Drawing : Drawing Grounds

I’ve posted a number of instances on varied drawing media and papers, however one space that’s of significant significance to the ultimate appear and feel of a drawing is the bottom preparation and this put up is an try to start to treatment this omission.

All painters are conscious of the significance of their floor preparation and it’s precisely the identical for drawing. In truth lots of the floor preparations are the identical.

Oil primarily based mark on unprimed paper

Nevertheless earlier than you start priming any floor, you would possibly need to think about whether or not or not the priming goes to assist your concept. As an illustration within the picture above you possibly can see how on unprimed paper an oil primarily based mark, similar to from an oil stick or mark made with a brush utilizing oil paint, will regularly separate itself out, the oil leaving the pigment because the paper absorbs the oil into itself. This capillary motion is after all telling us concerning the nature of the paper and the character of oils and pigments. The pigments are suspended in oil and the motion of oil spreading out reveals this. It could be that such a incident is significant to the fabric message that you really want your work to speak, and if that’s the case, you’ll be concentrating on the kind of paper used and its capacity to take in oils, in addition to after all on the make-up of the varied oil primarily based merchandise that can be utilized for mark making. 

However chances are you’ll need to examine priming as a technique to generate new concepts. By working throughout a number of completely different surfaces and grounds concepts generally emerge from the way in which the supplies function. However whether or not you could have an concept of an impact you need to obtain, or whether or not you need to undertake a interval of pure analysis and investigation of potentialities, you’ll want to make use of a floor of some type and paper is for many drawers the one they start with, so remember to take a look at earlier posts on papers which may be accessed on the finish of this put up within the ‘see additionally’ part. 


Sizing seals the assist, which is why measurement can also be referred to as sealant. Mainly measurement is a glue that seals the paper floor to scale back absorption. The floor sizing of watercolour paper helps watercolour sit on the floor slightly than be absorbed into the fibres. This helps to protect the luminosity of the pigments, whose reflective capacity could be compromised by being partly absorbed into the mass of paper fibres.  

The identical brush stroke on sized (left) and unsized (proper) paper.

A measurement may be made out of acrylic polymer, PVA, casein, (casein paints are floor in an answer of casein, which is a phosphoprotein of milk precipitated by heating with an acid or by lactic acid) or animal gelatine. The normal measurement utilized by artists is rabbit pores and skin glue, and it’s the greatest if you’re in search of an enduring artefact, as a result of it has a low acidic content material. 


Earlier than placing any paint in your floor you would possibly need to use a primer. It’s a glue that sticks properly to your floor, higher than your paint would. Then when your paint is utilized, it sticks to the primer, in order that it’s properly adhered, i.e. it is not going to flake or crack off. Primers for acrylics are sometimes referred to as acrylic dispersion grounds and they’re both acrylic gesso or acrylic primer and these new ones made by artist’s suppliers similar to Johnsons can fulfil the position of a measurement, primer and floor multi function. 


Real Gesso is made from warmed animal glue and whiting. Gesso is a typical preparation for a paper drawing base and has a variety of qualities that make it very helpful for floor management. You possibly can sand again down into it and in doing so take away areas of drawing in a really refined method, in order that the drawing seems to emerge from the bottom, or look as whether it is sinking down into it. Real gesso is a tough, chalky floor constructed up by a number of skinny layers. It’s delicate to water and can crack if used on a versatile floor, so to stop cracking it should solely be used on inflexible substrates. Real gesso is extra-absorbent so it’s your best option for portray in egg tempera or encaustic. Except it states that it’s conventional gesso, most issues labelled gesso, are made with acrylic floor and usually are not as absorbent as true gesso, so should you can, take a look at out each earlier than making a choice as to which one is correct to your explicit strategy. In drawings blended with watercolour or dilute inks, the flexibility of gesso to soak up liquids once more comes into its personal and there’s a deep, saturated look to liquids utilized to true gesso surfaces that you just can not get on unprepared paper surfaces.  

Marks made on gessoed watercolour paper

The paper above was painted utilizing a big brush that left brush strokes utilizing an acrylic gesso. It was when dry evenly sanded to provide it a grain and it was then drawn into with a pointy metallic level, to be able to scratch deep into the gessoed paper. A dilute black ink wash was then utilized over the scratch marks after which a clear damp material was used to take away the ink from the floor in order that it was left concentrated within the scratches. The wiping additionally enabled the floor to be ‘softened’ and an extra layer of colored watercolour was then utilized and in addition wiped off. 

Watercolour over acrylic floor gesso.

Within the picture above you possibly can see that the gesso was utilized with an enormous brush in a straight downwards stroke after which placed on barely thicker utilizing a palette knife utilizing horizontal strokes. Watercolour was then utilized with a big tender brush and partly eliminated utilizing a dry material. 

Many acrylic primers have been created to be much like conventional gesso. You’ll due to this fact discover varied phrases similar to ‘true gesso’, ‘real gesso’ or ‘conventional gesso’, however to start with simply strive them out and see what impacts they provide help to obtain. All of them may be painted onto paper, and all of them can then be sanded, scratched into and variously distressed to be able to offer you textural management over a drawing’s floor. 

In case your floor must flex, Sinopia Casein Gesso can be utilized. It is extremely absorbent and is the following smartest thing to real gesso. You utilize it straight from the jar at room temperature. It’s made with milk protein (casein) which is a binder in casein paints. It comprises a small quantity of linseed oil that has been emulsified so it may be thinned and cleaned up with water. However the oil content material is definitely fairly minimal, simply sufficient to make the gesso versatile and water insoluble after it has dried and cured – as a result of it’s minimal they are saying that the floor doesn’t must be sized first to guard it from the oil. This additionally means it isn’t very absorbent, so intense watercolour or ink colors are tougher to realize. 

As soon as the gesso is utilized it dries to the contact in a brief period of time so you possibly can apply the second coat the identical day when the primary is contact dry, however not more than two coats a day. Whereas the floor is steady sufficient for one further layer, the oil content material has to remedy sufficient for subsequent layers to be utilized. As a result of the recipe features a linseed oil emulsion it’s going to take 4 or 5 days for the floor to remedy and change into water insoluble. If you’re working with aqueous wash methods, which soak the floor with water, then it is best to wait for a whole remedy. With much less water or with oil methods, the floor may be painted on after a couple of days.

A floor is the textured floor that your whole varied drawing media have to answer, whether or not these media are moist or dry. It’s the factor that you just expertise as ‘contact’. Whether or not it’s arduous or tender, clean or textured, absorbent or non-absorbent, colored or white, it’s going to instantly impact the way in which {that a} mark sits on a floor.  In fact for a painter grounds are additionally important, however generally the drawer can overlook that the paper floor holds 50% of a drawing’s textural potential. 

Some drawing media have grounds specifically made for them, similar to pastel and silverpoint. Clear acrylic pastel primer is a floor that makes it potential to work in tender pastel on all kinds of substrates: canvas, card, plastic, glass, paper, wooden, ceramic or metallic. It has a barely gritty or toothy texture which is able to maintain tender pastel grains. (You even have to consider fixative know-how with pastel, so do observe the hyperlinks on the finish of the put up for extra ideas on this). 

I’ve posted on silverpoint up to now and to be able to get the metallic to rub off on paper it’s worthwhile to apply a floor. My first use of a primer to do that was of ground-up cuttlefish blended into gouache paint. However you possibly can draw with a wide range of metals so long as you think about the paper’s floor preparation. Metalpoint drawings are made by dragging sharpened wires of sentimental metallic (often silver or lead, however generally gold) over a barely toothy, textured floor. Particles of the metallic wire are deposited on the floor, leaving ghostly gray traces which is able to tarnish over time to a heat brown tone. There’s now a specifically ready business floor obtainable, referred to as ‘Golden Silverpoint Floor’ a milky acrylic floor that’s designed to be used on porous and versatile substrates. 

Element from Lauren Amalia Redding, ‘De Donde Crece La Palma’ Silverpoint on panel

A very good conventional floor is made out of rabbit pores and skin glue, bone ash, and pigment, however the rabbit pores and skin glue should be saved at a relentless temperature and several other coats are required, this is the reason I used the gouache technique. If you wish to take a look at an artist that makes use of silverpoint grounds rather well strive Roy Eastland. He combines drawing on gesso grounds with scratching and sandpapering this photos away, in order that he features full management of floor chance. 

Roy Eastland

Roy Eastland

I significantly like Eastland’s drawings of outdated toys such because the one above, the sanding again of the gesso permitting the photographs to ghost out of the bottom, suggesting that they’re rising out of historical past. 

This put up is just an introduction to grounds and was prompted by the truth that a number of first 12 months college students are starting to take extra care over stretching papers and fascinated with how they could use picket frames to assist taut drum like surfaces to attract on, however only a few are exploring paper grounds and the way additionally they have an effect on mark making potentialities. 

See additionally:

Charcoal Features a part on fixative and the way to use it 
Sumi papers A reminder to discover what’s on the market in relation to potential surfaces to make use of