (Animal Art by LAW) uses drafting film for some of her colored pencil work. She has three or four videos about drafting film on her YouTube channel. The best place to start is her Introduction to Drafting Film video.

Bonny Snowdon also uses drafting film for many of her pet portraits. She has a very good real-time video on drafting film, Drawing Dog Eyes on Drafting Film.

Both artists also have Patreon channels. For a small monthly fee, you can get access to all of their videos, not just those about drafting film. You can find Bonny’s Patreon channel here, and Lisa’s Patreon channel here.

Many other artists have also published videos about drafting film and colored pencils. Search for “colored pencils on drafting film” and you’ll get dozens of potentially helpful videos.

Karen Hull’s website includes a full page dedicated to drafting film and how to use it. She explains the differences between drafting film and regular papers, the differences in drafting films, special techniques, and framing finished art.

Drafting Film Books & Tutorials

Ann Kullberg* has two resources that may be of help to you.

One is a drawing tutorial featuring peppers drawn on drafting film. Plenty O’ Peppers* is by Gretchen Evans Parker, and Gretchen walks you step-by-step through her drawing process.

There are also a couple other kits for beginners on drafting film.

All three come in a digital format you can download today, or in print. Plenty O’ Peppers also comes in a bundle that includes the printed tutorial and a few sheets of drafting film.

CP Surfaces: Drafting Film* is a book published by Ann. It contains several projects on drafting film by Gretchen Evans Parker. The book features five full demos ranging from marbles and abstract glass, to a duck on water.

*Affiliate link

Karen Hull also has a wide variety of kits and tutorials available for artists at all levels, including drafting film kits. Subjects include still life and portrait work, as well as a graphite tutorial on drafting film.

Colored Pencil Art Groups

There are several good colored pencil groups on Facebook.

At the time I’m writing this article, I’m a member of Colored Pencil Animal Artists, Colored Pencils for Beginners and Beyond, and Colored Pencil Pushers. All three groups are great places to get questions answered, see how other artists are doing what they do, and get tips on different types of supports.

Participation is free, but you will have to apply to each group and be juried in. Colored Pencil Pushers is a group specifically for experienced and advanced artists, but go ahead and apply. No matter what level you think you may be currently, your work will have to speak for you, and it may be accepted!

Social art groups can be a great place to find help using colored pencils on drafting film

Drafting film is currently a favorite support in all three groups. They’re free to join, though you need to apply, and the beginner’s group is especially helpful if you’re new to colored pencils.

Artworks on Drafting Film is a Facebook group dedicated to drafting film. It covers all media, but is an invaluable group if you want to learn all about drawing on drafting film.

Those are just a few places to find help if you want to use colored pencils on drafting film.

There are a lot more videos, tutorials, and other resources available, but you will find something in this selection to get you started!

I can just about guarantee it!

The Best Way to Transfer a Drawing to Black Paper

The Best Way to Transfer a Drawing to Black Paper

Today Rhonda asks how to transfer a drawing to black paper. Here’s her question:

What is the best way to transfer an image onto black or other dark colored paper?

Thank you for your question, Rhonda.

Most of us prefer not to make a line drawing on the paper on which we want to put our final artwork. It’s easier to develop a line drawing on other, less expensive paper until it’s the way we want it. Then the finished line drawing can be transferred to more expensive paper without worry.

Using black paper with colored pencils is both fun and frustrating from the very start. What works so well with white or light-colored papers works poorly or not at all with black paper.

Transferring a drawing is one of those things that’s more frustration than fun. But there are ways to transfer line drawings.

4 Ways to Transfer a Line Drawing to Black Paper

I’d like to share four ways to transfer line drawings to black paper, but I need to start by saying I’ve only used two of them. The other two are intriguing ideas suggested by artists who work with colored pencils and pastels. I believe they are reliable, but have no first-hand experience with them.

So let me begin with the two methods I have used.

Personally Proven Transfer Methods

#1: Light-Colored Greaseless Transfer Paper

The best transfer method for almost any paper is greaseless transfer paper.

Transfer paper (in the art-sense) is paper made with a coating on one side that can be moved from the transfer paper to another piece of paper with very little pressure. Saral is probably the most recognizable name in transfer papers, but there are others.

Saral makes four different colors. Basic graphite gray is great for white paper and most light colored papers. Cream is ideal for darker papers. They also make yellow and red. I haven’t found much need for red or yellow transfer paper, but that may be exactly what you need.

To use transfer paper, mount your drawing to the drawing paper, then slip a piece of transfer paper in between. The transferring surface must face down, and be against the paper onto which you want to transfer your drawing.

This is my favorite transfer method because it’s the easiest, fastest, and cleanest. Transfer paper doesn’t usually leave smudges even if you rest your hand on it while transferring your drawing.

It also makes a clear, crisp line that doesn’t smudge, and it’s archival.

Transfer paper can be used several times. It’s also less expensive than a projector, although you will eventually have to buy more paper.

#2: Carboning the Back of the Drawing

Carboning a drawing is shading the back of the drawing with graphite. The name comes from the graphite, which is really a form of carbon ground into powder, then bound together to form lead. Carboning works extremely well with white papers, and most light- and medium-dark papers.

When you want to transfer a drawing to black paper, however, carboning with graphite isn’t quite as useful unless you’re able to see the shine of the graphite against the black of the paper. You will have to be extremely careful in handling the paper after the drawing has been transferred, however, or you risk losing the lines.

But you can still carbon the back of your drawing a light-colored colored pencil, white charcoal or a dry pastel in a light color. You have to be careful with the charcoal and pastel because they do not stick as well as graphite or colored pencil, and may smudge your drawing paper. However, a little mounting putty easily removes most of the smudges.

Image by VISLOQ from Pixabay

I recently read the comments of someone who lightly sprayed their carboned drawing with workable fixative to stabilize the graphite somewhat. That may also work with white charcoal or dry pastel.

Carboning the back of the drawing is one of my go-to transfer methods and I use it whenever I work on a drawing paper that’s too opaque to use on a light box. I always use graphite as the transfer method.

But I have no personal experience using white charcoal or dry pastel with this method, so experiment before using it on a good drawing. Do a test transfer or two and see if it works for you before you carbon the back of your drawing.

I do have limited experience using colored pencils as the transfer medium. The results were adequate, but not such that I’ve used the method a lot. The transferred lines weren’t always very clear, and sometimes the colored pencil with which I shaded the back of the paper left crumbs sticking to the good drawing paper. Being colored pencil, they were often difficult to remove and sometimes difficult to draw over, as well.

The transfer lines won’t smudge, but you won’t be able to remove them, either, so use a color that blends into your drawing as you finish it.

If you choose to use a colored pencil, a soft pencil will be the best transfer medium. Prismacolor Soft Core would be a good choice, but any soft pencil will also work. And once again, it’s important to experiment first. If colored pencil as a transfer medium doesn’t work for you, it’s far better to find that out on scrap paper!

Transfer Methods I Haven’t Used

#3: Projector and a Light Colored Pencil

Projectors are one of the more popular methods of transferring line drawings. The projector projects your line drawing onto paper and all you have to do is trace the drawing. You’ll have to use a light colored pencil for tracing on dark or black papers, and you also have to make absolutely certain the paper and projector are parallel. Otherwise, you could end up with a distorted drawing.

Transfer a Drawing to Black Paper with a projector.
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

I’ve never used a project for this particular task, so cannot offer a personal recommendation. However, several artists whose YouTube channels I follow use projectors, and they swear by the process. Some of them have published videos on the process. If you’re interested, a quick search will produce dozens of results.

If you have a projector, or you have the money to buy one, this might be your best long-term option. But don’t buy the first projector you find. Do a little research to find the best projector for your needs. Personally, I would begin with some of the on-line art supplies like Dick Blick and Jerry’s Artarama. Even if you don’t buy from them, you can get a good idea about the projectors considered to be “art projectors.” Then you can look for those elsewhere.

Perhaps you don’t have the money for a projector though, or you don’t have the time to do the research, wait for delivery, then learn how to use one. You’re looking for quick and not necessarily pretty. Consider this idea.

#4: Impressed Lines

I heard someone somewhere say they transfer their drawings by impressed lines. I wish I could remember where I heard it, but I think the artist was using Clairefontaine Pastelmat.

I’ve never used this method to transfer a drawing, but in a pinch, I think transferring a line drawing by impressing is workable. Here’s how I would do it.

First, put your line drawing on tracing paper, then mount it to the drawing paper and lightly trace it again. Use a sharp pencil or stylus and medium-light pressure or lighter. Lines need to be clear enough to see, but you don’t want them so deep, you can’t fill them in.

Next, I’d go over the drawing again and outline those shapes with a colored pencil. Use a color that fits each part of the drawing whenever possible. That way, you won’t have so much difficulty concealing the impressed lines.

I have a piece of black paper that needs the drawing transferred and I’m giving serious thought to trying this method to see what happens. If it works, I’ll let you know.

Actually, if it doesn’t work, I’ll let you know that too!

There are Four Ways to Transfer a Line Drawing to Black Paper

Two personally proven, two unproven (so far as I’m concerned.)

They aren’t the only ways to transfer a line drawing to black paper, but they will get you started. I hope you find one of them helpful.

Alternatives to Drawing Paper for Colored Pencil

Are there alternatives to drawing paper for use with colored pencil?

The short answer is yes. There are times when choosing the best support for your next drawing involves choosing something other than drawing paper.

Alternatives to Drawing Paper for Colored Pencil

Why You Might Want Alternatives to Drawing Paper

First, lets take a look at a couple of reasons why you might be looking for drawing paper alternatives. (There are more than you might expect.)

You Need to Frame Without Glass

It is possible to frame colored pencil art without glass, but you need to make preparation from the beginning. Since the primary reason for framing colored pencil drawings under glass is to protect the drawing paper, the only way to safely frame without glass is to draw on a rigid support—something that cannot be easily torn or punctured.

Some drawing papers are available with rigid backing, but not all. So if you need (or want) a rigid support, you need an alternative to traditional paper.

You Want Your Colored Pencil Drawings to Look More Like Paintings

There is a perception that artwork on paper is less valuable than artwork on supports such as canvas, canvas panel, or hardwood. The bias isn’t usually accurate—most mediums suitable for paper are just as archival as other mediums if used and displayed correctly—but the bias does exist.

Colored pencils can be used on all of the rigid supports above and many others. I’ve tried it on canvas and have drawn on wood supports and liked the results.

You Want Your Colored Pencil Drawings to be More “Approachable”

A lot of colored pencil artists perceive glass to be an obstacle between their work and the audience. To avoid that, they frame colored pencil art without glass.

You and Traditional Drawing Paper Just Don’t Get Along

It may be that traditional drawing papers just don’t work with your method of drawing. That’s perfectly all right! Nothing works all of the time for everyone. Even those of us who like drawing paper often have several favorites. I know I do.

But sometimes, an artist needs something totally different. Watercolor paper for watercolor pencils or mixed media. Sanded paper for lots of layering. The list is endless.

That’s when you need a alternative to drawing paper.

You Want to Experiment

Lets face it, some of us just like to try new things! There’s nothing wrong with that! Alternatives to drawing paper are only one way to experiment, but they are often the least expensive way to experiment.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to draw on something besides paper, what are your choices?

4 Alternatives to Drawing Paper

In a previous article, I described some of the non-paper supports I’ve drawn on. You can read about mat board, sanded art papers, and wood in 3 Excellent Drawing Paper Alternatives, so I won’t do more than just mention them here. Instead, let’s take a look at some of the other types of drawing paper alternatives.

Let’s begin with something I mentioned earlier: drawing paper boards.

Bristol Paper Boards

These papers are all mounted on rigid supports that are archival and acid-free. Most of them can withstand heavy use, and some are even capable of holding up under light washes of water soluble color.

There only two disadvantages:

First, they are probably not the type of support you’d want to frame without glass. They are more durable than drawing paper, but because they are drawing paper mounted to a rigid support, they are still susceptible to damage.

Second, they are available in only two surfaces: Vellum and plate. Plate is very smooth and are therefore not reliable for drawing methods that require lots of layering. Vellum is better for layering, but may still be too smooth. As I mentioned in our discussion of paper tooth, neither may be suitable if you do a lot of layering.

I’ve included Rising Museum Board in the list below, but it is actually not intended as a drawing surface. It’s not a surface I’ve drawn on before, but I do like Rising Stonehenge paper, so wouldn’t be afraid to give this a try. I’ve also used mat board effectively, so wouldn’t be afraid to try this.

The links below are to the Dick Blick website, where more information is available on each support.

Suede Board

Gemma Gylling has been using suede board for years and creates the most phenomenal pet and wildlife artwork.

I’ll be honest. I was biased against suede mat board because of past experiences with velvet paint-by-numbers. I tried one or two of those and absolutely, positively did not like them. So whenever someone asked if I’d tried colored pencil on suede board, I said I hadn’t. I didn’t intend to, either.

But colored pencil works much more nicely on suede mat board than oil paints work on velvet. All I had to do was draw one eye from imagination on a sample of blue suede board to decide I wanted to try it for a larger drawing (stay tuned for a work-in-progress demonstration on that).

Although its surface is best described as “plushy”, it can take a lot of color. You can also render a lot of detail on it. You will have to adjust color application methods somewhat and you’ll need to build up three or four layers before the colors begin to pop, at least on the darker color I was using.

But it produces a type of drawing that I’ve not been able to duplicate on any other paper. It’s definitely worth a try.

Pastel Boards

Pastel boards are designed to be drawn on with pastels. They generally have more tooth because pastels require more tooth to stick to the drawing surface. Some are actually sanded art papers, while others are just a toothier form of drawing paper. There are so many that I can list only a few here.

But you may recognize many of the brand names: Names like UArt, Art Spectrum, Canson Mi-Teintes.

Most of these surfaces are listed as “multi-media”. I’ve seen the most luscious oil paintings on Ampersand Pastelbord, for example.

Some of these supports are on my wish list. All of them sound intriguing. If one of your primary reasons for wanting to draw on something other than drawing paper is framing without glass, give one of these a try.

Canvas

The last surface I’ll look at today is canvas. Plain and simple oil or acrylic painting canvas. Granted, this is not a support I’ve ever considered, though John Ursillo’s work on canvas does make the prospect more inviting. Canvas is so toothy that about the only way to use it successfully with colored pencil is to use solvents to melt the color down into the weave.

Master that method, though, and you can produce any level of detail you desire AND have a surface that never needs glass in the framing process.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the more common alternatives to drawing paper. There are many others, so if you really want to experiment, you have lots of options.

Which Paper is Best for Colored Pencils?

A short time ago, I wrote a post about the best colored pencil papers. Jana Botkin read that post and had a question.

Will you expand on the paper in the basic list? I use Strathmore 400 series Bristol smooth for graphite, but prefer the vellum for cp. Which surface and weight were you thinking of? The Michael’s in my county only carries 300 series, which has inconsistent grain, so I order from Blick. –Jana Botkin

Thank you for your question, Jana. I’d be glad to share my thoughts on drawing paper. There are a lot of choices available so I’m confident many of your fellow readers have the same question.

Best Colored Pencil Papers

Best Papers for Colored Pencils

The truth is, choosing paper for colored pencil work is as much a personal preference as anything else. So many things factor into those decisions. Jana mentioned the surface and weight of the paper and those are two important things to consider.

But they aren’t the only things, so before I get to my recommendations, lets take a look at a few “paper basics”.

Paper Basics

There are six things to consider when considering which paper to buy. Fiber, weight, surface texture, sizing, longevity, and color.

Fiber

Paper is made from plant fibers. The most common plants for paper making are cotton, linen, flax, jute, hemp, bamboo, rice straw or rattan. The size and shape of these fibers determine the type and sturdiness of the paper.

Cotton papers are made from cotton fibers, the longest fibers of all the plant types. It’s generally considered the highest quality paper and is referred to as 100% cotton rag. 100% cotton rag paper can withstand heavy erasing and drawing. The highest quality 100% cotton paper can last over 100 years, but not all cotton papers are the same. The shorter the fibers, the more the paper may tend to get “fuzzy” with use. Check the specifications on cotton paper to know what you’re buying.

Cellulose papers are made from wood pulp. Wood pulp papers are usually less expensive, but they’re also usually less archival (long lasting). That’s because wood pulp contains a natural acid that breaks down the fibers over time. Buffers can be added during the manufacturing process to neutralize the acids. Look for the words “buffer”, “buffered”, or “neutral” when deciding which cellulose paper to buy.

Weight

Paper weight is a measurement of the thickness—or heaviness—of paper. Traditionally, it’s been measured by weighing 500 sheets (a ream) at a standard size. The more a ream of paper weighs, the thicker each sheet is.

The thicker a sheet of paper is, the more color it can accept without buckling (if you’re using wet media), tearing, or falling apart.

Tracing paper is a light-weight paper. Strathmore 300 series papers are heavier. Card stock papers are still heavier.

Papers used to always be measured in pounds. 300-pound watercolor paper, for example.

But many art paper manufacturers have converted to a grams per square inch (gsm) measurement. A 50-pound paper is the same as an 81gsm paper. Many art retailers show both forms of measurement.

Surface Texture

Surface texture is properly known as “finish” when discussing art papers. How the paper is dried during manufacture determines the finish.

Paper with a rough finish is allowed to air dry without being smoothed or pressed. The resulting finish is very textured and is best suited for water media and pastel.

Cold press paper has been pressed before it dries. Handmade papers and machine made papers are pressed in different ways, but the result is the same. The surface fibers are “pressed down” somewhat. Since the pressing is done without heat, the paper isn’t completely smooth. Cold-press paper is the most popular and versatile and is suitable for most media, depending on its weight.

Hot press paper is made by pressing newly made paper through heated metal rollers or plates. All texture left after manufacture is pressed out of the paper. This paper is excellent for highly-detailed illustrations, printmaking, etching, drafting, sketching, and drawing.

Sizing

Sizing is added to make paper more water-resistant. The paper doesn’t absorb as much moisture or pigment, so watercolors and inks stay brighter and lines stay crisper.  It’s less important for papers used for dry media. Sizing also can affect a paper’s archival qualities.

Internal sizing is added while the paper pulp is still in a liquid state. It becomes part of the paper.

External, Surface or Tub sizing is applied to the surface of the paper after the sheet is formed and dried. Some paper is both internally and surface-sized.

Longevity

Also known as being archival. Archival papers have a proven history of stability over time. They don’t yellow or fade. They’re also more likely to be acid-free, which means they contain little or no cellulose acid natural to wood pulp papers.

Many sketching papers are wood-pulp based papers and are not archival. They’re perfectly suited for sketching, but if you want your drawings to last a long, long time, use higher quality papers.

Color

Some drawing papers come in only one color. White.

But many others are available in a range of colors. Working on colored paper can be both fun and frustrating. Paper color does affect the way colored pencil looks, but it can also provide a good foundation for your drawing and reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a colored pencil drawing.

What I Use & Why

I buy the best-quality papers possible for colored pencil work because many of my drawings are portraits. Portraits or not, I want all of my best drawings to  look fresh and new for years.

My favorite papers are Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes, and Bristol Vellum pretty much in that order.

Stonehenge

I’ve used Stonehenge for years. It’s a cotton-based paper suitable for watercolor (in limited amounts), drawing, and printmaking. It has enough tooth to take a lot of color, but is smooth enough for drawing details. It’s available in several sheet sizes, in pads, and rolls, and comes in white and a selection of light colors and black. It has no sizing (that I’m aware of) so the surface is relatively soft, almost velvety.

It’s my go-to paper for large and small drawings. For smaller drawings, the 90-lb (250 gsm) is very good, but I prefer the heavier 120-lb (320 gsm) paper. It’s also available as a rigid support, which I haven’t yet tried.

The biggest disadvantage to Stonehenge is that it can be difficult to find locally. I order mine from Dick Blick.

It also should be handled with care, since the surface can be easily impressed. Flat storage for sheets is recommended.

Canson Mi-Teintes

Canson makes Mi-Teintes paper for pastel artists, so it has quite a bit of surface texture (tooth) on the front. The texture is also mechanical in nature. Lay a little color over the paper and you see a pattern of hexagon shapes.

But the back is less textured and the texture is less dramatic. It still has more texture than Stonehenge, but it’s great for colored pencil work of all types.

What makes Canson Mi-Teintes one of my favorite papers is that it handles solvent blending and a moderate amount of water media work with ease. Make sure it’s taped securely to a rigid support and you can do several solvent blends in a single drawing.

Bristol Vellum

Bristol paper is a more economical paper. Usually acid-free and generally heavier than other papers, it’s often referred to as “Bristol board”; usually 100-lb (270 gsm).

It comes in two surfaces. The smooth (or regular) surface is very smooth and somewhat slick.

Vellum finish has a little more tooth and is ideal for drawing. I have a pad of it in my paper drawer and use it for article illustrations, but layering a lot of color can be difficult without the use of solvents or workable fixative.

Bristol comes only in white and is available from a variety of manufacturers. I currently am using Beinfang Bristol Vellum because it’s available in 146 pounds.