Don't Start Off the Wrong Way

23 Dec 2012

For a drawing to be successful, you've got to start off choosing the right drawing surface. No matter how great the drawing ideas you have or the drawing art skills you bring to bear in the process, if you aren't pairing surface and implement well, you may run into trouble as you develop the piece.

Untitled by Linday Carron, ballpoint pen drawing.
Untitled by Linday Carron, ballpoint pen drawing.
When you are deciding what drawing art surface to use, first ask yourself three questions: What will you be drawing with? What do you want your marks to look like? And how archival or lasting you want your marks to be?

The first two choices are related in any and all drawing exercises you perform. Because, let's say, if you are using a paper that doesn't have a smooth or sized surface, a wet medium like ink will bleed or have soft lines. This might suit you or not--the point is to anticipate what you'll encounter so you can decide what kind of line drawing you want.

The third question, about how long you want the drawing to hold up over time, is a thorny one. In reality, we all know we can draw on pretty much anything, but if you want a drawing to retain its appearance over time you can make further inquiries about the papers you use. There are those that are pH-neutral and many are lignin-free so that they don't yellow.

Maple Grove & Rocks by Thomas Kegler, 12 x 9, drawing with silver point & gouache heightening.
Maple Grove & Rocks by Thomas Kegler,
12 x 9, drawing with
silver point & gouache heightening.
Adapted from an article by Bob Bahr.

If you are creating line drawings in pen-and-ink, look for a surface that is smooth and pressed for precision lines and little bleeding. Hot-pressed watercolor paper is a good choice, as is Bristol board. Using charcoal to draw means you probably want to seek out a surface that has a bit more texture and pliancy like cold-pressed paper or rough paper.

Some papers are incredibly versatile and can let you do all the above and more on one surface, but the point I want to leave you with is to experiment and see what surface you respond to. I've learned the most insightful drawing tips on what surface to use from the artists interviewed in Drawing magazine. These top draftsmen share their approaches to drawing step by step, just as if we are in the studio with them. I've gleaned a lot of helpful info this way, and I hope the same goes for you when and if you decide to invest in a subscription to Drawing magazine. Enjoy!


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John_Edwards wrote
on 13 Jul 2014 5:50 PM

"Stonehenge" paper, with a vellum finish @ 250 GSM is the best (for my art works/projects) that I love to use, not always affordable though I go to (for me) the next best paper type, "Strathmore - Drawing" 80 Lb, with a medium surface. For a smooter paper even still, I reverse the "Strathmore" paper.