Having Prints Made?


My friend Mary Ellen wrote to ask:

I am thinking about trying to get the graphite barn picture I did printed. Can you give me an idea what I should look for and ask from the printer? I have never had a print made so your advice would be invaluable to me.

I see your chosen printer has a Cruse scanner – the best flat-bed scanner many thousands of dollars can buy. My friend Dave in the UK giclée printing business (www.dace-digital.com) says he finds it to be too good – it picks up the texture of the paper, for example, when that might be a distraction. Personally, I always have my work drum laser scanned – the results are superb!

Are you doing this online or by personal visit? It’s worth pointing out to them, which area is supposed to be read as white. If you don’t, they might not set the white balance point, and all your whites will contain a proportion of tone. I had that happen once. Compare the original to the print and the latter looks as though a maverick cloud has obscured the sun.

If you’re giclée printing, suggest that they desaturate the image or print using only blacks and greys. What you don’t want is the use of colours to create the greys, because you stand the risk of metamerism, which is an overall colour-cast that varies under different lights.

If you will be offset-litho printing, suggest they use the Duotone process (uses two of the colour plates of the 4-plate colour system) and print using a black and a warm grey.

Choose a decent weight of paper and one that is at least as white as your original. If it’s whiter, that’s OK, because it will simply increase the contrast in the piece.

I’m sure they’ll offer a proof, or a selection of proofs for you to choose from. Don’t necessarily choose the one that is closest to the original – this is a print, so compromise and choose the one that is the most likely to appeal to buyers. Boosting the contrast can help in that respect, hence my advice to choose a whiter paper. The print will be a true reflection of your original but with a subtle contrast shift that helps to catch the eye of potential purchasers – especially useful in a gallery situation.

Talking of galleries: they have tendency to mat graphite works in black. In my opinion that kills them stone dead. Instead, double-mat – use an off-white main mat (it will increase the intensity of the white of your paper) and pick a secondary “colour” from the piece for the rear mat reveal. You could, for example, use green from the leaves or a brown from the timber. Incidentally, browns work well for matting originals, because they bring out the subtle warmth of the clay in the graphite mix.

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.

What paper do you use? Mellotex!

An artist wrote to me yesterday asking “What paper do you use”. Well, I’ve been using Mellotex (formerly Ivorex) for almost all of my thirty professional years.

Artists often use a variety of papers. For example, the renowned Trompe l’Oeil artist J.D. Hillbery (www.jdhillbery.com) chooses his paper to suit the texture he’s trying to achieve. Other artists choose from a narrower selection of paper, such as Canson or Strathmore smooth Bristol board. Personally, I stick with one paper regardless of the work, adapting my techniques on Mellotex rather than changing papers.

Mellotex can stand an enormous amount of punishment and hardly ever suffers from raised fibres. It’s smooth enough to take graduated tone with 6H and has just enough tooth to accept 6B (which I hardly ever use – I prefer 2B as my softest grade). The surface is virtually texture-free, so it doesn’t interfere with what I’m trying to depict – in fact, papers that display their surface texture within a drawing are one of my pet hates!

Mellotex is a UK product, available in Australia under the “Lustre” brand name but not generally available elsewhere. Although Mellotex is now sold as an office paper, as well as card, it is archival quality. The manufacturers state “Mellotex conforms to ISO 9706 requirements for permanence and as such is suitable for archival use or applications requiring ‘acid-free’ paper”. It is primarily used by the printing industry, so visit your local commercial printer and ask for the name of their paper supplier (or ask them to order on your behalf). I found a commercial paper supplier in Leeds about 20 years ago and bought 100 A1 sheets of Ivorex, which lasted until about five years ago. Then I discovered that Ivorex was now Mellotex, and available in Super White (the off-white I was used to using) and Ultra White. Now I work exclusively on 290gsm Ultra White Mellotex and enjoy the greater range of contrasts that are available to me.

Because I have many overseas requests for Mellotex and my own supplier has a minimum order of 200 sheets, I now supply both Super and Ultra White from my website – SibleyFineArt.com/shop. I have a minimum order of just 5 sheets (although ordering 10 sheets saves you money per sheet) and I will ship worldwide.

Human Portraiture

There is a small Yahoo! group of artists that I belong to, run by Diane Wright (www.DianeWrightFineArt.com), called “Drawing Line to Life”. Diane started the group to study my book of the same title.

Over the last few months Diane has started to review the book again, and we have reached Chapter 8 – where I demonstrate drawing my granddaughter Charlotte – and she has decided to expand the topic to encompass human portraiture.

This is such a big topic that it will be broken down into smaller segments. As we finish up on our first topic, eyes, Diane thought it might be beneficial to layout the schedule for the next few weeks, and we would like to welcome anyone interested in exploring the topic of drawing human portraiture to join us in our discussions, step-by-steps, and sharing of our progress.

  • Feb 1-13 Eyes
  • Feb 14-27 Nose
  • Feb 28 – Mar 13 Mouth
  • Mar 14-27 Ears
  • Mar 28 – Apr 10 Hair
  • Apr 11-24 Head
  • Apr 25 – May 8 Hands
  • May 9-22 Clothed Figure Drawing

Neither I or Diane are portrait artists, but we’re using this opportunity to stretch our skills and pass on what we do know. We hope you will join us in this journey into human portraits. After we have exhausted this segment on portraiture, we will resume our study of my book with Chapter 9.

I would like to invite you to join us…….

Drawing Boards – advice and tips

Gary recently emailed me to ask:

At present I am unable to afford a decent drawing board so I’m looking to make my own. I was just wondering if you may be able to offer some advice on which materials may be best for the job? For example, would a piece of MDF be okay on it’s own or is there a material you suggest for covering the wood? I was thinking about covering the would with that sticky-backed vinyl covering you can buy to line kitchen drawers but would the surface be too slippery to hold the drawing paper? Alternatively would Melamine faced chipboard be any better (Being made of chipboard it may not be as versatile as MDF and therefore not offer a suitable surface for drawing). Just wondered if you might be able to recommend anything suitable?

When I first began I was in the same situation that you are – working on the dining room table at that time! From there I progressed to building my own drawing boards and have used Melamine-faced chipboard satisfactorily. My current draughtsman’s drawing board is simply made of that too.

MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard) on its own would be fine. However, for best results, I suggest you need a hard surface under your paper, as you don’t want any give under your pencil as you draw, so plastic laminate on MDF would be ideal. By that I mean Formica or any similar plastic laminate, such as is used for counter tops. Don’t used a textured laminate but search for a smooth flat surface – they do exist.

I certainly wouldn’t use sticky-back vinyl – it has a habit of shrinking over time and with temperature changes, which will probably lead to an annoying border of adhesive on your board. It’s also, in my opinion, far too soft for a drawing surface.

My first home-made board was a plastic laminate covered cupboard door! I fitted angled wooden brackets beneath it to angle it by lifting up the back edge. My next was an old sheet of 24″ x 36″ blockboard that I covered with plastic laminate. This time I hinged two angled brackets beneath it to lift up the back edge by 12″, although you may prefer a lower angle. It was also thick enough for me to use standard drawing board clips to hold my paper in place.

Now I use a draughtsman’s full-size (A0) drawing board, which is so heavy that after I installed I kept checking the ceiling of the room below to make sure it wasn’t about to drop down a floor!

An ideal, especially if you don’t have dedicated studio space, is to use a commercial table-top drawing board.

Table-top drawing boards

I have 15 of these that I use for my UK drawing workshops. Measuring 18″ x 24″, the folding handle swings down to form legs that give it a working slope – raising the top edge by about 5″. They also have notched rubbed strips at each side near the base, so the board can be moved forwards over your lap and the strips grip the edge of the table.