Sometimes it’s fun to work on a toned surface, whether you create that tone (or texture) yourself by preprinting the surface, or your work on a surface that comes toned.
Typically I’ll work on toned paper but I had some chipboard in the studio for another project and grabbed a piece to sketch on the other day.
If it gets to be the end of the day and I haven’t been able to sketch, or I’ve sketched too much, or it’s the middle of the day and I need a break, I’ll grab what’s at hand.
On this day I had my Winsor & Newton tube watercolors for my landscape palette out in an airtight palette. They were still buttery soft. And I had this chipboard and of course the Pentel brush pen. I used a Sktchy muse photo for reference because there was no one around and I was stuck at home recovering from bronchitis.
Below you can see the pen sketch without color. It was quickly done. The brush pen moves quickly, with a little bit of drag, across this surface.
I fussed too much, as you will see in the sketch, on the eye on the right. I then decided I’d grab that left over paint and start making some corrections (covering lines with paint.
Painting on chipboard is a bit tricky and if you haven’t done it before I recommend you do a tester board to work out your water to paint ratio before jumping into a sketch you really like.
If you use too much water the water seeps away from the paint and leaves the surface discolored, at a distance from where the paint is deposited. Scale back the amount of water that you have on your brush and in your paint when you pick some up onto your brush. You might want to hold a towel against your brush at the point where the hairs dive into the ferrule. A dry cloth or paper towel placed there will wick away excess moisture before you apply your color to the board.
You’ll know you used too much water if you see the water expanding outwards through the board. Then scale back.
Since tints in watercolor are made by adding more water but on a dark colored surface you wouldn’t see a light watercolor tint I used some white gouache to mix my tints. For some colors I used a light yellow in the mix so I could avoid the white paint.
I like to work with filberts and flats. I find these brushes are more snappy than most rounds and they allow me to stroke in a lot of color at once. I also find it easier to do dry brush effects with them across other areas of color like the forehead of the man in this sketch.
As you can see in the detail of the finished color sketch I also used dry brush in the beard area along the cheek line, and in the shadows and highlight areas of eyelid.
You can take time to blend your watercolors, but I like to see my brush strokes. It’s part of the fun for me.
Of course you can use gouache on this type of board. I would still watch your water usage. For me, there was already a lot of really great paint out so why not use it up.
How Stable is Chipboard?
Chipboard is the type of board you see used for the backs of padded paper, or for cartons. Generally it’s not archival by any stretch of the imagination. Generally it will be already deteriorating by the time you get it.
But the craft industry is interesting, it has created a market base of millions of crafters who like what they like, and to meet that market suppliers often tweak their products to be pleasing to that hard to please group—Scrapbookers.
Scrapbookers what everything to be archival and acid free because they are putting together memory books they hope will be passed down for generations. Yellowing tape and crumbling adhesives and brittle board and paper are their worst nightmares.
If you look around you can find papers and boards that mimic the look of chipboard and other toned products and improve upon their archival characteristics while mimicking their look and textural appeal.
Not everything you’ll find is going to be archival in all the ways you want it to be—so buyer beware. Ask manufacturers and vendors questions, read descriptions. I’ve found chipboard that is acid free. I’ve found toned “kraft” papers that are acid- and lignin-free. Even in quality art papers that are listed as archival when it comes to color in the sheet that color is not always lightfast—so ask questions of the manufacturer and do tests!
For me, if it’s quick study work, the archival nature of the materials is not that important to me. If I were planning on selling a work, I’d look for the best substrate I could find, and if it weren’t archival I’d certainly let the buyer know that. But a lot of times we simply want to work on the surface we want to work on, and the original piece is not what matters. Once the piece is finished we can scan it and use the digital for all the purposes we wanted.
Don’t tie yourself up in knots over these types of issues. Work with what is fun, have digital “originals,” and let your art buyers know what they are buying.
Treating Boards and Papers that Are Not Archival
What if you want to work on something that isn’t archival but you want to improve it’s archival properties?
I’ve written a lot about working with non-archival materials on my blog, but the most complete post on it can be found here.
In that post I give you suggestions on how to prepare your surfaces to keep the acid in the substrate from seeping into and damaging the rest of the layers of your artwork.
Keep in mind that the drawback with these methods is that they all alter the surface of the material. We no longer have the fun paper texture, we now have the texture of the treatment material.
For many people that’s ideal because all they wanted from the substrate was color and perhaps they prefer the texture of other media too. For instance if you want to retain the toned surface of chipboard but improve the longevity of your piece, coat it first with clear gesso (as discussed in the linked post). You’ll still see the paper color coming through. You’ll work on the clear gesso surface and that will take it’s own adjustment, but it’s all doable.
Ask yourself what matters—the fun? the longevity? Ask what is fun for you—the paper texture, the acrylic medium texture covering the paper? It will be an individual choice for everyone. You’re just going to have to try some approaches to see what you like.
You might even find that what you like is to work digitally and have your digital piece layered onto a “chipboard” or other toned surface digitally!
(When using textures digitally be sure you have created your own texture or are using copyright free textures. Remember, for instance that marbled paper is considered an original work of art and for each sheet the artist has created a new piece. When purchasing marbled paper be sure you have permission from the artist to use his work in your digital piece, every artist will have a different policy. The same caution goes for other textures you might find on the internet.)
Finding Toned Papers and Boards
A few weeks ago several people wrote to me and asked me what types of toned papers I liked to use for my watercolor, gouache, and acrylic work. I made a PDF of some of the most recent papers and boards I’ve been using. (I listed the recent ones because I know they can still be found.)
This isn’t an exhaustive list. It’s just my recent usage including some archival art papers I think you need to consider as well. You can click on this link to download a PDF of the Toned Papers List.
I hope that gives you a helpful starting point.
Sketching on toned papers and boards is a lot of fun. Don’t let archival issues keep you from having fun.