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Working the Surface

This following collection of Topics cover a variety of ways to manage the surface to get the effects we need. There are the ways to actually move the colour about Solvents, Blending & Burnishing, and Managing Pigment. There are also the special techniques for working particular types of subject ( landscapes etc ) Finally there is a Topic on the Accessories we collect that we find useful FIRST OF ALL we will look at some of the ways we can manipulate the colour on the paper surface
WORKING THE SURFACE WORKING METHODS A  /   Ways of Working CP There are a number of Coloured Pencil techniques which form a group of ways and means to develop an artwork which do not directly involve the application of a Coloured Pencil to paper. I term this ‘Working the Surface’ as most of them involve some treatment of the working surface either before or after the colour is applied.  Many will be obvious to anyone who draws, but I have included as many as I can to ensure that the topic is thoroughly covered. The paper surface can be indented, protected, and scratched.  Colour can be added via other means than the pencil point, and once applied can be moved about, polished, burnished or erased (fully or partially). Let us have a look at these ideas briefly and in turn. Firstly, it is worth remembering that any work to the paper surface will only be effectual if the paper itself can take the treatment. Very thin, hard papers can be difficult to work for some techniques.  The surface of thick soft papers can tend to lift and tear.   Always practice a technique first on a scrap of the same paper you will be using for your artwork.  A 300 gsm (140 lb) weight HP watercolour paper has probably the best chance of putting up with serious ill treatment INDENTED LINE   A method of impressing a line into a relatively soft paper surface before adding colour.  The later applied CP then ‘misses’ the area within the groove and leaves it white (or whatever colour was there before).  This is a good method for fine lines such as rigging for boats, grass stalks, white hairs in fur and hair.  It does need to be planned for in advance.  It works over layers of CP where the line needs to be a coloured one. The line can be applied either with a sharp pencil point (use a relatively hard brand of CP for a fine line) or a stylus such as those sold for parchment craft.   Derwent sell a pack of pencil tools that includes two styli
The samples are worked on Daler Rowney 300gsm Langton HP watercolour paper.  The  Left hand sample shows a Cream fine pointed Polychromos pressed into the paper surface and then worked over with a darker colour. The middle sample shows broader strokes that are not impressed so strongly into the paper and thus the later darker layer partly colours the earlier surface and leaves the lines less defined. The Right Hand sample shows the much clearer result of indenting the line with a tool designed for the purpose.  The metal ends in a small ball so the tool does not scratch the paper The white is the white of the paper Derwent supply one in their tools set.  - See below Pergamano also sell one for craft work which is excellent
PROTECTED.  Primarily the use of white or light CP to protect the paper surface when dark colours are to be added very close by and the light area needs to be retained as a highlight. Some CP colours stain the paper and therefore do not lift totally with a powered eraser, so a white pencil layer in a highlight will prevent dark colours attaching firmly to the paper surface. Remember that the first layer of CP on the paper locks on the new surface, is the thickest layer of pigment, and makes up around 70 % of the final colour as later layers will be very much thinner as the paper tooth disappears.   You can use a clear wax pencil to protect the surface.  A line drawn with the Lyra Splender pencil or the Derwent Burnisher will put down a protected surface that resists later layers of colour. This can enable a pale line to be included easily in a picture ( think lines of mortar in brickwork ).  Derwent tell me that this also works with later watercolour pencil washes - but experiment with your own aquarelle brands first - not all work equally well.
First of all a transparent block of Lyra Splender Blender and a  rectangular block of white Polychromos CP were applied to the paper. You can see the outlines shown highlighted at the top and you might just be able to make out the slight colouring of the paper. A Horizontal block of violet was then worked across the two areas. Some colour has been taken but generally the earlier layer has provided protection from the later strong colour
SCRATCHED. (the Italian word for it is Scraffito). The soft surface of a work in CP lends itself to the surface being manipulated in a number of ways.  Scratching into the surface of applied CP with a sharp point can remove a layer of colour and show a fine line for grasses and small areas of fine pattern in the colour below. Be cautious about using too sharp a point or blade on soft paper or thin paper, the underlying fabric might be damaged.
Here three layers of colour have been firmly applied to white paper to achieve complete coverage of the single colour. A scalpel is then used to scratch out the letters shown. And finally the scratched marks are highlighted with a white Polychromos which makes no impact on the violet colour but beds down the scratches and leaves a smooth surface with the letters clearly shown
POLISHED.  I use this term to cover the use of a small pad to apply a fine layer of colour to the paper. This is useful if you are looking to apply a very delicate tint to the white paper surface ( as with a gentle blue sky ) and wish to avoid any line appearing from a pencil point.  First lay down an area of dense colour on a scrap of fairly rough surfaced watercolour paper.  The rough surface will enable the most CP to be laid down quickly.  Take a small pad of white felt (or soft felt like paper) and rub it on your CP ‘palette’ to lift some pigment.  Apply to the paper surface of the artwork and rub in gently.  For skies, keep the motion circular to avoid forming any clear lines.  It may take a few layers to achieve your aim, but the result will be far better than trying to get to the same stage with a pencil point (however flat).  See below for more information on the use of pads and stumps to produce smooth colour
This technique is shown more fully in the section on Backgrounds. The white clouds here have been erased from the layer of gentle colour left by the pad
BURNISHED.  The method of blending CP and intensifying colours by the gentle application of a unifying colour (or white) over the top.  Blending pencils – made from a transparent wax - are also sold to do this sort of job and whilst they do work well, they can seal off the surface for any further work.  I prefer to use a lighter shade of the colour being worked on, or a white of the same brand of pencil.  This is a good way of settling the previous layers back into the paper so that further work can be done on top. You finish up with a much smoother surface and can remove any little light specks still showing from the paper surface There are two main brands of blending pencils on sale in the UK and Europe,  The Lyra Splender Blender and the Derwent Blender and Burnishers which are sold individually and also in a pack together. See below  in Techniques section B for a look at how they work DISSOLVED  -  the dry ( oil or wax based) colour can be softened with a solvent and lifted and blended. Apart from removing colour, this can be used to ‘wash’ colour into the surface. As far as correction techniques are concerned, this will reduce the amount of colour on the paper, but will not remove it.   A number of solvents can be used, but many are either dangerous to health or inflammable.   The safest is Zest-It which is citrus based and non inflammable. This can leave a temporary stain in the paper but the solvent quickly dries out and the paper surface can be re-worked.  The effect is very similar to using watercolour pencils with water, but the solvent works with both wax based and oil based coloured pencils, so is a valuable resource. I include in this section the use of blending pens - sold for use by the crafting fraternity - and also the use of mineral oil (baby oil) which - with care - can be used to make the coloured pencil pigment more mobile NOTE - SOLVENTS The whole area of solvents and their use is covered in more detail in a separate topic within this section under ‘Solvents ‘
A Dark red Polychromos on Fabriano Classico 5 Blended with Zest-It solvent
ERASED. Don’t forget that your eraser is a very effective tool for producing art.  I include here all the various methods of removing and lifting colour.    WhiteTac is most useful for gently lifting a layer of colour without rubbing the surface. It enables you to reduce the intensity of colour already applied.   The blob of tacky putty can be moulded into the right size and shape for the area to be removed/reduced in intesity. Plastic Erasers are also useful for cleaning off larger areas.   Be careful though as they can smear layers of colour at the edges of the area cleaned.   You can see this in the sample shown. Powered erasers are now sold for very little cost, and are excellent for lifting and cleaning in small areas and lifting out small highlights.   In the sample you can see how easy it is to remove an exact area cleanly low tac tape can also be used to selectively lift CP pigment when the tape is laid over the surface and a harder pencil used to press down on to the area to be lifted. I see that the SAA currently sell a battery eraser for as little as £3 8so that even after you have bought batteries, you are still in pocket under £5 . Remember that you can use a guard to control the area to be erased.  It is still possible to buy the Linux typists eraser guards that used to be used when typists used typewriters.  If you want to make your own, look out for thin stiff plastic that can be cut to size.   If the plastic is not too thick, the eraser will not remove the colour accurately. BRUSHED   A stiff bristle brush is useful for achieving a smoother effect for skies and other subjects in pale colours.  A stiff brush can be used to blend in layers of powdered pigment and  bed it into the paper surface ( see  backgrounds ).   A brush can also be used to blend and merge layers of colour. ( see Managing Pigment in section 3 of this topic  )
TORCHONS, PADS and STUMPS. You have probably seen the paper sticks that often appear in boxes of assorted Coloured Pencil and Graphite Pencil accessories and on the accessory shelves of art suppliers. These are more often also used for working pastel where they have a long and honourable tradition. They can be used for CP even though the newer wax type blenders and burnishers may have taken over many of the original uses these days. I will refer to these paper tools as ‘stumps’ for ease in writing, but note there are a number of sizes and varieties of these accessories and depending on who is writing about them, the name could well vary. Stumps help you pick up and transfer colour on to the paper surface.  They tend to work best when the paper surface is smooth and for this reason you may see that they are used by portrait artists working on surfaces like Bristol Board which are very smooth.  In this way they can produce very delicate changes in tint for flesh tones. An alternative to using a manufactured stump is to make up a small pad of lotion free toilet paper (i.e. very soft white dry tissue) and fold this into a tight pad with a compact rounded corner side for working with.  Colour from a soft wax pencil like Prismacolor, Luminance, or Coloursoft will be better than the harder pencil media and the colour should be applied first to a palette of paper from which light layers of tinting can be picked up and applied to the picture.  Elsewhere on the Topics site I discuss the use of a white felt pad for this purpose, but the paper pad or stump will produce a much softer effect ..... though with probably more work involved. Remember that because you have used a soft application by means of a pad, the colour will be easier to lift with an eraser - there will have been no damage to the paper surface and no indented colour from the point of the pencil. Use a stump carefully with the point of the paper tube laid to it’s side so that it doesn’t indent the working surface. Use a knife and a sandpaper pad to keep the stump point fresh and smooth - don’t be tempted to sharpen it in a pencil sharpener as it will leave a rough surface to the stump which you need to avoid. When working a landscape picture I am often using too rough a paper for the stumps to work well, and in this case I will tend to go for a felt pad which picks up more colour and with which you can apply more pressure to bed the media into the surface. Delicate portrait work will demand more smooth finishes and in this case the paper stumps will be the better choice. When I get the chance I will include a demo here on the use of a stump, but don’t wait around, it might take a little time !!!!! Torchons are useful to put down controlled and small amounts of solvent in areas of a picture .  I have also used a small piece of polished bone with a fine point to ‘work’ the pigment and push it into the grain of the paper. This relies upon there being enough pigment to move so there should be several layers of colour on the surface before it is attempted. CONTROLLED HEATING of the surface to melt the wax. As you may realise, the layers of wax laid down on paper of other suitable surfaces will soften with heat.  This is something that has been taken up by American artist Ester Roi who developed and sells a heated ( ‘Icarus’) pad to work on.  The pad has a warmer and cooler side and whilst quite expensive to buy, has been shown to produce some vibrant artworks.  The fact that wax melts at low temperatures means that great care is required when using heat on artworks that are complete or virtually so.   The use of a craft heat gun ( a type of mini hairdryer ) is often quoted by those working card crafts, as an excellent way to blend and enhance colour from wax type pencils.   The warmed pigment can be manipulated with a torchon, brush with short bristles (as used for stencils ) or similar tool. There is an additional process which involves managing the pigment and this is detailed below USING POWDERED PIGMENT from non soluble OIL or WAX  based pencils Because a pencil naturally produces a line, over the years CP artists have tried many different ways to get round the problem of producing a smooth even ‘wash’ of colour from coloured pencils.  Skies often give problems because of the need to produce a light even coating of colour on the paper.  In the past, the usual solutions have been to either use delicate shading, to transfer colour from a  block of dense pigment made up as a palette and transferred with a piece of felt, or to use an underpainting from pastel or watercolour. Obviously there is  sometimes a need to  comply with entry conditions for exhibitions which insist on only Coloured Pencil Pigment being used in a picture A newer approach is to use powdered pigment and apply it with either a brush or a piece of soft material. The powder can be produced by scraping the pigment off a long pointed pencil with a knife and collecting the powder on the paper surface after which it can be pressed into the surface with the appropriate ‘tool’. - See image below left  -   Alternatively, to grind up or otherwise prepare powdered pigment from pencils or pencil stubs and save the powder for future use in pots or jars. There are some examples of working the surface with powdered pigment in the ‘Backgrounds’ section. There are a number of advantages in these methods.    A fine controlled layer of colour can be applied to the surface and pigment erased back to a clear edge.  Frisket film can be used to protect an edge or a prepared shape ( see the Goat example in Backgrounds ).  Stocks of stub pencils that might otherwise rot in a drawer unused can be converted into usable material and the powder stored.  I suggest small sealable pots like the old 35mm film containers. A number of suggestions have been offered for generating the powder.  I prefer the scraped knife method, but people have suggested grinding the pencil using a small wire tea strainer or ( If you are in the USA ) using the sheets of Scotch Brand drywall lining sander ( below right ) which are inexpensive and come in different grades (120 grit is suggested if you want to try this ).  This material has an open grid mesh appearance.  I  have looked for it in B & Q in the UK but they claim not to know what I am asking for ! ( Thanks to Virginia Carroll for the  Drywall sander suggestion AFTER BLENDING AND MANAGING COLOUR It is wise to look again at the picture to see if additional colour needs to be added from the original pencils to sharpen up edges and enhance the effects.
Page last revised …… September 2017