Drawing Papers and Drawing Sizes

Earlier today I was contacted by an artist who has signed up to my 10-week correspondence course – the first one I’m running at DrawSpace.com. She had a query about the Mellotex paper she had just purchased from my website’s shop. She asked:

I ordered both the Super White and the Ultra White Mellotex
simply because I didn’t know which ‘color’ I should use. How do you
decide which ‘color’ of paper to use? Is it as simple as using the
off white paper if your drawing has mostly darker values in it, and
using the whiter paper if your drawing has more white in it?

First, I must explain that Mellotex is available in a number of varieties and I stock Super White, which is a warm creamy colour, and Ultra White, which is a brilliant white.

When choosing the paper for project, think in terms of available contrast. If your drawing needs a softer, less harsh look, choose the Super White. Alternatively, if you want the maximum range of tones available to you (almost always in my case), choose the Ultra White. Both papers are double-sided plate finish, so they have virtually no detectable surface texture – perfect in my opinion for detailed, realistic drawings.

How do you decide how large to make a drawing? Is it easier to work in a large size? But since ‘large’ is relative, how do you decide what size to make a drawing?

Personal preference and experience play a large part. Increasing the size of a drawing by 20% will often increase the time to complete it by 50% or more, as the amount of detail is greatly increased. You reach a point where suggestion will no longer suffice and only direct depiction will do.

Personally, I have a handy trick that I use. Let’s say the study is of a scene which includes a dog’s head and foliage. Sometimes I’ll print out an enlarged line drawing but more usually I just imagine an element on a blank sheet of paper, then I hold my pencil over it and “pretend” to draw the face. This simple exercise gives me an excellent idea of the work involved, how long it will take to complete, and the level of detail required. I might “draw” other areas too, such as foreground foliage. Based on the results from these exercises, I adjust the size accordingly.

You must also take into consideration the amount of information you have available. If you’re working from poor reference photos, small is better! Don’t increase the size past the point where suggestion will suffice, if suggestion is all you can achieve with the information to hand.

How do you decide how much of the paper to use for your drawing – is there a standard border size that should be left on the paper for framing purposes?

I always use a full 24″ × 18″ sheet of Mellotex no matter how small the drawing is. That way I can enlarge the area of the drawing at any time if I need to. The paper is finally cut to size to suit the mat and frame. Paper is not that expensive – not when compared to a drawing that has insufficient margin to mat correctly!

If your drawing is a commissioned study, don’t stint on those borders. Put yourself in the position of your client. Which would you prefer to receive – a 7″ × 10″ drawing on a sheet of 8″ × 11″ paper, or the same drawing on a generous 18″ × 22″ sheet? Human nature sees value for money in the second. Additionally, if the drawing is handed around the family for appreciation (it will be!), fingers prints will be kept away from the drawing itself. And framers often like to give the subject room to breath in a frame, and that in turn produces a larger and more imposing frame. Don’t assume that it will be closely matted – a good framer might well decide to use much of that generous 6″ border that you provided.

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