Drawing: What Kind of Paper Should You Use?

In my classes, there’s a consistent question that comes up: “What paper should I use for this drawing?” Oh, how I wish that was an easy one, for the possibilities are truly endless. There are so many varieties out there, and each one will create a different look. Here are some things to consider when selecting the paper for your project. 

A colored pencil work-in-progress drawing on illustration board

A colored pencil work-in-progress drawing on illustration board

First, what medium are you going to use? The paper you need for graphite isn’t the same kind you’d use for colored pencil. What you use for colored pencil, wouldn’t be a good choice for pen and ink. While experimentation is fun, you can spare yourself unnecessary mistakes by learning what certain papers are good for.

First of all, remember, this is a list I personally use. This is what works for me, but it may not work best for everyone. Every artist is different, and our approaches are as varied as the selection of paper. Take this as a guide and try them out. Then, try more. It’s the best way to find your favorite. Experimentation is fun.

Here are the papers I use for graphite and colored pencil, as well as pen and ink (stay tuned–I’ll cover the substrates for other mediums in a future blog post).

Papers for drawing

Left: A graphite drawing on smooth bristol
Right: A pen and ink drawing on smooth bristol

1. Paper for Graphite Drawings
For graphite drawing I use smooth bristol. This comes in many brands, surfaces, and sizes. It can be found in pads and single sheets. I think I’ve tried them all, so here are my favorites.

  • For my high quality, professional work, I use what I think is the cadillac of bristol. It’s the 500 series, 4-ply, 100% cotton, smooth bristol by Strathmore. It’s sold in large, single sheets. It’s a little pricey due to the cotton and the thickness, but it’s worth the cost. It produces a very smooth blend, and it won’t deteriorate or yellow with time.
  • For book illustrations and other graphite drawing, I like the Bienfang brand that comes in pads. This paper is a brilliant white, and the contrasts created on it are beautiful. It’s 2-ply, high quality, and acid free, but it contains wood pulp. All pulp papers will eventually degrade (but this takes decades and decades to happen).
  • I also like the double sided bristol by Canson. One side is very smooth, the other has a bit of texture to it. I like this when my students are using  both graphite and colored pencil. The smooth side is for the graphite, and the rougher side is for colored pencil. All of these smooth papers are also excellent for using pen and ink.
Colored pencil drawing on suede board

A colored pencil drawing on suede board

2. Paper for Colored Pencil Drawings
This becomes an even wider choice. Any paper that has a bit of “tooth” (an overall texture that isn’t overly smooth) will be good. This helps colored pencil grip evenly. Here are my favorites, and each one gives a different look.

  • Stonehenge paper is great for colored pencil. It has an even tooth, and is 100% cotton. While it’s cotton, it is an affordable paper (1/4 cost of the smooth bristol). It comes in white and light colored tints. It’s available in large sheets and pads.
  • Illustration board is a good option for colored pencil. It’s rigid and durable, and can take heavy burnishing and pressure. It’s great for scratching details out of colored pencil with an X-Acto knife, for it resists gouging and tearing. It comes in a variety of brands and surfaces.
  • Suede board is my all time favorite. It’s only found in custom frame shops and is very expensive, but worth it! You want to only use the lightest colors for colored pencil. The fuzzy nap of this board will make colored pencil take on a pastel-like quality, and you can can blend it with your finger. (Never use a stump or tortillion, it takes off the fuzz!) You can use pastel on suede board as well. Pastel can be used on the darker colors, since it’s heavy and opaque enough to cover. (Colored pencil isn’t)
  • Artagain paper by Strathmore is another good paper for colored pencil and pen and ink. While it has a somewhat smooth surface, it still has enough tooth to evenly hold the colored pencil. It comes in large sheets and pads. It’s available in a variety of colors, and has a speckled appearance. It’s made from recycled paper stock.
  • Mat board is also a great drawing surface. Available at the frame shops, it comes in 32×40 sheets that can be cut down. Some framers will sell the scraps left over from framing. My favorite one to use is Crecent, #1008 Ivory.

That is just a list of my old reliables. It in no way reflects the multitude of papers available to you. Experimentation is key to finding your own personal favorite. Go to you favorite art supply store and have a look. You’ll be amazed at what you can find. Let us know what your favorites are too by posting a comment! I’m always open to a new adventure!

Have fun!

See you next week!
Lee

 


Edited by Cherie Haas, online editor of ArtistsNetwork.com

Lee Hammond has been called the Queen of Drawing. That may not be fair these days, since in addition to providing the best drawing lessons, she has also created fantastic books and videos filled with the same easy to follow acrylic painting techniques, colored pencil techniques and more. Click here to see all of the instructional books and DVDs that Lee Hammond has to offer!

Free download! Easy Acrylic Painting Techniques by Lee Hammond

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