Black and White Cont on Gray Paper

"First I played a lot on scrap paper, because the pastel paper dismayed me. I did one on the rough side and was frustrated because I couldn't control it as much. Switching to the smoother side was much better."

—student ann porfilio

W'orking on gray paper is unique in that it supplies the middle gray for you—comparable to the ground you created in charcoal, but here, that middle value is built into the paper. In other words, let your gray paper stand in for color application where you want to place middle values. You'll be adding white lightly in selected light areas. You'll also be extending your value range, adding more opaque white in selected light areas, deeper blacks in dark areas. Here's a Summary of Essentials:

• Test your gray pastel paper, which has a different texture on each side: one smoother, one rougher. Rub your small piece of black Conté on both sides, then choose the side whose texture you prefer.

• Soften your white Conté on newsprint so you can see your white test marks easily. Add some black Conté, and let it overlap the white. You 7/ get an opaque gray-just what you don't want—because it's too close to the gray of y our paper. This test alerts you to the degree of mix to avoid.

• Since your pastel sheet (19" x 25") needs support, either use a half sheet on your drawing board with a newsprint cushion, or trim the sheet down to fit into your drawing pad (14" x 17"), then tape your pastel paper to the inside of the pad. Don 7 use the cardboard backing or the slick cover; both surfaces are too hardfor Conté.

• Arrange and light your draped cloth.

• Begin underdrawing lightly with black Conté, rubbing in the edges you see.

• After stepping back to evaluate, begin an abbreviated contour drawing of the major folds, and add shadow values lightly, without covering too much paper.

• Evaluate from a distance. Where you see bright light on a fold, you will let untouched gray paper make the transition between highlight and shadow.

• Squinting, pick out three brightest, lightest areas on your fabric. Very lightly rub them in with your white Conté, as though they were thin veiling. Step back to see how they look from a distance. Then put in the rest of the highlight areas, keeping everything the same faint, light value.

• Accent lightest and darkest areas. Those should be most opaque, so you cant see paper texture. Tljey are also least erasable. Pick out the three darkest areas and press harder with black to create opacity. After stepping back to evaluteyour finished drawing, if needed, add more brilliance to the white with a firmer application.


Once you're familiar with Conté, extend your subject matter to a favorite item made of unpatterned cloth. After that, don't limit your subject matter. This expressive medium suits as many subjects as your can come up with.

Other approaches to try with Conté: Go over the shapes in your drawing with a moistened towel, as though you were painting with a brush; the Conté will dissolve into a sort of wet paint. Or use your Pink Pearl vigorously; its smearing also creates a painterly look. Treat each drawing as a learning tool that may have areas you didn't get quite right—but will feel more comfortable with the next time. Have fun with what you think is unsalvageable art. Push hard into the paper to create a more forceful, dynamic application of values right over that first drawing. You'll see that you can reinvent a drawing with the intense black values Conté can provide.

"Whenjou're up close, it can look funny, like it's not anything, but standing back, jou see the parts come together— from one shape to another."

-student amy miller

Sherry Miller NudeSherry Miller Nude

A precious daughter's favorite dress, your favorite coat, or even a washcloth observed during a bubble bath (this student completed that drawing a day later, sitting in her empty tub!) can provide inspiration as they did for these three artists, —student drawings by angela lowy (top left), nancy opgaard (top right), and sherry artemenko (left)

Sherry Miller Nude


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