Pro's & Con's of working with Tonal Paper
For Coloured Pencil Artists
Paper Tone Choice - Does it matter?
Created February 2018
I ran a couple of Coloured pencil Workshops in the past using the same subject but working on 2 different tonal papers, one was the Colourfix paper in Deep Black and the other the Canson 'Mi-Tientes 'Touch' paper in Sepia. The tooth on both of these papers are almost identical but the final outcomes of both portraits varied greatly and these 2 images will be used as examples for the first section of this Article to give you a good idea on why tonal papers can matter.
Both of these portraits were created using the WH Smith Coloured pencils and the pencil colours used on both portraits are about the same, however you can see how strong the white fur is on the black paper and how effective the pencil colours are, the vibrancy is far more effective on the Black paper next to the portrait on the Brown paper, seeing immediate effect from the start. On the brown paper, some of the darker tones get a little lost, although there is a very good reason why the brown tonal paper may be more suitable for this subject than the black.
The middle image is the reference image and the outer images are the completed portraits. The brown 'Touch' paper is on the left and the black Colourfix on the right. The brown 'Touch' paper match the 'undertones' in the subject so fewer layers are needed and the effects achieved much quicker. The black Colourfix allows colours to appear much brighter but will require more tones to achieve the final portrait so for these examples above, it is important to note that there are twice as many layers on the black (right image) than the brown (left) which will offer more definition but will take a little longer, also the brown base gives a warm finish and the black base a cool finish. There is no right or wrong as to which paper you choose for your portrait but these examples give you a good idea as to why tonal papers can help in your work and why selecting the right tone can be significant.
Tonal paper Ideas
If you are a coloured pencil artist that prefers to work on smooth paper, although there is a wide selection of papers out there, most of them are white, if you are a pastel artist, most papers come in an assortment of colours. A lot of artists actually prefer to use pastel paper for their coloured pencil portraits, but pastel papers have a tooth and if you are looking for a smooth tonal paper for your work, there's very little on offer. There are tonal papers out there for watercolour artists too but these also tend to have a tooth (the NOT & rough papers) Here are a few examples of some tonal papers I have used in my work over the years and how they may help particular subjects and compositions.
Mid Grey Paper
Ideal for 'white' or pale subjects. Working on white paper for a 'white' dog like this would be extremely challenging - White subjects are created with different shades of grey pencils however, against a grey background a white pencil is fast and effective offering instant results.
Tan is one of my favourite undertones, many oil painters regularly use a wash of burnt sienna as a workable base for their painting and a warm base provides an ideal undertone for warm subjects such as this brindle Boxer dog. It also allows the white fur/detail to 'pop' too.
A favourite amongst many artists, a black base offers an artist the ability to create great effect in any subject. Black isolates a subject and even a simple sketch can achieve dramatic effect particularly when there is a larger application of lighter tones - highlights really can create a huge impact.
Which tone should I use?
If you wish to try out a tonal paper and have a few colours to choose from, you could do a test to see which you think is the best for you. I tend to study the subject and work with a paper colour that compliments the largest percentage of colour tones in the subject(s). I tend to use a tan base for warm subjects or a grey tone for cool subjects. The tests shown below were carried out for a portrait of 3 dogs, which had both warm and cool tones in them and so decided to trial 3 different tones of paper to see which would be most suited. You can see how the pencil tones are complimented by certain base tones and I finally decided to select the mid grey tone which worked the best.
Which smooth papers come in a selection of tones?
I've spent hours in the past searching online for coloured paper that is suitable for my own coloured pencil art and as already mentioned, there is very little available. As I prefer a heavyweight paper of 300gsm this narrows the search even further, however I have attached links below for coloured papers if you are looking for a brand for your own work (these do not include pastel papers) - the Ursus, Bockingford & Stonehenge paper buttons are linked to articles within this website and as I have yet to create articles for the other two, I have linked them directly to websites that offer more information on each. I will continue to add to this section if/when I find any more.