Recently I’ve received questions about my technique with colored pencils on various surfaces, so I thought I’d touch on my experiences working on different papers and boards. When I first began using colored pencils, I purchased a set of 120 Prismacolor wax-based colored pencils, Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper, and Strathmore medium drawing paper. Both of these papers have a texture that allows for many layers of colored pencil, as long as the color is applied lightly. I soon learned that I could let the texture show through in my drawings by keeping my pencil point somewhat blunt, and working with light to medium pressure, so that the pencil grazed over the bumps and only deposited pigment on the peaks of the textured paper. This can be a neat effect for rendering rough objects like rocks. However, this texture can be undesirable when drawing smooth skin or shiny objects. I learned that there are basically two methods for getting around this. The first method is sometimes referred to as “burnishing”, and entails applying the color using heavy pressure so as to flatten the texture, forcing pigment in the peaks and valleys of the paper. The result is that a lot of pigment gets deposited at once, and it can be difficult to layer any color on top. The other method is to use a very, very sharp point that can actually maneuver into the paper's peaks and valleys, thus depositing a more continuous line of pigment. This method also allows for layering, but it can be very time consuming.
Next I decided to try Strathmore Smooth Bristol Board, which is a heavy-weight paper with a smooth surface. What I like about this paper is that you can still use a blunt point to achieve a subtle texture, but it also allows for very detailed work. However, it’s easy for the colored pencil to look streaky on this type of smooth surface, so you must work very carefully and slowly in order to create smooth looking contours. Even though this paper takes fewer layers than a more toothy paper, I have found that you can apply several layers if you work with a light enough pressure. This is a time consuming process, but the end result can be well worth it as you can achieve very complex colors needed for skin tones.
Recently I have begun working with Ampersand Pastelbord, which is a clay-coated hardboard panel with a very grainy surface. I like to work on this museum-quality surface for many reasons, including how quickly the colored pencil pigment builds up to create vibrant color. In addition, I’ve found that it easier to avoid a streaky look due to the unique texture of the board’s surface. Probably my favorite thing about Pastelbord is that it accepts so many layers that even lighter colors can be relatively easily applied on top of medium to dark tones. The drawbacks I’ve found are that it chews up the colored pencil very quickly and can smudge if you are not careful. In addition, it can be more difficult to create fine details.
All in all, I think that each of these surfaces has their merit, and I will continue to use them for different projects. My most recent work shown above was done on Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper. This piece can be seen in more detail here, where you can see how I used the texture of the paper to help in rendering the sand.