View Full Version : Introduction - follow up - CP Demo on Gessoed Board

09-24-2008, 08:52 PM
OK. I've found a small number of photos that I took during the making of "I Can Hear The Grass Grow", one of the images which was attached to my Coloured Pencil introduction last month.

I don't have any photos of the making of the support - but I shall describe it in detail.

These pieces are drawn onto a hard, smooth, white surface using Gretacolor Aqua Monolith wood-less crayons (please see my introduction for further details).

The supports are prepared as follows:

1. A sheet of 6mm MDF of the appropriate size (a common size for me is 36" x 24"). To the back of the sheet, I glue and pin (or screw) a frame made from 1" x 1/2" planed softwood. I mitre the corners of the frame for neatness and it is attached on the narrow edge. It is inset by about 1" from the edge of the board. The whole assembly is clamped square and flat and left overnight until the glue is thoroughly dry. The frame has 2 purposes. Firstly, it helps prevent the MDF from warping during the next stage of preparation. Secondly, it causes the finished drawing to float away from the wall when it is displayed (I do not add an outer frame to the finished work).

2. Both sides of the board (including the back frame) are given a couple of coats of white, acrylic gesso. When this is completely dry, I sand the front surface smooth. I then give the front surface at least 2 more coats of the acrylic gesso and sand it smooth again. On some of my later pieces, I've not completely smoothed the surface. This has the effect of giving some texture to the crayon strokes - which tend to catch against any slightly raised texture.

3. When this is all completely dry, I can transfer the design to the board. In the attached example, I did this by squaring up the original and the board in scale and transferring the image to the board square by square. More recently, I haven't bothered with this process. Instead, I have scanned or blown up the chosen image (often a composite manipulated in Photoshop) and then printed it out on several sheets of regular 80gm copier paper -taping them together so that the image is the same size as the board I'm about to use. Then I cover the rear of the taped up printouts with a soft graphite pencil before taping it on top of the board. Finally, I trace over all the essential elements of the image - transferring it to the board as a light pattern to which I will then apply colour.

4. One very good reason for not squaring up the board is the possibility of the grid showing through any light areas of the finished piece. Even though I used to use the lightest grey in my set of crayons for the grid - there was still always this risk. The action of using an eraser to get rid of grid lines gives a slight change of texture to the surface of the board which can be seen in some lights. I found it easier to carefully dissolve the grid lines away with a clean, damp cloth (the crayon is water soluble). However, I now always use the print and transfer method.

The attached image has been darkened somewhat in order to show the drawing and grid lines.

09-24-2008, 09:23 PM
Malcolm, thank you for taking the time to share this process. I would really like to give this a try. I like the idea of creating a drawing on a board surface.

09-24-2008, 09:27 PM
Now I'd like to describe the technique for applying colour to the image. Coming from a painting background, I am used to using a restricted palette - building up colour and tone with washes and glazes. I use the same technique with the crayons. I deliberately do not do any "filling in" of accurate local colour. Instead, I aim to apply the colour with a light, scribbling motion that does not have any direction to it and, where possible, does not have any describing marks. The touch is quite light and I aim to allow the white of the surface to show through the initial layers of scribbled colour. I also like every piece of the image to be built from at least 3 individual colours. For most of the general build up of colour, I use a limited palette of deep crimson, viridian, ultramarine, burnt umber, yellow ochre plus cadmium yellows (light and deep) and reds (light and deep). I also use a couple of the lighter greens and cobalt and sky blues.

I like the appearance of the built up colour and tone. Seen from close quarters, the surface has something of the look of hand-made felt about it (it looks a bit like many coloured fibres). Seen from further away, the eye mixes the colours and the image seems more photographic. Over the years, I suppose I've become quite good at looking at local colours and analysing what the component colours are and that's how I build up the finished colour of the pieces.

As a painter, I've always been more concerned with tonal value than with accurate colour. Building up the colour in these drawings allows me to constantly adjust the values until I'm completely happy. In the initial stages, this can seem like hard work as I put down the early layers (almost like an under painting). The scribbling can also be rather wearing. Despite being very right handed, I'm getting a bit arthritic and (to avoid cramp or overuse) I frequently change hands during the scribbling and constantly turn the board upside down or on its side in order to avoid the pitfall of "graphics rain" (the strokes all being in the same direction).

I don't have any rules about where to start on the image. Sometimes I start at the point that I expect to be the hardest to render. Sometimes I start where I know there is a large area of tone to be laid down. In the case of the attached, I hadn't decided exactly what to include on the right hand side of the image (I was unsure at that stage about whether to include the fairy and how much foliage to include). Therefore, I started with the lady's face. I am mostly a portraitist and I was really looking forward to the challenge of this particular expression.

09-24-2008, 09:52 PM
So - as I get further into the picture, I frequently stand as far back as possible so that I can assess the tonal values. Finally, I made the decision to limit the amount of foliage that could be seen (keeping it to the few detailed leaves at the top) and to include the fairy launching herself from one of them. I like to include a bit of humour in my work. The subject of this portrait was (by her own description) something of a healer and often "away with the fairies". I didn't wish to offend but knew that, as a farmer's wife, she was very down to earth and would appreciate the joke (which she did).

As I start to feel that I've almost layered enough colour, I start to consider what needs to be removed in order to sharpen up elements of the composition. This is where I use an electric eraser to reinforce soft highlights or reflected light and to lift out any stray strands of colour. I also use a scalpel blade to scratch out any tiny highlights or sharpen up the detail in some areas (especially the final stages of the hair). In fact, for hair, once I've scratched out some fine lines, I can add further lines or areas of colour on top if I want to do any more adjusting. This colour will not go into the very shallow grooves created by the scalpel blade and the highlights will stay sharp.

Once I've decided that I've done enough, I leave the picture for a few days - returning to look at it close up and from a distance. If I'm happy, I mix up some acrylic paint (usually a dark colour grey made from crimson and viridian if these colours are well represented in the finished image). I use this to carefully paint the edge of the board and the outside visible edges of the back frame. Then I'll add my monogram and the date (usually bottom right!) very small. Finally, I give the whole piece a couple of coats of matt varnish (including the acrylic paint on the edges and frame) and leave it to dry thoroughly.

Please feel free to ask any questions or for clarification of anything that is not clear. I shall post some more images in due course.

09-24-2008, 10:07 PM

09-25-2008, 07:37 AM
Again, thank you for taking time to provide this detailed information. It is very useful. This is the first thread that I've put in my 'favorites'! :) I need to take time to go back and read it thoroughly when I can digest it.

09-25-2008, 08:35 AM
There is no problem with the colored pencils adhering to the gessoed board?
[and nice to find another who clear coats the finish instead of having it 'under glass' ... what kind do you use?]

09-25-2008, 01:25 PM
It is fascinating to hear what your process is for how you create your pieces. Your work is fantastic! Glad to see you back on the forum, and willing to share how you accomplish your fine results with this technique.


09-25-2008, 04:45 PM
I had a good afternoon in the studio today. I set up a small production line and made 5 new boards ready for a set of new drawings that I'm planning. 2 of them are 36" x 24" and 3 are 24" x 16". I've attached some photos in case my previous explanation about the position of the back frame wasn't clear enough. I cut all the pieces to size and used exterior grade PVA wood glue and a heavy duty stapler to make the rectangular frames. I don't bother with a proper frame clamp to keep the corners square as that will happen automatically when the frame is glued and pinned to the board. When they're all made, I stacked them on top of a very flat table and put weights on them overnight.

During the next few days, I'll be applying the gesso and preparing them for drawings. I think knowing that a few other artists are interested in this work has spurred me on a bit!!

09-25-2008, 05:00 PM
The crayon is slightly waxy and adheres very well to the surface (even though the surface is smooth, the gesso is very slightly porous and traditionally used as a base for paint). Even though there are several layers of colour - each is very light. I'm not at the studio now - but, from memory I've been using Winsor and Newton matt varnish for acrylics and oils. It's in a spray can. The varnish sharpens up the colour just a little and probably helps to protect it from UV. Perhaps I should experiment with Frog Juice or one of the other ink jet sprays that I use with my giclee printer. I'm pretty sure that the Gretacolor Aqua Monolith crayons have a good lightfast rating. I really should find out from them exactly what the ratings are! Details about the crayons are in my original thread (Introduction).

09-25-2008, 05:18 PM
Oo! I've got a question! (big shocker there, eh? :lol: )

In the pic you posted of the board with the initial sketch & grid on it... I think I'm seeing the screw heads from the boards you attach to the back... Am I right? And do you fill those with any sort of putty or anything before you put down the gesso?

Thanks for posting this! Got my idea fairies all in a tizzy! :lol:


09-25-2008, 05:43 PM
Well spotted Rosemary!!

Until I reviewed the pictures the other day - I'd forgotten about that. Yes. I made up the board some time before using it and (stupidly) used steel screws to secure the back frame. I started work on that piece while I was the resident practitioner at a local art college. The studio where I left the board between sessions it was quite cold and damp! I ended up having to clean up and seal the tops of the screws and touch up with additional gesso.

These days I use copper panel pins - tapping them below the surface and adding a small amount of filler before applying the gesso. The purpose of the pins is really to hold everything in place while the glue sets. I realised that there's not really any structural issue that requires the strength of screws.

09-25-2008, 05:59 PM
For some reason or other, I keep calling the products I'm using Gretacolor when in fact it should be Cretacolor (with a "C")! And I've been using them for 8 years - I should know better. Doh!! Crazy English spelling.

09-25-2008, 06:08 PM
Good question , Rosemary. I'd missed that. Thanks for the clarification Malcolm. Rosemary, my idea fairies have been all worked up since I read this last night! Your fairies and mine should meet for coffee! :D