Tricks / Techniques

"Do you simplify your colored pencil/watercolor technique somewhat when you have a textbook assignment?"

Believe it or not, I started adding watercolor into my colored pencil to SAVE time! As well as add color saturation while avoiding carpal tunnel syndrome. I like the look better, and an intelligent underpainting gives you a great final look. I guess I just shift the ratio more towards paint when I am in a hurry, but I usually end up with the same look each time. And am growing more painterly lately, as well. Plus, I can spend as many hours or more working up roughs as doing the finals. I cannot possibly imagine how you can (pardon upcoming pun) cut corners on paper sculpture, either!!!

"Or do you have a different stlye that you use? Or are you just very fast?"

I am excruciatingly slow. I have another style (well, three more) that is ink and paint for the wacky side of me (my evil twin within), but the market is different than children's books. That income supports my forays into books.

John K.


"I went out and bought this stuff at a local crafts store called Crackling medium, to maybe help get that aged, weathered look on the wood. Of course I will be painting on heavy illustration board, not wood, so I'll test it first on a swatch. But..has anyone else ever tried this stuff on your illustration?"


Yes, I just used this to make some great birch tree bark and mountain/rock patterns. I used a lot of painted papers (marbled/paste papers/roughly painted/ crackle medium, etc.) for the book I just finally finished and sent out this morning. 3 dimensional illustrations (paper sculpture). It's called I LOVE THE MOUNTAINS and it's for Silver Burdett Press/Simon & Schuster. I'm not sure but I think it will be out in the fall. I'd celebrate but I'm VERY behind in a bunch of other work. Deadlines loom all over the place!) Anyway ...yes, it's lots of fun. Experiment. Depending on stroke patterns (even, up and down or all over the place) and thickness of second layer of paint you'll get small or big cracks, and cracks that are helter skelter or neat....


I've used the crackle medium often, but not in illustrations. Keep in mind that the cracks will 'follow' your paint-brush strokes. You can't over-lap strokes. And that since this is an illustration, you'll have to keep your paint coats thin, to keep the cracks as tiny as possible.


About the warping watercolor paper, recently I tried a light water spray on the back of my curling piece, then surrounded it with white paper towels front and back and heaped weights on it for overnight. Very flat the next day, and no ironing!


Ironing Artwork

I used to always go to the trouble of stretching my watercolor paper by soaking it in the bathtub and then taping it to a board. This was to keep it from buckling when the painting was done.

Instead, try ironing the finished art! Set the iron to it's highest setting... linens / cotton... and when it's hot... spray the back side of the finished painting with two or three brief sprays of water from a spray bottle (taking care not to get any on the front side!). Then place the art front side down on a clean sheet of paper. I use railroad board, and build up a base beneath it of old cardboard from the backings of paper tablets. A short quick ironing will remove nearly all the buckling from the art... (leaving only s slight waviness) Voila! It's ready to send off to the publisher!

I've used this on both watercolor and acrylic paintings... without disturbing the image in any way.


What is gesso base technique? I do really detailed watercolors and any info on preserving it as I work would be appreciated. I've been using a light fixative over pencil and watercolor in between layers ...Payne does that...but options would help.


Sometimes I'll give 140 lb. Arches or illustration board a couple of coats of gesso, then use the watercolors on top of that. It's fragile, you can remove them with a damp rag, for instance, or you can take up some of the color, but not all. So if you don't like something, you can still fix it. Seems to work better on a smoother finish, but I've used rough paper too.


Date: Tue, 13 Oct 1998 09:50:41 EDT
Subject: illustration: spray fix

For those who were asking: I'm trying to get the magazine back from the prof who borrowed it. In it was the article about Paine who uses fixativ between layers of pencil, watercolor, gouache and oils and back again.

I'm using 2H, HB and 2B leads in mechanical pencils on Arches c/p 90#.Tried a bunch of other surfaces, many too slippering and couldn't do all the steps I want. I'm still experimenting. Strathmore illustration 112 cp works really well, too.If I don't use fix, the lead swims and puddles..which is fine in some cases. I use the fix really lightly and only do tiny areas so I don't build up layers. Paine uses the textured look he gets by spraying. I like that in some areas but prefer to let the paint soak into of the watercolor paper...after all, what's it for?

Blair, no odor fix has been satisfactory. Last week I tried Sax but it does a thin plastic like film that doesn't work..can't paint on it. .and I was using it very lightly.

When I get that magazine back, I'll put up what spray Paine uses.



Anyone who really wants to learn how to do scratchboard illustration should check out this site. This artist has put up a meticulous web site... and features online instructions in the 'recent projects' area. Fascinating..... get out your magnifiying glass.... a wonderful application of Photoshop to a traditional medium.

One tip I've used: when gessoing bristol or illlustration board, make a big gesso 'x' on the back and let that dry. It is supposed to help provide tension on the back. Let me know if that helps.


I also buy "rags in a box" for clean up..and to clean brushes while painting. You can wash them and reuse them...paper towels get too expensive!


Date: Wed, 10 Feb 1999 20:48:43 -0700
From: "Nelson, Jan Kelm"
Subject: Fwd: Re: illustration:BRISTOL BOARD THAT BLEEDS!!

" 'I am working on a deadline to a book and am using the same bristol board I have used in the past...Strathmore 400 series with a smooth finish. WHY then is the ink not taking to it? It is spreading like the either the ink is watery or the paper is a bad lot...has anyone had this problem before with either the paper or rapidiograph paper ink?'

I use the 500 series both plate and vellum finish and never have any problem.

Hi there, I use the same 500 series Kevan uses and find that the ink goes on great. I use the rapidiograph ink that is for both paper and film and have been fine with it.

:-) Jan

Date: Thu, 11 Feb 1999 19:10:15 EST
Subject: Re: illustration: What kind of paper...


I use 100% cotton rag board to paint on. I have been painting on rag now for over 10 years and have found nothing better. But then again maybe I am just set in my ways. I have had no problems with acid or yellowing and the paint adheres wonderfully to it. I also find it gives a softer look.


I'm a faithful user of Strathmore # 500/3 ply. I've tried # 400 but don't like that one too well.


To Michelle/Levee Dog-Regarding illustrating on board vs. paper: When I was at Scholastic, we usually received illustrations on board for book covers for chapter books and YAs. Those were almost always done upsize. But for entire picture books and easy readers, we always wanted art on flexible board and at 100% print size. About 13 years ago, I did an illustration on board and was asked by the printer to peel it. It was the first illustration I'd ever had published and I learned a lesson--I always work on paper now. But if you want to create art on board, I'd just first ask the printer if it was okay or if you'd incur any additional cost by doing so. Peeling one illustration was easy, but I'd hate to have to peel a whole book's worth!

Joan Holub


Date: Fri, 19 Jun 1998 18:34:47 +0000
From: Miron Iosilevich
Subject: illustration: a question

Dear friends,

A question has been on my mind for a while. When I do my preliminary drawings for book illustration they often come out very free with nice line quality and a sense of spontenaity.

However, when I transfer my drawings onto art, something gets lost in the process. I have used light tables, artographs, and the carbon method. I would be very interested in finding out what methods you use, what works best for you and why?

Warm wishes from Katya :-)

Good question! I think that artists have been trying to solve that problem since the beginning of time.

I think that only experience, and trial and error will help to try and capture that spontaneous feeling that occurs naturally in sketches.

Usually I work on a light table, tracing a copy of the drawing (since the photocopy is darker than the original pencil). I find it very helpful to keep the original drawing or sketch by the side, to refer to... to try and keep the feeling of the sketch.

Also I think it helps to try and use materials loosely, though I don't always manage. And it never hurts to throw in a bit of loose brushwork... even if it's just in the background.

Good luck!

John Nez

I use an artograph to project my drawings upon my painting surface at the proper size. After years of hating this step, I started doing something interesting and obvious. I know quite well that I will be stuck with this transition, so I draw even looser and quicker than I would normally for edit approval. I don't worry too much about fine adjustments to outline and I submit very artsy sketches. Nobody seems to mind (knowing what I'll come-up with on the finish). When the rubber meets the road, (at transferal) THAT'S when I refine my line-work, right under the artograph. It's less boring to do, and if you can get away with it, less confining. With a client that is not VERY familiar with my finished work, I take the time to submit a very "finished" drawing and am then stuck with a laborious copy of my own line-work. After a period of familiarity, I loosen-up, and no one has complained yet. I still dread that artograph. But, what can you do? JIM

Date: Mon, 13 Jul 1998 22:29:36 EDT
Subject: illustration: transfer images

I tried an experiment today that was semi-succesful. I've been trying to use different methods to retain the qualities of my initial sketches. For one project I am scanning those in and then printing them out on colored Canson paper and then finishing them in colored pencil.

The other method I tried today was to scan in a sketch, print it out reversed and then lay it on top of the illustration board - ink-side down - then I sponged the back with water until the image transfered to the board. (Obviously this only works with waterbased ink). I sealed it with a coat of workable fix and then started my underpainting on top of that.

In the book, The Illustration Bible by Rob Howard, he suggested using acetone instead of water.

I printed my transposed image out on my laser printer after scanning, then turned it over and used the acetone. It worked beautifully on a fairly smooth bristol board, but then I tried it on a toothier paper and it didn't transfer as clearly. The acetone also seems to set the drawing, so didn't even use fixative. It really is a quick and easy way to tranfer your sketch so not to loose that original spontenaity(sp?) of your first drawing.

Phyllis H.


Most times I use the back side of Canson Mi-Tientes. It's also light enough to pass through my color printer, if I'm working small enough, so I can scan my sketch and print it as a blue-line on the paper if I want.

Nancy Barnet

A trick I want to try is to xerox my pencils and then gesso them onto board with a light coat of gesso on top - to save the hassle of tranferring. I've been working in oil glazes and find that using the wipe-out or reduction technique to develop the underpainting is drastically reducing my time. I tried the Winsor Newton Fast Dry WaterSoluble Medium (with water soluble oils) - it was like painting with snot - even worse than Liquin!

Smaller is faster for me, so I try and work about 11 x 14 most of the time.

Theresa Brandon

This is a well-established technique, and can also be done with laser printer output, if the appropriate solvent is found. I believe photocopy output can be transferred with rubber cement thinner, or perhaps xylene (whatever that is!) I'm not sure of the solvent for laser printer prints, as I never managed to find a good one myself.

To make a right facing transfer, first photocopy onto a transparency (such as those used for making overhead projector slides). Flip the transparency over and photocopy the mirror image onto plain paper. Then you can use this to make a non-mirrored transfer.

Different toners require different solvents, try mineral spirits first in a well ventilated area, of course!

Theresa Brandon

You will need to use something a little hotter than thinner, to my recollection. Something like acetone or lacquer thinner. Careful, they are very hazardous, but you can easily protect yourself with use of a paintbrush and air filter (in other words not on the skin). I have the kind that filters all smells, and I think that if you can't smell it, it's OK. Guys? I also discovered that you can actually cut the copies, paint the backs with the acetone or lac. thinner, and using a larger piece of typing paper over the top when you push the ink into the paper (with a pencil-found this easier 'cause you could tell where you had been) you can really control the image. I have an especially successful image that I'd send you if you'd like. Good Luck.

Susan Herman

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