Toned paper simply refers to paper that has a value other than white. It often comes in shades of gray, tan, black and blue, and is made by many excellent brands such as Strathmore and Canson.
Why choose to make toned paper instead of buying it?
I make toned paper to create blended black and white charcoal drawings, which you can view a tutorial on here. Using black and white charcoal in combination gives drawings a beautiful, silvery surface quality and a bluer, cooler temperature than regular charcoal on its own.
The process is also quite unique in that it involves no erasing - instead, it is an entirely additive process. Lighter values are added using white charcoal, and darker values using regular charcoal.
It's a very convenient technique for both quick-sketching (as shown in the drawings below), and longer, more finished drawings.
Besides making blended black and white charcoal drawings, you might choose to tone your own paper because you enjoy having some control over the texture or value of the resulting page, or you might simply need a sheet of toned paper in a pinch!
To make a very lightly toned paper, I'm going to use charcoal powder, an inexpensive paintbrush, and a chamois.
The first step is to place some charcoal powder on your page. I highly recommend dipping the paintbrush into the charcoal powder, and then tapping the powder from the brush onto the paper, as opposed to 'carefully' tipping the entire container or powdered charcoal over your paper. (I have had students try the latter with disastrous, albeit hilarious, effects!)
Start with less powdered charcoal than you think you will need! Excess charcoal dust on your paper will interfere with your drawing, so it is better to have not enough powder and have to add more than to have to remove extra charcoal (which is a very messy process).
Once I have charcoal powder on my paper, I begin 'toning' the page by using the chamois to rub the powder into its pores.
You'll notice that smoothing the powder can be done in a streaky way or a smooth way, depending on how you move the chamois. Experiment with this!
If your paper is looking far too light, or there isn't enough charcoal powder on your page to even out some of the streaks, add some more charcoal powder with your paintbrush and continue toning.
I add some more charcoal powder ...
And give my toned paper a second pass with the chamois.
If there are specific areas of your paper that need more toning, your paintbrush can help you control where you apply more charcoal powder, as I'm doing in the image above.
I smooth out the newly-added charcoal powder with my chamois ...
And voila! A lovely sheet of lightly toned paper.
I have found that charcoal powder in combination with a chamois tends to make the lightest, evenly-toned paper. Keep reading to learn how to make a darker toned paper!
To create a darker toned paper, I'm going to use vine or willow charcoal instead of charcoal powder.
I begin by drawing a relatively dark value on my paper using the vine charcoal.
Though we will be smoothing out these initial pencil marks, the smoother we can apply the vine charcoal initially, the smoother our paper will be toned in the end.
I continue filling the page with vine charcoal ...
... until it is completely covered.
As I did in the earlier demo, I use the chamois to smooth out the vine charcoal.
Leaving excess dust floating on the surface of the paper will interfere with the drawing process - it will look like it is a dark value, but as soon as you disturb it with a pencil, it will migrate.
If it looks streaky, as it does in the image above, I know that it is not 'stable' and to keep working the dust into the paper. If, after I've done this, there is still loose dust left on the surface, I simply wipe or siphon the excess dust off of the page.
Here is my darker toned paper next to the lighter sheet that I toned in the first demo.
No shammy? No problem. Here are alternative materials to use for blending charcoal.
Whether you have used powdered charcoal or vine charcoal to tone your paper, you can use a chip brush to effectively blend either of them across the page.
Finally, paper towels are perhaps the most accessible, and very effective blending tools!
Experiment with toning different drawing papers, using various blending tools, on alternate surfaces, and see what you discover!
Charcoal powder, vine charcoal, and really charcoal in general, tends to lift off of the paper very easily, as demonstrated above! All drawing materials have their 'pros and cons', and this is something to simply accept about the medium of charcoal: it can be messy. As your experience and skill increases, you will be able to more effectively and strategically work with the properties of the medium.
When you lift off some charcoal in an area that you didn't intend to (not if, but when), don't panic! Use whichever tool you used to spread out the charcoal during your paper-toning process to simply blend the offending area back into your background. For this you can use a chamois, paper towel, paintbrush, or chip brush. I suggest using the one you initially used to tone your paper.
What next? Why not make some toned paper and draw along with me in this blended black and white charcoal drawing tutorial!
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