Materials & media

Owing to current deadlines, I regret that I am unable to answer your questions until further notice ~ Thank you

Q - Some while ago now you were gracious enough to kindly allow me to visit you at work in your studio. I am searching for a high quality board on which to work. I’ve looked on your website and see you’ve used CS10 in the past however you have said you are exploring other options as that’s no longer available. Could you recommend anything for me? My work is very fine and detailed. I use watercolour paint and water based ink. With many thanks in advance for your assistance.


A - Yes, I had to have a total rethink when CS10 was suddenly no longer available. I then tried a few other line boards, which weren’t very nice to work on at all. Can’t remember what they were now, but there seemed to be no good alternative board that had the scrape-able property of CS10, which is partly what I had liked about that board. I then reverted to a watercolour paper I had used years before – Fabriano, details below, which I stretch. I have worked in watercolour, crayon, gouache and acrylic using this paper at different times, all very successfully. I have now completely settled into using it. It also has the advantage of not having to be stripped from a backing board before scanning in the repro process. Like you, my work is very detailed and I find the smooth surface of this paper great to work on. I also feel that it’s not likely to suddenly disappear from the market, as Fabriano has been around for several hundred years, I believe.

FABRIANO: Artistico Satinato – Hot Pressed, Traditional White, 300 gsm, Code: 31230079

Hope you find something that suits you!



Q - Which kinds of paints do you prefer to use for your illustrations and why (for example, oil, watercolours, acrylic)?

Q - The media (mediums?) you use give your work a very bright, smooth look. Could you describe how you achieve that?


A - Like a lot of illustrators I have evolved my own approach, which I have refined over time. I began using pencil crayons at college, and there was a real vogue for using crayon at the time. I also worked in watercolour, but only started putting the two together later. I also explored crosshatching, working in black ink for the very dark Gothic effect I was after. Now I usually work on a board or watercolour paper with a smooth surface. I used to use CS10 board, which had a surface that could be scraped off so you could also work into it with a scalpel. Unfortunately that isn’t made any more, so I am exploring other boards and papers.


I begin with pencil lines which I then paint into using watercolour inks. I prefer these to solid watercolour paints, as they have cleaner, purer colours. Once that’s complete and dry, I rub out all the pencil lines and start working further into the drawing in pencil crayon, going from dark to light. This stage takes a long time, as I build up layers of crayon slowly and carefully. So, to summarise, it’s the combination of working on a smooth surface, in both watercolour and crayon that achieves this effect.



Q - I use watercolours but my paper buckles when I paint, do you know a good method for keeping it flat?


A - In the past I have tried ‘stretching’ watercolour paper with disastrous effects, but have now found a very good method, which I find keeps the paper really flat while I’m working on a painting. It took me a little while to get the hang of it, but I find that it now works for me every time.  Forgive me if I have gone into too much detail – I have tried to write these instructions to include children.


To stretch watercolour paper you will need :
The watercolour paper you are going to paint on, cut to size. I would suggest leaving plenty of paper border around the area you plan to paint.


A wooden or MDF drawing board with a good smooth surface (usually available from any good art suppliers). This needs to be larger than the watercolour paper by at least 5 cms on each side.


An old, but clean plain white towel, about twice the size of the paper you are stretching.


Plain white kitchen roll.




Brown gum paper on a roll – the kind that you can lick (usually available from stationary shops).


A paint brush about 2.5 cms wide.


A clean sink full of cold water (wash away any cleaning agents before you fill the sink).


A watch or clock with a second hand.


Have all the items to hand in advance.


Check that your board is clean and smooth, lay it down on a flat surface.


Lay out the towel completely on a flat surface.


Cut  four strips of the brown gum paper to about 10 cms longer than the outer edges of your watercolour paper, keep these dry.


Place your watercolour paper in the sink, fully immersed for one minute only – I usually keep watching the clock like a hawk!


Remove the paper and place it flat on one side of the towel. Fold the other side over the top of the paper and gently smooth over the towel to get rid of most of the excess water.


Unfold the towel and remove the paper, placing it this time onto the centre of your drawing board.


Now take one of your strips of brown gum paper, placing it sticky side up on another clean surface. Dip your brush in water and paint the sticky side so that it is wet all over, but not too saturated (this is important).


Take the gum paper and stick it down carefully onto one of the edges you measured it for, I usually stick it over the edge of the paper by 1 cm, so that the rest is stuck to the drawing board. Smooth the gum paper down onto the paper edge and board until it is nice and flat -  the top side of the gum paper should be fairly dry still.


Repeat this process with all four strips of gum paper so that all the edges of your watercolour paper are secured to your board.


Take some kitchen roll and place it flat onto the stretched paper and smooth it with your hands, to absorb any remaining excess water.


Stand the board with the stretched paper up on one edge out of the way somewhere in a room and leave it until the paper and gum paper are completely dry. I usually leave it overnight – it will then be ready to paint on.


Keep the paper stuck like this onto the board until you have completed all the watercolouring. Once your painting is dry, take a sharp knife, a Stanley Knife or a scalpel (please ask an adult to help you with this bit if you are a child). Slide the knife blade horizontally under the edge of the brown gum paper, making sure not to cut into either the board or the watercolour paper – or yourself!


You can then trim the edges with any remaining brown gum paper off the painting. That’s it – good luck!



Q - How do you get a metallic effect?


A - If I wanted to draw a gold sphere, say, I would start by painting a light yellow wash with a highlight on the sphere to give a sense of form. Then I’d work into the image with crayon, using dark brown around the edge, then a rust, orange and yellow, working from dark to light towards the highlight area, where I would leave the pale yellow paint showing through.



Q - How do you paint or draw lighter colours over a darker background?


A - You need to use an opaque medium such as oil paint or acrylic. Pastels would also work to some extent, as a lighter area will obscure a darker area underneath. Watercolour won’t work, as it is a transparent medium. The best way is to experiment to get control over the medium you are using, then you’ll see what works best.



Q - Do you draw and hand-paint all of your illustrations or are some of them done using computer graphics?


A - I do use a computer now for some aspects of my work. I scan in images that I’ve done by hand and play around with them, changing the colours, working in layers etc. However, if anything I find working like this takes longer than doing it by hand. I also think that there is a quality that is only achievable by hand, or would take so much technology to simulate that it wouldn’t make sense to do it on a computer.



Q - I hope you don’t mind me contacting you but I found your website while searching for information on illustration and loved your work . I’ve always loved sketching and illustrating and have a degree in fashion design and business. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get a career in the field and want to try my hand at setting up a small business

selling some of my illustrations as personalised prints. I work with watercolours and ink and then manipulate some aspects with computer software. I was wondering if you can advise me how to go about getting my work printed / mounted and what sort of paper etc are commonly used for prints. I have a good quality printer but would want my final products to be on better quality paper/ card for selling purposes.


A - I can certainly tell you what I do in terms of prints, you might find it helpful. I don’t know whether you’ve looked on the Prints section of my site, but I use a good printer, who I had heard of to make giclée prints from my originals. I send him really good high resolution scans of my work at 300 dpi minimum, I try to send something to match his prints to as a  colour guide – originals are obviously the best guide, but if you don’t want to risk that, then a really good print, where you are happy with the colour balance. He prints onto “Albrecht Dürer” mould-made watercolour paper, I can’t remember the weight of the paper off-hand, but it’s nice and heavy, although not as heavy as card. There are many giclée printers around and they will all probably use their own stocks of paper and would hopefully send you paper samples if you ask. Take a look at my About Giclées page to read about light fastness – vital to research when you are selling to the public. Once I have the prints back, I get window mounts cut by a frame maker. I could obviously do this myself, but he does a good professional job, rather than me fiddling around.


Good luck with it. That gives you a start hopefully – and enough info to get going on more research on the internet and by phoning around. I’m sure there are lots of printers who will give you advice as they’ll be keen to get the work.




Q - Like you, I used to use CS10 illustration board but finding a substitute now that it’s no longer made is proving difficult. In my search I came across your site and see that, faced with the same problem, you’re “researching other boards and papers”.  I wonder if you’ve had any luck and found something comparable. I should be interested to know.


I always liked the fact that CS10 was very resilient and that you could scrape the surface with a scalpel blade for whites or just to clean up round the edges.


Beautiful work, by the way, and lovely to see it regardless of whether you have an answer.



A - In answer – yes, I did try out various alternatives, but nothing matched up, these other surfaces simply didn’t respond in the same way to the media I was using. It’s a few years ago now, so I’m afraid I can’t remember what the other products were, but they didn’t seem worth remembering to be honest. I have since returned to using a very good hot pressed Fabriano water colour paper (that I stretch first). I had used Fabriano before getting into CS10 and as Fabriano has been going for a long time, I don’t believe it is suddenly going to disappear from the market. Of course it doesn’t have that scratch-able surface, so I have changed my technique in various ways. However, as I sell my artwork, I find it’s a better surface to exhibit. After my initial panic at the CS10 supply ending, this change has liberated me technically and I now feel much freer to use different media, so it has turned out to be a helpful change.


May not be the answer you were hoping for, but I hope that’s helpful