Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pencil To Paper

Drawing directly onto your watercolor paper can be tricky.  While it makes for a faster start (as you wouldn’t have to transfer the drawing onto the watercolor paper after drawing it on another surface), using pencil directly onto your watercolor paper requires developing some skill.  It requires a soft touch and confidence in your drawing skills.  A light hand is needed to avoid gauging or damaging the delicate paper fibers.  The lead of the pencil may seem soft but it can be hard enough to damage paper fibers especially if has a sharpened edge.  Pressing the pencil too hard on the paper can also cause permanent depressions.   Deep depressions can affect how your paint would behave on your paper.  Your paint passages will have a tendency to go towards the deeper indentations on the paper and you might find marks appearing where there should be none. Erasures should also be avoided or minimized because the abrasion caused by the eraser may be enough to disturb paper fibers which can also affect its ability to take in paint.  If you cannot help the erasing, use the very soft white erasers.  I favor Staedtler’s because it is the softest I have tried so far among what is available locally but there are a lot of soft erasers out there you might want to try.   White eraser is preferred because some colored erasers leave stains behind.  I also would advice getting kneaded erasers.  These pliable gray erasers are perfect for picking up loose graphite.  Don’t rub it on (it can be abrasive to the paper this way) but just sort of roll it like a log on the paper’s surface.   Knead the eraser when its surface gets dirty.
Some artists opt to leave the pencil marks on the paper instead of erasing.  Most often seen on architectural and landscape watercolor paintings, pencil lines can add to the illusion of solidity and stability to structures.  It also can add definition to florals, portraits and still life.  There are also some, like me, who prefer to erase all traces of pencil from the paper.  Because I desire brighter colors, I try to minimize anything that would lessen the brilliance of my colors.  Leftover particles of graphite on the paper can dirty watercolors when it gets disturbed by passages of the brush.  Whether you leave the pencil marks on or off, is a matter of personal choice. 

While drawing on a separate piece of paper and later transferring this to the watercolor paper may seem time consuming, it does have certain advantages.  For somebody like me who likes to think with the pencil in hand, not worrying over erasures allows me to really explore all my ideas and see the physical outcome.  If I draw with the same abandon on the watercolor paper, you can imagine how abused the paper’s surface would be.  Part of the reason I’m very meticulous with the drawing or painting preparation is because artist grade materials are twice as expensive when I get them.  If I rush into a painting and later realize something about it is putting me off, most probably that attempt will end up in the trash and I would have wasted not only materials but also time already spent on the painting part.  Much preferable to make the mistake while still drawing on cheaper paper. 

Picture above shows my drawing template for the blue water hyacinths.  Days after I thought I am finished already with the drawing, I had second thoughts about some areas and I reworked it and defined the changes with a black marker.

How to transfer your drawing
There are several ways you can transfer your drawing onto the watercolor paper.  Among some of these are the use of graphite or transfer paper, use of projector, and light box.  

The projector works by throwing an image of your drawing onto the watercolor paper.  You then trace the projected lines with pencil or paint.  You can also use the original reference photos on the projector but sometimes, too many details can be distracting.  

The light box allows you to trace the drawing on the paper through back-lighting. Works by sandwiching the paper with the drawing on it (outlines preferably darkened with marker) between the light box and the watercolor paper.  Even though watercolor paper is thicker than normal paper, the light from the box is enough to make the drawing discernible on the watercolor paper on top of it.  You then trace the lines that you see. You can also improvise and use a glass table and a portable lamp instead.  With both methods, you have to anchor the papers securely to keep them from moving around.  On sunny days, you can use your windows for tracing.  Pick a window that is getting a direct light hit and a room that has a dark interior.  Clean the window first. :D  

As for transferring using graphite paper or equivalent.  You can either use a commercially prepared one or you can make your own reusable graphite transfer sheet.  Mine is over a decade old and still functioning well.

To make the graphite paper, you will need tracing paper, clear tape, number 2 pencil, lighter fluid, cotton ball and tissue paper.
1.  Put clear tape on the border of the tracing paper.  The clear tape would prevent tearing of your tracing paper which can happen from much use.  Place the tape only on one surface and try to position it flush to the four edges of the paper.  I try not to let the tape wrap over to the other side because tapes can sometimes leave sticky residue behind and I do not want these on my watercolor paper.  
2.  Turn the tracing paper over and then cover the whole area with pencil marks.  Try to be cover all spaces.  
3.  Moisten (not soak) a cotton ball with lighter fluid (be careful) and use this to blend the pencil marks together. The lighter fluid evaporates fast and will not have enough time to buckle your tracing paper much.  
4.  Then use the tissue paper to lightly wipe this graphite side.  This will pick up excess graphite particles.  You now have your own home made graphite transfer sheet.  

Graphite transfer sheet works just like carbon paper.  

Position the drawing on your watercolor paper, tape it, and then place the transfer sheet in between.  Make sure the side with the graphite is facing the watercolor paper or else you would find you have managed to transfer your drawing on the back of the same paper.   Over the drawing, I would put tracing paper (not shown here) This is optional, by the way.  Even without this top paper, you can already transfer the drawing by tracing on the drawing itself.  I do the tracing with a ballpoint pen.  I like to put an additional tracing paper on top so even if I forget to be gentle with the tracing, the multiple layers of paper cushions against too heavy pressure.  

Another method that is similar is directly putting the pencil layer on the back of the drawing paper.  No need for lighter fluids and clear taping.  Just shade the back of the paper.  When you place your drawing on top of the watercolor paper, it would function like a carbon paper too.  Use less pressure when you trace this way because you only have one layer as a buffer between you and the watercolor paper.  

To erase and retain the guidelines
I would paint a very light wash of watercolor like Rose Madder Genuine over the pencil lines using a liner brush.  RMG is perfect for the purpose because it lifts easily and is non-staining.  It disappears by the time I have worked on the painting enough and have established my bearings.  Let this dry completely before erasing the pencil marks.  

You can use any color for making the watercolor guidelines but watch out for colors that stain. There are also colors like some (most) yellows that when painted over pencil marks, may make the pencil almost impossible to erase.

Thank you for dropping by.  Enjoy painting!

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  1. Have you explored the possibility of a commercial copy center printing your drawing on watercolor paper? A professional artist mentioned it last year in a workshop. Thanks.

  2. Hi,
    Good question. I have used the technique before but not for painting. Documents printed using desktop printers have a tendency for their ink to smear when they get wet. I find that by taking the printed page and xeroxing or using a commercial copier to make another print from it makes the new document more hardy against water damage. I also take advantage of the better performance and resistance to smearing of copier inks to print drawings on acetate, card stock, etc, types of paper which deskjet printers sometimes have difficulty with. Running documents through commercial copiers make for affordable presentation tools.

    I can see why another artist may favor it specially for use in workshops. It would provide the uniform pattern for the projects for each of the classes while saving the instructor and students preparation time. Watercolor paper is thin enough and will be accepted by most if not all copier machines. They can then use the freed time to concentrate better on the lessons on techniques and improving their painting skills. It is possible to adjust the lightness or the darkness of the copier print so the drawing or guidelines are preserved while at the same time would appear inconspicuous when painted over. I can see the potential and the boon this would be for workshop instructors.

    Before I would use it though on work that I would sell, I would try to find out first several things mainly:
    1. How would copier ink affect the acidity of the paper? Does it have an acid, neutral or alkaline base? If it proves damaging in the long run, then I would think twice before using it.
    2. I would also want to know how lightfast the ink would be. Some use painting lines/ink lines as part of the painting's aesthetics. If the ink is to play a major part in the structure of the painting, then I would have to make sure it will perform as long and as reliable as the professional paints I would use on it.
    3. Some interactions are not seen immediately. How would the chemical composition of the copier ink affect the chemicals in the paints I would use. Months and years from now, would the colors retain their hue and brightness because they have a delayed reaction to the ink.

    Before using it on my own paintings, I would experiment on it excessively so that potential clients would be better advised on its care and preservation.

    Thank you very much for posting this question. It stirred up ideas.

  3. Hi there, nice to see your blog! I was actually looking for this technique but I don't know where to get graphite paper here in the PH. I'm opting for carbon paper but it's not erasable. Help please! Thanks!