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.

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.