Flowers on Paper with Gesso Surface

Sometimes a tonal drawing can benefit from a textured surface. Polymer gesso is an excellent surface, with a texture more varied than that provided by a machine-patterned paper. This is a ready-made product, resembling thick cream, and sold in art supply stores under many brand names. It is fast drying, and a single coat of it brushed on a sheet of drawing paper yields a textured, flexible, brilliant white surface.

Drawing tonally on this surface emphasizes a brushed texture, which becomes an element in the drawing. It is a surface that also encourages a certain broadness and looseness of line.


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1. After working out a simple arrangement with thumbnail roughs, the artist lightly blocked in the hydrangeas and some of the foliage with an HB pencil. This was a fairly spontaneous drawing, developed as the artist went along, so not much drawing with graphite was done at this stage. What is shown here, in fact, is darker than it need be. These lines should be very light, because this time they will not be erased.

2. This is where the drawing really started. With an 833 blue violet pencil and medium pencil pressure, areas of negative space were tonally drawn to reveal the foliage forms. Drawing this negative space is sometimes the easiest way to see and state these kinds of complex and crowded forms. If you know where your foliage begins (at the ground), and where it ends (in and around the flowers), you can make a beginning by free drawing dark spaces between your not-yet-visible fronds. And because at this point the dark spaces were not very dark, they could have been made darker—or turned into a frond. In this kind of drawing, the composition is at this stage still fairly transitional.

The artist began modeling the hydrangeas with a 929 pink and a 956 light violet, used separately and together. Much of the gesso surface's brilliant white was left open for the mounding flower heads. Here the brush marks in the gesso were becoming slightly apparent.

Pencil Drawing Leaves

3. The fronds and leaves were now tonally drawn with four greens: a 910 true green, a 911 olive green, a 912 apple green, and a 913 green bice. These different greens helped to refine and differentiate the foliage and to add a suggestion of depth. Spaces between the leaves were darkened with 931 purple and more 933 blue violet. The artist also applied some 911 olive green with heavy pressure to suggest additional foliage in these spaces. In the lower right foreground, some 903 true blue and a few touches of 910 true green were also added. Although the hydrangea blooms have not been altered, they project more now that the foliage is better developed.

Evaluation: This drawing moved along loosely and fast for the artist. So, before aoding a lot of details, she paused to evaluate her progress, and to determine what else needed to be done.

Two things became quickly apparent: the foliage lacked definition near the lower foreground and in the lower right-hand clump: and. more seriously, the flowers themselves didn't quite seem to register. Although their characteristic look was supposed to be rendered loosely, something was lacking. Reviewing the three dimensions of color, one by one, seemed to offer a clue. While the general value range of the flower looked about right—light at their tops and darkening at their rounded sides—their hues were too much the same. This was probably what made them a bit boring. The intensity of their colors also lacked contrast. So. what the flowers needed was more variety of hue and more contrast in intensity.

Pencil Drawings HydrangeasPencil Drawing Violet Flower

4. A few bright hues were briskly added to the hydrangeas. For the flowers in front, a 923 scarlet lake, a 916 canary ye low, and a 918 orange were used. For the flowers in back, the hues added were a 903 true blue and a 956 light violet. This addition livened them up.

To further define the foliage where necessary, the artist played down the linear quality of the gesso texture. To do this, more greens, and some blue and purple were added, applied with sharp pencil points into those grooves of the texture where saturated darks or crisp edges were needed.

The close-up view above shows how pencil tones in this drawing were deposited on the gesso ridges. A sharp pencil point fills in grooves for more color saturation at top center. Note, too, that in this view, the flower petals were loosely suggested rather than drawn individually.


A white colored pencil cannot be used to render white unless it is used on a toned or colored paper; but it does have another important use unique to the colored pencil medium. This is its use in adding a glazed surface effect to a drawing or to parts of a drawing. This technique is called "burnishing," and its effect is unlike that produced by any other method.


Tho burnishing technique is done by applying a white—or a similarly light-valued pencil—with heavy pencil pressure over a previously established tonal area. The Prismacolor pencils most suitable for burnishing are 938 white, 914 cream, 964 warm gray, very light, and 968 cold gray, very light. The character of the original tonal colors changes as pigment material and paper become tightly compressed. Although the original colors become slightly lightened, because of the addi tion of light-valued pigment, the overall effect is an increase in color brightness and reflectivity as the original tonal hues are mashed into the paper's surface. This technique can also appear to evoke a wet or fluid effect.

In practice, burnishing can be employed at any stage of a drawing. It can be integrated into the initial process of drawing, or it can be used as a final step. Burnishing works well over any colored pencil hue or value. It is most effective, however, when employed over tonal areas rather than those of a loose or linear nature. Also, the less hue contained in the burnishing pencil, the less the original color will be altered. A 938 white pencil, for example, will burnish a color with less change to that color's hue than will a pencil with a similar value, such as a 914 cream, which contains more hue.


As an aesthetic option, additional color can be applied over a burnished area. In regard to color mixing, a pencil color that is layered over an area of firmly applied white results in a more intense version of that pencil's color.

To see for yourself how burnishing glazes a drawing's surface and appears to heighten color, try it on some sample patches in your own workbook. Start with a few suitable pencils. Apply each of these with heavy pressure over some random samples of single and complex tonal hues.

To see how much or how little the underlying color is affected by the color of the burnishing pencil, experiment with different pencil colors layered over tonal patches of the same hue.

Burnishing is an interesting and useful technique. However, like other techniques that use heavy pencil pressure, it can lead to wax bloom. As a precaution, it is wise to spray burnished areas with a good fixative.


As an aesthetic option, additional color

Tonal Drawing FlowerBurnishing With Color Pencils

The difference between these two studies (left) based on a textile design is that the version on the left remains as drawn whi!e that on the right has been burnished as a final step with a 938 white pencil. Among the effects of burnishing are an apparent heightening of intensity in some of the colors, a smoothing of overall texture, and a general lightening of values.

The illustration (above) shows the slightly different burnishing effects of three light-valued colored pencils on three patches of color. The patches are (from left to right): a single layer of 931 purple: a layer of 931 purple over a layer of 933 blue violet; and a layer of 918 orange over a layer of 931 purple. The pencils used for burnishing were (from top) a 938 white, a 968 cold gray, very light, and a 914 cream. As can be seen, dark tonal values are least affected by the burnishing pencil's color, while lighter values and single layers are most affected by it.

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