Conte Crayon and a DIY Spray Varnish Fixative Experiment

"Conte Crayon and a DIY Spray Varnish Fixative Experiment" (blog post) | |

Obviously, painting varnish on a conte crayon piece, with its dusty chalkiness, would only result in smudging the image. But is there a way to use varnish without smudging the conte crayon drawing?

It seemed worth a try because using fixatives with conte crayon has its disadvantages — mainly, the smell. If you live in an apartment or anywhere simply not having an open-air space for good ventilation, the fumes can be too much. Using a regular acrylic varnish gets rid of the problem of the fumes.

Adult coloring books are great for experimenting — especially when they’re licensed under Creative Commons. Conte crayon seemed to go well with an Egyptian papyrus concept, and a couple of images from were perfect for this experiment (see image credits below).

The paper used is extremely important, as we’ll get to later. The images were done on beige Strathmore textured paper (though now, the label is gone). Shown are the conte crayon drawings before they were spray varnished.

"Conte Crayon and a DIY Spray Varnish Fixative Experiment" (blog post) | |

"Conte Crayon and a DIY Spray Varnish Fixative Experiment" (blog post) | | authorbrennapierson.wordpress.comThe DIY Varnish/Fixative Experiment

Once the images were finished, a small spray bottle was filled with matte varnish: nothing special, just regular Liquitex matte varnish. I’ve used it many times for varnishing acrylic paint, and it works great.

The image was sprayed with the varnish, and the first thing that most people worry about with varnishing non-paint mediums is the pigment getting darker. The image did get slightly darker — but if you’re prepared for this, it may not be a huge deal, depending on the final result you’re looking for.

The Result: It All Depends on the Paper

The problem was obvious once the spray settled a bit, though: It made the pigments bleed. What were previously nice edges turned into blobs of color seeping outside where they were supposed to be. Clearly, the image was ruined. The paper pilled, also.

But what about mixed media paper? Would that fare any better?

It seemed it did, though that part of the experiment was quick and not as thorough. Basically, if conte crayon was drawn onto some mixed media paper and sprayed with the same varnish, everything seemed to hold up. However, the paper was pretty heavy at 140 lb. (sold in single sheets at Hobby Lobby). This quick tryout may work in the future and will maybe become a future experiment; for now, if trying it out, use with caution!

For now, it’s safe to say that DIY spray fixative is a possibility — but the paper will make all the difference.

Coloring Pages Used:
Anubis as a black-coated jackal by Jeff Dahl (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 license)
Souls of Pe and Nekhen by Jeff Dahl (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 license)

Materials Used:
Conte Crayon Matchbox
Conte Crayon Boxed Set


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Cropping Art Really Can Make a Difference

"Cropping Art Really Can Make a Difference" by Brenna Pierson | |

At times, it is tough to crop a drawing or painting if the vision was to have an image as a whole. After all, the initial scene is what prompted the piece for the artist, at least in many cases.

Sometimes, though, when a final piece just does not look “right,” it really can help to crop it. That was the case with a recent palette knife painting. The painting was done in acrylics with mainly a palette knife — a great look for something more impressionistic.

This acrylic painting was done from a photo taken at the seashore and depicts a lady and either her daughter or granddaughter standing at the edge of the sea, gazing out at its waves.

Copying the scene as closely as possible to its original became a bit of a challenge because the water stretched all the way from the sand to the top of the photo — there was no horizon or sky shown in the original photograph. So when translated into a painting, it’s a bit unclear when analyzing it whether the top area is the sky with clouds or sea foam on more waves.

"Art the Seashore" (acrylic on canvas) | Featured in the Blog "Cropping Art Really Can Make a Difference" by Brenna Pierson | | image before it was cropped)

That, of course, was a bit of a bummer — especially because we expect to see some skyline above the ocean. Luckily, cropping the image lessens the awkward effect.

"Art the Seashore" (acrylic on canvas) | Featured in the Blog "Cropping Art Really Can Make a Difference" by Brenna Pierson | |“At the Seashore,” acrylic on canvas: final version)

So though this one didn’t turn out perfectly, cropping did make a difference so that it wasn’t a complete loss. It does look more abstract than intended — but there’s always a lesson to learn, isn’t there?


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Oil Pastel Experiment: Trying Gelatos for Underpainting

""Working in Oil Pastel With Gelatos for Underpainting" (blog post) | |

In the last post, we looked at using acrylic paint as an underpainting layer for an oil pastel piece. This time, we’re going to look at a medium that is probably not commonly used for underpainting: Gelatos®.

Faber-Castell’s Gelatos are a stick pigment often used for art journaling. They aren’t pastels, but they do resemble softer oil pastels in their consistency—but they are much more “mushy” and are in fact often compared with lipstick in texture. There are several sets of Gelatos available; for this piece, the pastel color set was used to match the subject: a retro Peaches n’ Cream Barbie.

Gelatos offer a lot of flexibility. They can be used dry (and blend into the paper easily) or can be used with water. Once they’re dry, they don’t budge—which makes them great as an underpainting layer if you want it to stay put. Also, you can draw pencil marks on top of it, and nothing will smear from erasures.

Gelatos aren’t noted to work well on canvas (from my research), so a mixed media paper was used. Mixed media paper also seems to work well with oil pastels, similar to bristol board, in that it offers a smooth surface for blending.

Materials used:

  • Faber-Castell Gelatos: Pastels Set
  • Sennelier and Faber-Castell Oil Pastels
  • Conte Crayon (for fine details)

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the underpainting layer. It looked similar to the underpainting done in acrylic paint but was obviously done in pastel colors.

All Pros—and No Cons

The Gelatos made a perfect underpainting layer for the oil pastel! They were applied dry and blended in large areas with a baby wipe; small areas were blended with Q-Tips. At a certain point, it was obvious that the outline of the nose was not drawn in (which I meant to do), so I went in with colored pencil to draw on top of the Gelatos. Even though some mistakes needed to be erased, the Gelatos did not move.

The conte crayon used for finer detail did well when used on top of all the mediums underneath when Gelatos were the underpainting.


""Working in Oil Pastel With Gelatos for Underpainting" (blog post) | |

So the verdict is in! Gelatos are great as an underpainting layer under oil pastels. They’re fun to work with, and are readily available at places like Hobby Lobby and Michaels—plus, you can use coupons there. I will definitely be purchasing more Gelatos for future projects.

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