Posted on Leave a comment

When Your Paper Gets Slick

When Your Paper Gets Slick

Like last week’s Q&A post, this post answers a question that wasn’t asked specifically; it was suggested by another question. But when your paper gets slick after layers of color, it’s a source of irritation. So it seemed worthwhile to explain why that happens, and what you should do about it.

When Your Paper Gets Slick

Why a Drawing Surface Gets Slick

Every colored pencil is made with a binding agent that holds the pigment in lead form. When you draw, you put pigment AND binding agent on the paper.

The more layers you add, the more pigment and binding agent works it’s way into the tooth of the paper. All those layers fill in the tooth, and when the tooth gets full, your paper feels slick.

That’s bad enough, but depending on the type of pencils you use, it gets worse.

All colored pencils contain wax as part of the binding agent. Wax-based pencils contain more wax than oil, while oil-based pencils contain more oil than wax.

Wax and oil both work as binding agents, and they work very well. But oil doesn’t fill the tooth of the paper as quickly as wax. So the waxier your pencils, the more quickly the paper tooth gets filled and your paper gets slick.

The type of paper you draw on also makes a difference. Smooth papers start feeling slick sooner than rougher papers. That’s because there’s less tooth to fill on smooth papers.

Ways to Avoid Slick Paper

Of course the best cure for slick paper is avoiding slick paper. How can you do that? Here are a few suggestions.

Use Oil-Based Pencils

Switching to oil-based pencils or combining them with wax-based pencils is another good idea.

Using oil-based pencils such as these Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils can help you avoid creating a slick drawing surface on your paper.

Binding agents that are primarily oil don’t clog up the tooth of the paper as much as wax-based binding agents. So whenever you use an oil-based pencil, you put less wax on the paper.

Less wax on the paper, less slickness.

Draw with Light Pressure

Put down each layer of color with the lightest pressure you can. You can still get rich, vibrant color using light pressure, but it takes more layers.

The advantage to light pressure is that you put down less binding agent, too. It still builds up. You can’t avoid that. But if you use light pressure for as many layers as possible, you may be able to finish your artwork before the paper gets slick.

What about a Toothier Paper?

The more texture your drawing paper has, the more difficult it is to fill the tooth. You can layer more colors without making the paper slick.

Sanded art papers are the best papers for avoiding a slick feeling drawing surface, because they seem always to take more color. But even if you don’t want to use sanded art papers, you can use other papers that have more tooth. I like Canson Mi-Teintes for this. It’s sturdy and can take abuse, but it also takes a lot of color.

Sanded art papers can take almost limitless layers of color, so they’re an ideal paper to use if you really want to avoid slick paper as you layer.

Even hot press watercolor paper is a good option for avoiding a slick drawing surface.

Use Colorless Blenders Carefully

A colorless blender is a pencil that’s nothing but binding agent. That’s why they blend so well.

But they also fill up the tooth of the paper very quickly.

Since most of us burnish when we use a colorless blender, we’re also crushing the tooth of the paper. Once the tooth has been crushed, restoring tooth is difficult, if not impossible.

It’s okay to use colorless blenders, but save them until the end of your drawing.

Solvent Blending

Solvent breaks down the binding agent so the pigment can be blended. Liquefied pigment tends to soak into the paper without filling the tooth, so it’s a great way to fill the tooth with color without filling the tooth with binding agent.

Ways to Get Rid of the Slickness

There are a few ways to remove the slickness once it develops, but a word of caution before I share them. In most cases, it’s impossible to completely restore the tooth of the paper once it gets slick. That’s why I listed ways to avoid slickness first.

But once your paper gets slick, one of the following methods may be helpful.


I’ve also had limited success cutting through the slickness by blending with rubbing alcohol.


Rubbing alcohol dissolves the wax binder enough to soften the surface, which sometimes removes a bit of the slickness.

Odorless mineral spirits also cut back the binding agent, but they also blend more thoroughly. If you only want to dissolve a little wax without a lot of blending, rubbing alcohol is the best option.

However, neither solvent completely restores the tooth of the paper.

If you decide to try solvents, test them first on a scrap of the same type of paper with similar applications of color.

Workable Fixative

Most workable fixatives for dry media work on colored pencils. Dick Blick offers a selection of workable fixatives.

Whatever type of fixative you use, test it on a sample first to make sure it doesn’t discolor the paper or your drawing. Follow the instructions on the can, and work in a well-ventilated area.

Preventatives (and Remedies) for Slick Paper

The best way to deal with slick paper is to avoid the slickness. The methods I described above will help you do that.

But even if you take all those precautions, if you like layering lots of layers, you will sooner or later end up with slick paper.

When that happens, it pays to know how to restore at least a little bit of tooth so you can finish!

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

Posted on Leave a comment

Paper Showing through Color Layers

Paper Showing Through Color Layers

Let’s talk about paper showing through color layers in your colored pencil work. Is it good or bad?

Today’s post arose from a recent reader question. The reader didn’t actually ask about paper holes, but I thought it was a good topic because there are differing opinions on letting paper show through colored pencil artwork.

Paper Showing through Color


For those of us who like our work to look realistic, letting paper show through color layers seems like a bad thing.

I started out as an oil painter, so I prefer color that covers every inch of the surface (whatever the surface is.) That was easier with oil paintings than with colored pencils, because oils are wet. They tend to “sink” into a canvas. But I’d sometimes still see pinpoints of light shining through my finished canvases when I held them up to a light source.

I hated that!

So it’s no surprise that my personal preference is to have no paper holes showing through color layers on my colored pencil pieces. For me, paper holes are to be filled in. No question about it.

Most of the time.


But letting paper show through color can be helpful, too.

Here’s one of my finished pieces, Afternoon Graze. Seen this way, it looks like I’ve filled all the paper holes, doesn’t it?

But look at this detail.

See all those tiny little white dots in both horses? That’s paper showing through.

Paper Showing through Color Layers

Yes, I’ve filled in the paper holes in some parts of the horses, and in most of the background.

But many other areas, the paper is not completely covered. The dark horse in particular shows a lot of paper holes. Is that a bad thing?

Not at all.

Letting paper show through layers of color lightens the values in those areas. The color of the paper itself helped me show distance, reflected light on the black horse, and texture throughout the composition.

Letting the paper show is also a great way to show distance. It naturally de-saturates the color, making it look more distant than whatever is in the foreground. This detail (also from Afternoon Graze) shows the line of trees in the middle distance. Look between them at the trees that are far away.

Yes, I used lighter colors there, but there’s also paper showing through those colors. That keeps the colors soft and lighter in value, and that makes the shapes look very far away.

I’ve used the color of the paper to draw mist or fog, too, and it’s great for that, especially if you lightly layer color, then lift it with mounting putty.

In all of these situations, letting paper show through the color layers was good. It achieved the look I wanted AND saved time. I didn’t have to do as much layering or blending!

Getting Rid of Paper Holes

So you can see the advantage of letting paper show through layers of color, but you want to fill in all those nasty paper holes anyway. What’s the best way to do that?

My favorite method is lots and lots of layers applied with light pressure. The more layers you add, the more paper holes you fill in. It’s also a good way to develop value and color depth if you alternate two or three different colors.

Mixing the types of strokes you use from one layer to the next can also help fill in paper holes.

In this simple illustration, I layered green over a fairly textured paper. I started with light pressure, then gradually increased the pressure as I added layers. By the time I finished, the color covered all of the paper.

You can also use solvents to blend. Solvent liquefies the pigment, letting it soak into and stain the paper. The paper holes may not be filled in with pigment, but they are no longer white (or whatever color the paper is.) Just make sure the paper you use can handle solvent without warping, buckling, or falling apart.

Burnishing is also a good way to force pigment down into the tooth of the paper. You also crush the tooth when you burnish, further filling in paper holes. You need to burnish toward the end of the drawing process, though. It can be difficult to add more color after burnishing.

What Finally Helped me Get Past Paper Showing Through Layers of Color

You might have to do what I eventually had to do. Stop holding those canvases up against the light and looking for pinpoints of light!

In other words, I stopped looking at my art work so closely.

I know. That’s hard to do when you’re working on it. Using colored pencils is such a personal thing. But I eventually figured out that my works looked pretty good when viewed at normal viewing distance of six feet or more. I still didn’t like seeing paper holes, but I couldn’t see them from across the room.

That’s why it’s important to take a step back and view your work from a distance. If you like the way it looks from a distance, then maybe it’s okay if paper shows through when you look at it up close.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

Posted on Leave a comment

The Best Surfaces for Colored Pencils

The Best Surfaces for Colored Pencils

The reader who asked today’s question wants to know about the best surfaces for colored pencils.

I am fairly new to colored pencil work and I … would greatly appreciate some guidance as to the best papers or surfaces to use for colored pencil work.

Thank you for your consideration to this request.

Sincerely, Marie

Thank you for your question, Marie. You’re not the only new artist who has asked about the best paper for colored pencils.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you one paper that works best for every artist, every style of drawing, and every method of drawing. There are just too many variables.

There are so many different drawing methods and styles the paper that works for me may not work for you. The best paper for you is the paper that gives you the results you want, and fits your budget.

So I’m going to address it from two points of view: Craft art and fine art. I’ll also offer general suggestions on what to look for and a few things to avoid.

The Best Surfaces for Colored Pencils

Craft Art

Craft art includes adult coloring books, greeting cards, art trading cards, stamping, and so on. Short-term art that doesn’t need to be archival to be useful or marketable. I also include art you make for your own enjoyment in this category.

Adult coloring books are usually printed on inexpensive drawing paper so you have no choice in the paper unless you print the pages yourself. Coloring books printed on better paper are available, but the improved quality costs more.

The best surfaces for colored pencils may not be what adult coloring books are printed on.
Unless you get individual pages you can download and print, you’re limited to whatever paper the publisher chose for their adult coloring books. Check the information about a book you want to buy, and see if it tells what type of paper the book is printed on. If you like that paper, you may be able to purchase it from an art supply store.

Blank greeting card stock comes in a variety of qualities. Canson and Strathmore are two well-known paper companies that also sell artist-quality blank card stock. Other companies sell less expensive card stock, so you can pick and choose and try different papers until you find one that works well for you.

Strathmore makes a line of drawing papers ranging from newsprint, which isn’t archival, to high-quality drawing paper. Many other paper manufacturers also make different grades of paper.

Beyond that, any pad of good drawing paper will allow you to do what you need or want to do as far as craft art. I don’t do craft art, so recommend you try a few different papers and see what you like best. Buy small pads for the best buys and least expense.

Fine Art

Fine art includes portraits and other types of commission art, exhibit art, and art you want to sell. Artwork in this category needs to last a long time without fading or otherwise deteriorating, so you need the most archival paper you can afford.

Look for papers that are high-quality. Usually that means non-acidic.

You should also opt for papers made from cotton fibers, since those fibers are the strongest and longest lasting. Avoid papers made from cellulose fibers.

I prefer papers that are sturdy. 98lb paper is about the lightest I’ll use for fine art applications. Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes are both 98-pound papers and are sturdy enough to stand up under solvents and watercolor pencils in moderate amounts.

Stonehenge, Canson, Strathmore and others all make papers that are sturdy and archival. Some of them also come in a variety of colors so you don’t have to always work on white.

Portrait of a Blue Roan, Colored Pencil. I painted this portrait with colored pencils on Clairefontaine Pastelmat. Pastelmat is a sturdy, highly textured paper that works with with dry colored pencils, dry blending, and solvent blending.

What to Look for in Drawing Surfaces for Colored Pencils

Surface Texture

The first thing most of us think of when we consider drawing paper is the surface texture. Most drawing papers are quite smooth. Stonehenge has a velvety feel if you buy full sheets. Canson Mi-Teintes is more textured. But there are also sanded art papers that might fit your drawing style and preferences better than regular drawing papers.

For example, I’ve used Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes for years, but my most recent work has been on sanded art paper of one type or another and I’m moving away from previous favorites.


The weight of a paper refers to its thickness. A 98lb paper is thinner than a 120lb paper.

Thicker papers can usually handle more abuse. They take more layers of color, and can often be more easily erased. So if you do a lot of layering, look for papers that are sturdy enough to stand up under lots of layers.

Heavier papers are also helpful if you draw with a naturally heavy hand, or if you like to use heavy pressure with just a few layers of color.

Ability to Handle Dampness

Some papers buckle or tear when they get wet. If you want to use solvents to blend, stay away from these types of paper.

Most good drawing papers stand up well if you use small amounts of solvent to blend. I know Stonehenge can be wetted a little and will dry flat if it’s taped to a rigid support before you start drawing.

Other papers don’t perform well with even small amounts of solvent.

Drawing Surfaces to Avoid

Avoid drawing surfaces that are too thin. Newsprint is good for sketching, but not suitable for long-term colored pencil work. It yellows with age and often gets brittle.

If you want to do fine art as defined above, avoid papers made with cellulose fibers. Yes, cellulose-based papers are less expensive, but they not as archival as cotton fiber-based paper. These papers are great for craft art.

How to Find the Best Surfaces for Colored Pencils

You have essentially two options for finding the best surfaces for your colored pencil work.

The first is to ask other artists who are doing work similar to what you want to do. Most of them will be happy to help you, and some will already have produced articles or videos talking about their favorite papers.

The second option (and the best in my opinion) is to try as many papers as you can afford. It won’t take long to discover which paper gives you the best results. For more tips on this subject, read Getting Started with Colored Pencils.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!