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Different and more exotic surfaces, Grit Papers and Boards

Apart from paper, card and board. CP artists have the opportunity of working on a variety of other surfaces.  Broadly speaking, anything you can work pastels on, you can use for CP.

I can only speak from personal experience here, and the surfaces available in the UK.

I know that there is a wider variety of more exotic surfaces available in the USA, but these you will have to research elsewhere

Possibly the most common alternative surfaces used in the UK are those prepared for Pastel with various grit surfaces, and secondly Drafting Film (Polydraw).  You can also work on board that has been prepared with gesso though I haven’t done so myself.  I have used Ampersand Claybord in the past. The boards are expensive and in my own view not worth the extra cost over the paper based types available..

Let me take you through the options:


Tim Fisher markets a variety of special papers through www.thecsc.co.uk and among these are his own grit paper, Fisher 400.  This is a fine grit paper in a buff colour which works very well with Coloured Pencil.  My only (very small) complaint is possibly the amount of pigment it, and all grit papers, remove from the pencil point and therefore increase the running costs on pencils !  

I have used this paper for very respectable miniature CP images ( 3.5ins x 2.5ins ) so detail is very achievable. The paper only comes in buff colour but can be tinted with inks, and also with acrylic ‘grafitti’ spray  (* see below ) and it will take Inktense  well.  

A very good option for CP.  If you are going to get it wet in any way, you might be advised to mount it on board first to reduce the chance of buckling.

Another grit paper which is found fairly easily, is Art Spectrum paper from Australia.  

This comes in a variety of colours, but I have found it much less user friendly than Fisher 400.

The grit is rougher and the picture I tried was not as successful.  Perhaps you will have better luck.

I have used Hermes Aluminium Oxide grit paper for CP with excellent results. It is sold for industrial use and comes in a very wide range of  fine grit levels, it is buff coloured and waterproof, so takes wet processes.  

Hermes grit paper and industrial grit papers made in Italy by ‘Tait’ are sold for pastel use by Youdells of Kendal.

They can be found at - http://www.youdells.co.uk/home.htm . See also the ‘surfaces’ page in the Pastel Pencil section of this site.

I have used standard Emery wet and dry paper from B & Q with success. This has the advantage that it comes in black, is readily available  and is relatively inexpensive. The sheets are, however, small.   Like all grit papers, it is expensive on pencil, but very satisfying in use.  

Use the finer papers if you want to achieve detail and be cautious over mistakes - the colour tends to bed right into the grain and can only be easily lifted (carefully) with Blu-tac.  I would be cautious over using White-tac on it as this is much softer and there is a higher risk of leaving some of the sticky stuff behind


Sennellier produce a pastel card which has a softer but still rough surface, made - I think - from a fibrous material like fine cork chips.

Hahnemule produce a velour paper for pastel which I have also seen used for CP.

I have used similar papers to these in the past for Pastels, and whilst I haven’t tried these currently available two products, my experience with pastels on these type of surfaces leads me to caution anyone trying them with any kind of wet process.  I found that moisture of any kind tended to lift the surface of the old boards and left unworkable patches of the underlying card.  The softer surface velour papers do not encourage fine sharp detail, but tend to give a soft appearance to your picture.  Modern velour surfaces are more useful than the old type, but to be on the safe side,  Do check the surface first before you get any moisture near it.

Colourfix boards and papers ( manufactured in Australia ) are imported into the UK and offer a coloured grit surface.

These are sold for pastel but are smooth enough to be used for Coloured Pencil and the acrylic bonded surface will also take watercolour pencil processes


This is a translucent plastic film with a matt surface both sides.  It is sold in a variety of weights but the more usual version to use for CP artwork is the 5 Micron double matt surface.  It is the surface of choice for a number of CP artists, though I find it a difficult one to work with as the smooth surface only takes a limited number of layers.  You do get the opportunity of working on both sides, though,  and for those who are interest in pushing boundaries, there is a third surface available in the backing card or paper that the Polydraw will be mounted on.

The technique is to plan what backing you are going to mount the film on - white or coloured - first. This backing surface can be incorporated into your picture by applying further colour that will only just be visible through the translucent surface of the plastic when the finished image is mounted up.

Work the main subject on the FRONT of the film and the mid ground/background on the REVERSE of the film.  The effect is of a 3D image as the eye is able to detect the minute difference between the two layers on either side of the film.  The foreground stands out against the slightly fuzzy background as viewed through the translucent material, and the overall image is also influenced by the colour of the supporting backing card.  Interesting, very satisfying for those who can do it, and I am told that Polychromos is the ideal pencil for it, but I have little experience myself of using other brands so cannot comment.

There are some doubts over whether this three layer approach is valid for pure CP exhibitions ( Check exhibition entry conditions if you might show the result of your work - there could be restrictions on what could be called ‘collage’ ), Certainly the two layer approach ( either side of the plastic and a plain backing card ) has been used several times in UKCPS Pure CP Exhibitions in the past.

I have seen impressive work completed this way.

NOTE : plan to do any CP on the reverse of the plastic IN REVERSE order of layers.  If you think about it, the first layer you apply to the back of the plastic is going to be the top layer when viewed from the front. Later layers will sit behind that first layer and whilst they will provide the increased depth of colour you expect, they will act in the same way as the foundation layers in a more usual CP work.


 I have used Claybord with CP and found the smooth surface difficult, and I have seen work done with CP on a small jewellery box with white gesso primer which was very good.  I have a box and some gesso.  I need the time.

Latest revision October 2014


Ron West of Saugus California, USA, has kindly allowed my to include his notes and some examples of his work on wood panels.

I have put in an edited version of his notes here, and his website and blog give more information and more examples of his work.

Thank you Ron !


The first step, of course, would be to obtain the wood.  I go to a local lumber yard where I live as the wood comes in 4’x8’ panels.  The type of wood I use is oak plywood, and it is ¼” thick.   I take my time going through each board in the stack looking for defects as well as looking for the best grain pattern.   One of the great things about oak is its varied grain pattern making for all kinds of composition possibilities.  The other reason for my choosing oak is the ability it has to take and hold the CP pigment.  Also, if erasing is needed you can easily take it back down to the wood grain with little ghosting, and even if you do get ghosting, it is easily covered with new CP layers.

Once I have settled on a board with no defects and a varied grain pattern, I have the lumber yard cut it up for me into 11”x14” panels.  This will give approximately 21 panels.  Now, between the cost of the sheet of plywood and the cost of cutting it for me, the final price on each panel winds up being around $4.00.  

What you finish up with is pictured here :

Now that you have your wood panel the next step would be to prep the surface.  

The only thing you have to do to prep the wood is sand the side you are going to work on with #80 grit sand paper.  Sand it real good to get down to the raw wood and remove any surface film it may have picked up in transit.  Also, this gives it a good tooth for CP pigment to grab onto.  

Once you have finished sanding the surface, take a damp paper towel or rag and wipe down the board to remove all residue from sanding.

One final note on the wood used.  You probably will not find this wood at Lowe’s or Home Depot, you will probably have to go to a lumber yard to get it.

Next, study your grain pattern and picture in your minds eye what you can do with it.  

The possibilities are endless.  One of my favourite things is to turn the grain into tree limbs or logs and place leopards or birds in the composition, using the grain pattern as much as possible.  You can also do still lifes on the panels and the grain accents it beautifully.  

You can see a example to the right of this note.

The next step is to  lay out your main subject as you would do for any other CP work you would normally do, paying attention to the placement of your subject on the grain pattern.

With your outline in place, or your drawing, depending on how you work, you are ready to start laying colour.

Everyone has their own way of starting each piece, so what I describe here is just the way I do it, whatever you use is just as good, maybe better.

With my animal  art I always start with the eyes.  For me that’s where it all begins.  When I do it that way, the painting takes on a life of its own, silly I know, but it works for me.  

From this point, I will generally work all over the piece, laying down a base colour so I don’t forget about shading or highlights and keeping in mind which direction my light is coming from.  

As I work all over the piece, I will keep a paper towel under my wrist so as not to smudge the colour already on the board.  

As for the brand of pencils I use, it is strictly Prismacolor.  I have found that they will lay down colour on wood better than any of the others. (  Editors note -  UK Brand Derwent Coloursoft and Swiss Brand Caran d’Ache Luminance are soft wax pencils of similar type )

Pictured right  is a work in progress to kind of give you an idea of how I start to lay down colour, and several steps after that.  ( Ron has not attached the actual finished work of the step by step, but another similar image is shown ).

Finally I would like to cover the finishing touches I use on each piece.

Once I think I am done with the painting, I will cover it with paper towels or a cloth and not look at it for a few days after which I will go back and review it with a fresh eye, trying to pick up those little details you miss when working on it.  I make whatever corrections are necessary, there always are, and then I may go ahead and finish it or let it sit for a few more days just to be sure it’s the way I want it.

My final step entails spraying fixative on the work, spraying on 2 coats with about a half hour between coats.  I let this dry real good, usually a couple of  hours, and then the final coats of varnish.  I will either use semi-gloss or gloss, strictly depending on my mood really.  I like the way gloss makes the big cats eyes glow.  In spraying on the varnish I like using 3 thin coats allowing at least an hour drying time between each one.  With the fixative and varnish you want to spray each coat lightly, with the can about 12 to 14 inches from your painting, and KEEP THE CAN MOVING as you are spraying.  This will prevent it from piling up on you on the surface of your work and running down the piece, ruining all the work you did.

In closing I would just like to say that I hope this will be of some help to those that want to give wood a try as a support for Colored Pencil Paintings (yes they are paintings).  If you have a question about something I did not cover, contact me via my blog or Wet Canvas .  The Blog address is :  http://www.ronwestartofnature.blogspot.com/

Colouring Fisher 400 grit paper

Using Montana GOLD brand Acrylic Grafitti spray, from sources like www.Jacksonart.com ( about £6 for a large can ),

you can spray Fisher 400 paper in a vast range of colours.  Obviously white is a good start for CP, but the huge range of 180 colours  in the Montana Gold range enable you to think in terms of all sorts of interesting background colours for your work.  The Acrylic paint does fill in some of the tooth, but that is not a bad thing.  

If you intend to enter competitive exhibition CP work, classified as ‘pure CP’, you will need to be sure the entry rules allow you to use a background that you have coloured yourself, but for your own work and any you propose to market outside the ‘pure’ CP world, you can, of course, please yourself.  What about using two or three shades of paint to establish an interesting support ?

Using solvent with Fisher 400 paper ( and similar waterproof grit finished papers like ‘Hermes and Tait papers )

Solvent can be used for a pastel based picture where the pastel is washed into the surface with a suitable liquid to provide the underpainting for the finished picture. Some pastel pencils are water soluble though you may find that water takes some time to dry out of the surface before you can go back to use it again.  Rubbing alcohol can be used and this dries out much quicker.

You will find that you need to have a good number of layers ( or at the least, a thick covering ) of pastel to enable the solvent to run and carry the medium.  Tim Fisher sells a soft pastel liquifier in a spray bottle that is designed for this kind of work and using the spray means the delicate surface is not damaged by brushwork .  This technique works much more satisfactorily on grit papers than traditional pastel paper as the grit holds much more pigment and therefore the pastel ‘flows’ better

See examples of this kind of work on Tim’s site and YouTube video demo of the solvent  and also Fisher 400 video here



Users of grit surfaces will find the Colourfix Primer manufactured by Art Spectrum a very useful product.

Sold in 250ml tubs in a range of colours, the white is particularly useful as it can be tinted with ordinary acrylics or even watercolour pigments and will provide a hard grit surface when used over board or card.  Tinting the white would enable pre-colouring of the surface to be done which could be helpful for backgrounds.  The degree of finish depends on the amount of water used and number of coats, as well as the possibility of using emery paper to sand down the final hard finish to an even finer surface.  Colourfix is sold for use with a wide range of media including watercolour and inks.

In the UK this product is also listed as ‘West Design acrylic primer’ as sold by the SAA, but this is the same product

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