Discussion: Modern Materials


Pierre-Paul Prud'hon detail --Academie Charcoal, heightened with white chalk, on blue paper

Pierre-Paul Prud'hon
detail --Academie
Charcoal, heightened with white chalk, on blue paper

Three ingredients:

middle value blue laid paper

black chalk

white chalk

Simple, but oh so hard to get right.

It took some trouble to figure out what the necessary traits were for each element, and then to find modern products that were suitable and compatible with each other. The bottom line is, you need chalks that can freely smudge but also hold a point for a series of crisp lines. You need a toothy erasable paper that is medium value, laid, with a subtle blue color.


The Paper

Almost all commercially available laid drawing papers have over--or--under emphasized textures, poor chalk receptivity, and the wrong colors and/or values. Only three papers I found work. And, I must say, they work very well -- one is perfect for beginners, the other two, experts.


Ruscombe Paper Mill's Cotswold Colours, Laid

(UPDATED NOVEMBER 2001) I found these gorgeous handmade papers just a year after I mounted this online Prud'hon discussion. These papers were developed especially to replicate 18th and 19th century book papers for restorers, but are also specified for drawing. Finding them was like winning a time travel tour to 19th century France!

I immediately wanted to tell you about this paper, but unfortunately, by stocking my drawer with only 150 sheets, I exhausted the known supply in one fell swoop. The dealer told me that it was discontinued, but special orders in large quantities were possible -- at twice the price that I paid! The problem seemed insurmountable until 2001, when I contacted Chris Bingham, the maker of these wonderful papers. After showing Chris how I was using his paper, he offered to see to it that artists could still get their hands on it. (In late 2001, Chris visited the Louvre in Paris where he hand inspected several Prud'hon drawings. He pronounced that the match to his papers is uncanny!)

So, there IS hope for serious blue paper devotees. I am not part of the paper sales business, so please don't ask me to organize orders, but you won't be sorry if you get this paper. It is THE BEST, because

is visually luxurious -- absolutely beautiful handmade

is a perfect, very light drawing weight, laid

is very toothy; very fine -- supports very fine line work

takes multiple erasings without damage

comes in two lightfast colors: one lighter, both in the middle value range

is made with flax, cotton, abaca

replicates 19th century paper -- miracle!

Find ordering details in the
supply list.


Hahnemuhle (German) Ingres

This is the first usable paper that I found, and it remains the ideal training sheet. Once you have mastered the basics of the technique on this paper, and if you can possibly afford it, switch to the gourmet version mentioned above.

This paper's color is a close match to the blue Prud'hon used, and it beats all the other similarly priced sheets, with its assorted combined attributes:

non-mechanical looking mold made laid

good, light drawing weight

pliable enough; toothy enough

takes multiple erasings without damage

middle value, lightfast

made with alfa cellulose

reasonable price

Find ordering details in the
supply list.

If you won't get the specified papers, make sure that the paper you do get is medium value, like between #'s 3 and 5, below. You can use gray paper with black and white chalks, but the resulting art will not carry the same cool moonlit feeling that Prud'hon got in his drawings. He and his contemporaries knew what they were doing. Correct?

White chalk

This was the easiest to find. Conte makes two sticks that provide dense smudgeable white from one stick and crisp line from the other. I have not needed to look further for better results. See supply list.

Black chalk

This has been the problem. At first I used vine charcoal as well as medium and very soft black Conte sticks. However, their textures and color were not ideal (apparently Prud'hon did not even use charcoal). Conte sticks are marginally good, but I learned how to make better drawing sticks, myself. I'm including instructions for making them, so you can see what I mean.

Commercial blacks are not all at once intense, firm but fluid, and cold in color. Vine charcoal is fluid, but not dark enough to stand out against the medium value paper. The softest Conte black is dark enough, but for fine lines, it is too soft to keep sharp. The one-step-harder Conte makes crisp marks, but it's too hard to go down both gently and black. Last, there is a very unfortunate red cast in the rubbed out tones. I spent more time dancing around the problems with commercial blacks than I thought an artist should have to. Prud'hon's line work has a gentle freedom that is clearly different from what is possible with the commercial blacks. Prud'hon must have used less pressure to get his black lines. As far as the ugly red cast goes, this had to be present in the blacks of the 19th century, because it is the nature of these pigments to appear as the complement of this greenish blue paper. However, I decided to fix it at the same time I fixed the consistency of the sticks.

Next Page: How to Make Your Own Better Black Chalks

Updates | Discovering Prud'hon: Introduction to a Lesson on Technique | Why Is His Drawing Unique & Obscure? | Observations: Prud'hon's Materials | Discussion: Modern Materials | How to Make Your Own Better Black Chalks | Supply List: Black and White Chalk on Blue Paper | Observations: Parameters of Technique | Theory: Best Guess at Prud'hon's Step by Step Approach | Demonstration: Step 1 -- Outline | Demonstration: Step 2 -- Bold Hatching | Demonstration: Step 3 -- Stump Out Hatches | Demonstration: Step 4 -- Hatch White | Demonstration: Step 5 -- Hatch Black | Demonstration: Step 6 -- Lightly Stump | Demonstration: Step 7 -- Apply White Again | Demonstration: Step 8 -- Add Black Again | Demonstration: Step 9 -- Hatch, Tortillon, and Hatch Again | Demonstration: Step 10 -- Finishing Refinements | Demonstration: Steps 1 through 10 -- Visual Summary


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Rebecca Alzofon can be e-mailed at rebecca@art.net
This page updated July 16, 2003
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