Artist Toolbox: Surfaces & Supports: A practical guide to drawing and painting surfaces -- from canvas and paper to textiles and woods
Artist Toolbox: Surfaces & Supports: A practical guide to drawing and painting surfaces -- from canvas and paper to textiles and woods

Artist Toolbox: Surfaces & Supports: A practical guide to drawing and painting surfaces -- from canvas and paper to textiles and woods

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Artist Toolbox: Surfaces & Supports explores a wide range of drawing and painting surfaces and the unique effects they have on a variety of media.

The surface you draw or paint on impacts everything in your artwork, from its texture and brightness to color and durability. Artist Toolbox: Surfaces & Supports covers the drawing and painting  surfaces and supports that all artists should know. With this art book, you'll learn the basics and finer points of working on: 

  • Canvas
  • Paper
  • Panels
  • Textiles
  • Metal
  • Glass
  • Stone 

You'll also learn useful tips and techniques for preparing supports to receive media, see how to work with different media on each support, and discover the most effective way to protect your finished artwork.

Artist Toolbox: Surfaces & Supports is packed with visual examples, step-by-step tutorials, and demonstrations on the practical aspects of working with graphite and colored pencils; charcoal and pastel;and watercolor, acrylic, and oil paints. With this reference guide that no artist's library should be without, you can also learn how each support will take a medium.

The Artist Toolbox series presents practical reference guides designed for beginning artists interested in fully understanding the focus and function of essential art tools of the trade.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781633226081
Publisher: Foster, Walter Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date: 03/05/2019
Series: Artist Toolbox Series
Pages: 112
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.50(h) x 0.37(d)

About the Author

A lifelong lover of the arts, Elizabeth T. Gilbert earned a BA in English from the University of San Diego in 2003, where she also studied art and anthropology. Elizabeth spent the next eight years as an editor, a writer, and an in-house artist for Walter Foster Publishing. In 2009, she co-authored The Daily Book of Art (Walter Foster Publishing). She's also the author of Walter Foster Publishing's The Fine Artist's Guide to Tools & Materials and Walter Foster Jr.'s The Big Book of Art: Draw! Paint! Create! Currently, Elizabeth lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Blakely Little is based in Charleston, South Carolina, where she uses a mixture of acrylic and oil paints as well as crayons to create colorful, modern, and bright artwork. Blakely enjoys playing with bright colors and patterns and has been featured by Glitter Guide, Country Living magazine, Coastal Style Magazine, and others. She's created art for businesses and organizations in South Carolina, including the American Heart Association. Learn more at

Read an Excerpt



Over the years, paper has become an invaluable tool for recordkeeping and artmaking. Today, a variety of papers are both affordable and readily available. In the pages that follow, we'll look at the papers that offer the most practical surfaces for drawing and painting.


Material The majority of paper today is made out of cellulose fibers derived from wood pulp, cotton, or a blend of the two. Generally speaking, the higher the cotton content, the higher the paper quality. Papers made of 100-percent cotton are more durable and less likely to become brittle or yellow over time. Papers made from cotton rags are called "rag paper"; these strong sheets are made up of the longest cotton fibers. However, most cotton paper is made of cotton linter (shorter fibers) or a combination of rag and linter. Wood pulp paper is more affordable than cotton paper, and modern techniques for reducing the acid content make this option more appealing to artists.

Some papers are manufactured with an ingredient called "sizing" or "size." Sizing — which is usually gelatin or animal glue — changes the way a paper accepts a medium. The more sizing a paper has, the less likely it is to absorb moisture and pigment. Papers made specifically for ink or marker often have a good amount of internal sizing, which means that the sizing is mixed in with the pulp before the paper dries. This makes the ink less likely to bleed through or across the paper while keeping the color vibrant. Many watercolor papers are also coated with surface sizing, giving the artist control over the washes. (See "Sizing," here.) Sizing also keeps the paper from buckling under moisture.

Weight Paper weight is measured in either pounds (lb) per ream (500 sheets) or grams per square meter (gsm or g/m2). The measurement system of pounds depends on a sheet's size and varies between paper types, so there is no "across the board" conversion method for matching lb. and gsm. Using gsm to describe a paper's weight is more consistent and perhaps more descriptive; however, the pound system is more common in the United States. Below are some of the most readily available paper types and weights, listed in both lb and approximate gsm. Remember: The greater the lb or gsm, the thicker the paper.

Go Acid-Free! You may notice that some papers and canvases are labeled "acid-free." This desirable quality will help your artwork stand the test of time. Technically speaking, an acid-free surface has a pH of 7 or higher. To the artist, this means that the surface will not yellow or deteriorate as time passes. Some papers are buffered, which means they were manufactured with an alkaline additive to neutralize the paper. Unless you're drafting rough sketches, make it a point to work on acid-free surfaces. You never know which pieces you'll want to last!


Art papers are available in nearly every color imaginable. However, most artists work on papers that range from bright white to cream, which provide light, clean surfaces that contrast well with graphite, charcoal, and other dark media. The brighter the surface, the brighter your colors and highlights will appear in the final work. You can also subtly alter the temperature of your overall work by choosing a paper that leans warm or cool. Remember that any medium you use will be influenced by the brightness and color of the support beneath.

Some artists like working on toned paper, with the most common choices being gray and tan. Artists use the tone of the paper as a middle value and apply the highlights and shadows using charcoal or Conté crayon. This is a quick way to develop a drawing that often produces dramatic results.

Texture & Finish To understand texture and finish, run your finger across several different papers. They can be glossy, bumpy, smooth, or ribbed. Aside from the actual feel of the paper, the surface quality plays a role in how the paper responds to and accepts the medium. Below are the most common terms relating to texture and finish.

Smooth, Medium & Rough Paper textures are generally described as smooth, medium, or rough. Rough papers have a prominent tooth, which refers to the bumps and grooves on the paper's surface. These raised areas catch your medium as you stroke across the paper. Smooth papers have little to no tooth, and medium papers have a tooth somewhere between rough and smooth. Dry mediums, such as pencil, charcoal, and pastel, rely on some tooth in order to adhere to the paper. The more tooth a paper has, the rougher your pencil or brushstroke will be and the more medium will catch on the paper. Papers with a fine tooth yield rich, dark colors when working with dry media; rough papers with a large tooth yield coarse strokes and complement an expressive, painterly style. However, more tooth is not necessarily better. Papers with minimal tooth are best for artists who work in fine detail, as smooth surfaces give artists more control over their media.


Laid-Finish Paper Papers with a laid finish feature fine, parallel grooves that simulate "chain lines" characteristic of old pressed, handmade papers. The grooves catch the drawing medium and give the artwork a ribbed texture. Charcoal, pastel, Conté crayon, chalk, and soft graphite work well with laid surfaces.

Wove Finish Papers with a wove finish are smooth with a subtle woven or mesh pattern. It is the standard finish for papers used for printing and writing, such as stationery. The uniform surface affords artists a good amount of control over a medium.

Matte vs. Gloss Two common words used to describe the finish of a paper are "matte" and "gloss." In almost all cases, artist paper has a matte or "uncoated" finish, which is nonreflective and receptive to wet and dry media. Gloss paper is slick and reflective; the lack of friction makes it difficult to accept and control a medium. It can also cause smearing and show fingerprints. Gloss paper can work for calligraphy or pen and ink, but it is mainly used for printing purposes. If you want your artwork to have a gloss finish, consider working on matte paper and then sealing your drawing with a gloss varnish.


Paper comes in a variety of formats, and your choice should depend on your requirements and personal taste. Below is a breakdown of available formats.

Pads & Books Paper pads consist of a stack of papers on a firm cardboard backing, which allows you to sketch without a table if needed. The papers are attached along one edge with tape, glue, or a plastic or metal spiral. These formats are available in a range of manageable sizes that suit artists on-the-go. However, many artists choose to remove single sheets and work on another surface to prevent indentations transferring to the papers beneath.

Rolls Paper is available in rolls, often a cheaper option per square inch than pads or loose sheets of paper. However, the savings may not be worth the time involved in cutting your own sheets. Also, paper that has been freshly cut from a roll has a tendency to curl.

Loose Sheets For a serious drawing, loose sheets are a great choice because they have clean, ready-to-display edges. This format also allows you to experiment with different paper types without having to buy multiple sheets of the same surface.


The next few pages highlight the most common types of paper available to artists. Remember that you are not limited to the suggestions in this book, and some surfaces may suit you and your medium in a way not described.

Newsprint Newsprint is a thin, inexpensive drawing surface that is perfect for creating loose sketches. Artists often use newsprint for gesture drawing and thumbnail studies. Available in pads and rolls, newsprint has a gray tone and a surface that allows you to work quickly in long, gliding strokes. Newsprint comes in rough and smooth surfaces, and both work well with graphite and colored pencil. Rough newsprint also accepts media such as charcoal or crayon. Newsprint does not hold up well to erasures and does not have a long lifespan, as it is acidic.

Kraft Paper A strong paper made of wood pulp, kraft paper (also referred to as "butcher paper") is most commonly available in various shades between white and brown. Some artists prefer the warm tones of this paper for sketching and gestural drawings. Because kraft paper is inexpensive, artists can draw without worrying about wasting fine paper. It usually comes in rolls, although it's also found in pads and spiral notebooks.

Drawing Paper This large category covers paper that is suitable for graphite and other dry media. Drawing paper varies widely in weight, from 50 lb. to roughly 106 lb. Thin papers between 50 lb. and 64 lb. are great for sketching, whereas heavier weights can withstand more erasures and are more appropriate for serious drawings. Drawing papers generally range in color from bright white to various creams, although you can find a variety of colorful tones to choose from.

Most drawing paper is machine-made and available in pads and loose sheets. You can also purchase drawing paper in a roll, which is an economical option that's most convenient when you need large, irregular-sized sheets.

Handmade Paper Some artists prefer the uniform surfaces of machine-made papers, but others enjoy working on more organic handmade surfaces. Handmade papers are visually distinct because they feature deckle edges, which are soft, feathery, irregular edges formed by the natural thinning of the paper.

Machine-made papers are manufactured in rolls — a process that aligns the fibers in one direction, resulting in a grain that makes the paper stronger in one direction than the other. Handmade papers are made individually and do not have a discernible grain, making them stronger, and are less likely to tear, curl, or buckle.

Mould-Made Paper This paper is a hybrid of machine-made and handmade papers. During manufacturing, the screens are not shaken by hand, but the mold rotates so the fibers do not align and produce a grain. This gives the paper the even strength of handmade paper without the need for human touch. These sheets generally have two true deckle edges and two imitation deckle edges, often created by separating sheets of paper using a jet stream of water.

Bristol Board This popular surface is thick, sturdy, and made up of multiple layers of paper (2-ply, 3-ply, or 4-ply). The sheets are wood pulp, cotton, or a combination of the two. Sometimes called "Bristol paper," Bristol board is named for its city of origin — Bristol, England. It features two drawing surfaces: plate finish on one side and vellum finish on the other. The plate side has a very smooth texture that works best with graphite, pen and ink, and even airbrush. The vellum side is rougher and works best with dry media that requires some tooth. Bristol board is available in several sizes and dimensions.

Illustration Board Illustration board is a general term that refers to thick, multi-ply paper or paper mounted to a hard core, creating a sturdy surface that does not easily crease, warp, or curl under dry media. Most often available in bright white, illustration board can have a surface of wood pulp, cotton, or a combination and is available in a variety of textures. Generally speaking, artists use illustration board for work that they plan to scan or photograph. It is not often used for work intended to last a long time. However, there are acid-free, 100-percent rag illustration boards that are optimal for longevity.


Some artists use illustration board with wet media. However, illustration-board paper varies between manufacturers, and some do not feature sizing or a primer to make it accept the paint effectively. If you choose to use it with wet media, consider painting an "X" on the back to curb warping. Remember to read the manufacturer's medium suggestions as well.

Marker Paper When it comes to markers, the most important surface quality is the amount of control it gives you. Marker paper has a smooth surface ideal for achieving the crisp, graphic look of marker drawing. It is coated to minimize absorption, which prevents the ink from bleeding through and feathering across the paper and allows for layering and mixing. Marker paper can range from 50 lb. to more than 100 lb., with lower weights making it possible to trace from an image beneath. This paper is a top surface choice for manga and cartoon artists.

Vellum Paper The term "vellum" can refer to the finish of a surface (such as Bristol board; see here), but in this case it refers to a translucent paper. The translucent quality of this durable surface makes it a good choice for technical drawing or tracing. Although the surface accepts graphite and other dry media, its transparent nature does not offer the brightest surface. Vellum works well with pen and ink, as it allows for smooth, crisp lines and fine detail. Oil can disrupt washes, so avoid placing fingerprints on the surface when using vellum paper.

Watercolor Paper Watercolor paper is the perfect surface for fluid washes of watercolor. However, many artists also like using this durable surface for other wet and dry media such as gouache, acrylic, pastel, pen and ink, and even graphite. Watercolor paper is available in single sheets, pads, blocks, and boards (watercolor paper mounted on firm board). Standard individual sheet sizes and weights most common to art-supply stores are outlined in the charts below. Watercolor paper is available in three textures: hot-pressed, cold-pressed, and rough. The surface you choose depends on your painting style and the visual effects you want to achieve.


The most forgiving surface for a beginning watercolorist is cold-pressed, hard-sized paper.

Sizing Watercolor papers feature sizing in varying degrees. The more sizing a paper contains, the less absorbent the paper is — and the less likely your washes are to bleed. Paper that is heavily sized is called "hard-sized." This stiff-to-the-touch paper gives optimal control over your washes and allows for plenty of mixing on the paper's surface. Hard-sized sheets can also handle rougher treatment such as erasures, application of masking fluid, and "lifting out" techniques.

Masking Fluid Also called "liquid frisket," masking fluid preserves the white of the paper while you paint. This allows you to stroke freely without working around highlights. Masking fluid can be colored or colorless and rub-away or permanent. Hard-sized paper stands up better to the removal process.

Acrylic Paper Acrylic paper is a heavyweight paper that is sized and textured to create an effective support for acrylic paint that doesn't warp. It's sold in pads and offers an inexpensive alternative to canvas or panel. Some acrylic paper is made with a finish that mimics linen canvas, giving it a good tooth for holding the paint and creating textured strokes. You might also find this paper to be an effective support for dry media, such as pastel and charcoal.

Mixed Media Paper This paper is a thick and well-sized paper that accepts both wet and dry media. It's available in fine to rough textures.

Canvas Paper Canvas paper is a thick, primed paper that features a gridlike canvas texture. It's less bulky and more affordable than stretched canvas, which makes it great for practice paintings and experimentation. Available in pads, most canvas papers are grounded for both acrylic and oil paint.

Rice Paper Rice paper refers to thin, absorbent paper used for Chinese brush painting, calligraphy, and sometimes Japanese sumi-e painting. Also called "Xuan paper," this soft, lightly grained surface is made from a mix of wood pulp and rice straws. It's generally white, cream, or light gray.

Because these papers are often made without sizing, the fibers quickly absorb ink and yield softly blurred edges. Instead of complex blends, workable washes, and rolling droplets of paint that you can achieve on sized watercolor paper, rice papers allow for broken, energetic strokes that soak right into the surface. This creates an immediacy and freshness that is central to the ideas behind both Chinese brush and Japanese sumie. Sized and semi-sized rice papers, however, are better for small strokes and tight calligraphy.

Washi Paper Washi paper was originally made as the traditional surface for Japanese sumi-e painting. Made from sturdier wood fibers, such as mulberry, hemp, or bamboo, this paper is durable but can also be made in translucent sheets of a variety of colors and patterns. It has a delicately webbed texture and is sometimes made with flowers or leaves pressed into it. These decorative, lightweight papers are ideal for layering in collage or mixed media works. They are also used for the Japanese art of origami.

Washi tape is simply washi paper in adhesive strips. Available in rolls, this format simplifies the crafting and collaging process with washi paper. It also comes in a range of playful colors and patterns — perfect for boldly embellishing a work of art.


Excerpted from "Surfaces & Supports"
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Copyright © 2019 Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc..
Excerpted by permission of The Quarto Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction 4

Meet the Artists 5

Chapter 1 Paper 6

Paper Properties 8

Media on Paper Textures 11

Formats 12

Types of Paper 13

Chapter 2 Canvas 22

Composition & Formats 24

Stretching a Gallery-Wrapped Canvas 27

Chapter 3 Panels 34

Common Hardwoods Used for Panels 36

A Brief History of Wood Panel Painting 37

Prepared Panels 38

Chapter 4 Textiles 40

Types of Fabric 42

Paints & Dyes 43

Folk Art-Inspired Flower on Cotton 44

Batik 45

Silk Painting 46

Additional Non-rigid Surfaces 49

Chapter 5 Alternative Surfaces 50

Natural Wood 52

Metal 54

Stone 58

Ceramic 62

Glass 68

Mylar™ 72

Chapter 6 Selecting & Preparing Your Surface 74

Choosing Your Support 76

Drawing Media Comparison 88

Surface Preparation 96

Chapter 7 Demonstrations 100

Graphite on Smooth Paper 102

Alcohol Ink on Ceramic Tile 104

Acrylic on Panel 108

Conclusion 112

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