Saturday, February 21, 2009

Translucent sketch paper

When you’re developing a preliminary drawing for a composition, it often helps to refine it with layers of semi-transparent tracing paper. Architects use a cheap, pulp-based sketch paper that comes on a roll, available in white or canary.

It has been affectionately called “bumwad,” “fodder,” “tissue,” “trash,” "onion skin," “flimsy,” and “pattern paper.”

For the illustrator, it’s especially helpful for planning a group of overlapping figures, or for flopping a drawing. I know—you can do all this in Photoshop. But working out the drawing on paper is deliciously tactile, and just as fast.
Bienfang's line of bumwad: link.


Glendon Mellow said...

Often I'll pick up a magazine like ImagineFX, and it amazes me how transferable the layering techniques in Photoshop can be to painting in oils.

So I purchase that publication looking for tips instead of one with more traditional techniques. Each issue has so much content.

Tracing paper serves a similar effect - thanks, James! Another great technique.

Patrick Dizon said...

Thanks for sharing! :)

Andrew said...

Never thought about that. I usually worry about refining and pre-planning too much, since I think somewhere along the line the drawing gets its energy killed. This might be worth trying though.

Is it a more durable type of paper than the sort of tracing paper you see strathmore put out in pads? That would definitely get me to try it out.

James Gurney said...

Drew, no, the sketch paper is actually less durable than tracing paper on a pad. It's fairly thin and fragile, just a step in the process. When you're ready to develop a charcoal comprehensive (aka "cartoon") then you can switch to a 100% cotton architect's detail paper, which can really take a beating. This is what Rockwell used for his charcoal preliminaries.

Stapleton Kearns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stapleton Kearns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daroo said...

I dunno if I would've included bumwad and deliciously tactile in the same post -- but its great info none the less.

Seriously, the lack of tactile feedback is one of the drawbacks with working digitally. When I'm primarily working on the cintiq -- I miss not only the feel of pencil on paper but also the sound it makes. This audio-tactile feedback was part of the process of drawing in different styles (a skritchy line drawing sounded different than one with flowing line work.)

You mentioned in an earlier post the benefits of switching between media and I think this applies especially to working with digital and analog methods.

When I want to do a quick (oil) color sketch I grab some tracing vellum and place it over my drawing -- then I can quickly try out some color ideas or rendering approaches. It may not be permanent but its a fun surface to paint on.

What brand of architects' detail paper do you use. Do you have to remove the sizing with an eraser before applying charcoal (Rockwell complained of this)?

James Gurney said...

Daroo, I don't know the brand of cotton detail paper (aka Drafting Vellum) that I use, because I lost the wrapper. But I know you can get the similar stuff, and also the cheaper sketch paper from, a good supplier for architect supplies. Their brand of bumwad is called "Sun-Glo." The good vellum costs about $40 for a 24 inch by 50 yard roll. The bumwad goes for about 10 bucks for a 24" x 50 yd roll.

I never ran into the problem Rockwell talks about with the sizing.

As you suggest, you can also use the thin tissue over the top of a half-finished painting for trying out changes.

Michael said...

Strathmore offers pads of a vellum that takes pencil, charcoal and erasing very well.

Daroo, I completely agree about the missing elements working digitally. I've discussed it with avid digital artists and I no longer think this is a universal complaint as I originally suspected. Perhaps some of us have a full sensory experience when working. Everything is part of the process. Those tactile qualities present a sculptural element to drawing and painting.

Dan dos Santos said...

Well, I don't know about JUST as fast...
but it certainly was the ONLY way to do things just 15 years ago.
It's the enlarging/reducing process that always made this method so time consuming.
It meant redrawing everything, or a million trips to Kinkos for Xerox enlargements in 5% increments!

I remember comps like this taking me days,
but then again, I'm no Gurney.

Rob Rey said...

I do a lot of compositional sketches this way, but I can't stand the flimsy nature of trace paper. Like Michael, I use translucent vellum and it's a whole lot more enjoyable. It's easier to erase on and rework without tearing.
Thanks for the post James!

Erik Bongers said...

I use CANSON polyester drafting film. I think it's ol' school animation material.

It's very transparent and easily takes pencil.
I use it mainly to 'carbon copy' a bit of drawing on top of another.
Real carbon copy sheets are not transparent and the 'ink' is very difficult to erase, hence my alternative.
After I have drawn (or printed!) the outlines on a sheet, I cover the back with graphite and I can 'carbon copy'.

The sheets are expensive but...they are washable!

Some comic book artists actually use tracing paper to ink drawings that where assembled like this topic's example.