Drawing Paper Repairs


Kerri Higgins (www.ArtWanted.com) asked me this morning:

I have done the unthinkable on one of my favourite artpieces rendered with colored pencil and light watercolor wash. It is still not right and I need to fix it, why oh why did I screw around with it! Is there a way to cover damaged final drawing paper?

Well, Kerri, I wish I had the answer for you but I probably don’t. It’s the sort of problem that only arises once, because after that first time you take the utmost care to ensure you don’t do it again! I know – I’ve been there.

In my case I have an early drawing and print of a Rough Collie head-study. I was unhappy with the highlight in the eye and, like you, I changed it once too often. This was almost thirty years ago when erasers were not as developed as they are now, so my final “improvement” was carried out with a sharpened typewriter correction pencil. Well you guessed – I rubbed a hole right through the paper!

I didn’t know how to repair it but typewriter correction fluid seemed like a good idea. It did fill the hole… but it dried with a greenish colour-cast, quite different from the white of my paper.

As I said, you only ever make that mistake once!

You didn’t fully explain what your problem is, so I’m assuming it’s not a hole but an area of raised fibres, where you’ve broken through the top surface. Nor did you tell me what paper you were working on. Paper, incidentally, is not nearly the flimsy material that many artists believe – particularly the Mellotex that I draw on – but repairs are best left to professional Paper Conservators, who are not necessarily as expensive as you might think.

In the case of raised fibres or removal of the paper surface caused by excessive erasing, there is nothing that you can do to restore the original condition. If you attempt a repair, dry media, such as your coloured pencils or my graphite, will sit awkwardly in the fibres of the paper and will be visibly different as the viewing angle of the repair changes. In the case of graphite, the overall sheen will alter too, due to the broken surface reflecting light haphazardly.

An attempted repair to a watercolour work might be even more disastrous, because the openness of the paper’s surface in the damaged area will cause it to wick any wet medium into the paper with alarming consequences.

There is, however, one solution that you might try if the surface is only suffering from raised fibres – it’s one I’ve used myself with some success in localised areas. Take a fingernail emery board, stroke it lightly along the area, following the grain of the paper, to realign the fibres, and then simply use the back of one your fingernails to smooth the fibres back down. If you wish to draw within that area again, do so only in the direction of the grain. It’s not perfect but it does work.

2 thoughts on “Drawing Paper Repairs”

  1. I know, I know – four years have passed since the original post, but I thought my modest insight might still be useful.

    I google searched for solutions to raised paper fibers in pencil drawings today, because I just had this exact problem in my most recent dog portrait. Of all places, it was the dog’s nose – in my opinion the second most crucial area after the eyes. I wasn’t too comfortable with the limited search results I found online, so I had to try and do something about it. Something bold.

    I found that you can actually cut off those pesky fibers. I used a brand new scalpel blade and – with the SLIGHTEST PRESSURE and UTMOST CARE – I could almost fully restore the area by keeping the blade very flat on the paper and cutting, or rather scraping, against the fibers.

    In my case this technique removed most of the fibers, but also removed the paper surface including any applied graphite in SOME places, but at least I had an almost perfectly virgin paper surface again.

    In order to avoid raising any more fibers in those white spots, I used the appropriate pencil grades – appropriate relative to the surrounding shades – and re-applied shades by very firmly pressing a rounded pencil tip in a pointillistic fashion. Not drawing the pencil across those areas, but making dots until the area was covered.

    Admittedly, you can still see a slight difference in these places under certain lighting conditions, but after using this technique and applying fixative, I am very happy with the results. It is not perfect, but so far the best method I have encountered. Much, much better at least than not trying to repair those areas and having a completely distracting texture in your finished drawing.

    I hope this may be of use – but please be careful. Happy drawing!!!

  2. Many thanks, Patrick! Four years or forty, all personal experiences and solutions are bound to help someone somewhere.

    You reminded me that I had tried something similar on a couple of occasions many years ago, when I used a razor blade to carefully scrape a damaged area, in the direction of the fibres, to partially restore the surface. As you mentioned, reapplying graphite has to be done very carefully. Your pointillism method was a great suggestion. I think I just moved up a few grades and used the hardest grades I could to build up the missing area. Soft grades sink too readily into the damaged fibres.

    Your fixative must have helped too, by dulling the graphite’s sheen so the more matte damaged area would be less noticeable. As I always use a matte workable fixative, I’ll bear that in mind when I have my next major paper problem… hopefully not for a very long time 🙂

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