Adding Color to the Paper Sculpture: Darker Areas

At this stage, I will usually roughly layout the pieces of paper I’ve cut and look for how they are working together on an abstract level. (This piece shows the abstract qualities well)

NOTE: It is perfectly fine NOT to add additional coloring to the paper. It gives it a much more graphic, poster quality. However, if I’m going for a more realistic approach, I add color for two reasons:

1) If I tried to make every color a different layer of paper, it would be come overwhelming (both in terms of work and visually). Think of a single feather – it can run a range of colors. So I use both different colors on separate pieces, and different colors on one piece.

2) I want to bolster the illusion that this is a real space – and I want the colors to relate to each other as if they are existing in the same light, etc. I can boost this by adding related colors to the various pieces, particularly in areas of shadow/highlights.

This post is on the use of transparent inks: these are applied before embossing and shaping the paper as they are waterproof. Additional color is added after shaping through pastels – both these will be discussed in a future post.

Preparing the Background

At this stage I usually have the background paper in place and am using it to play off/balance the colors. I like to have a stiffer backing for the paper sculpture, and I almost always back with ¼” (or 3/16") acid free foam core. I have bought it off Amazon before. The best prices I find are in-store at Jerry’s Artarama (but haven't found them in the online store). If you live close to a good art store, ask them about acid-free foam core and watch for sale prices. I will usually buy a larger sheet and cut to my final size. NOTE: if it doesn't say acid-free, I always assume it ISN'T.

I like that the foam core is almost always perfectly flat. CAVEAT: it warps easily. I’ll point out where to watch for this in the process below.

I take the paper(s) that I want to be the primary background color and spray them with spray glue.

I cut extra so that I don’t have to be perfect in placing it on the foam core. I smooth it down and then let it dry for several hours.

NOTE: weigh down the foam core/background paper while it dries so that it stays flat.

I usually just layer it with books, because I have plenty of those laying around. If you don’t, the foam core will warp. The only fix for this is to affix it to another flat board, either foam core or the final mount in the frame.

You can also use large sheets of double-sided adhesive. Again, I can buy these at Jerry’s in person, but not online. I may move more to this for the background in the future because I’ve inadvertently warped too many pieces of foam core.

Be sure to keep the cut off pieces – they can be used for other things down the road.

Transparent Inks:

I use Inktense pencils primarily, with Dr. Martin’s Bombay Inks for larger areas. There are many people who also use copic markers, or brush on inkpad colors. My preference is based on where I live – in the desert! Markers and ink pads dry out in less than 6 months for me, and it’s just not cost effective to keep replacing a library of colors. Inktense pencils (which also come in stick form) allow me to add color in small increments, and once they are spread/activated with water and dry, the colored area is now waterproof.

Colorizing with transparent inks is almost always going darker or just changing the color because of their nature – they’re transparent. (Ie., it’s harder to go lighter over something unless the medium is opaque). Sometimes though, you want to add darkness with the pastels also. I will do both. Inks I do BEFORE the bas -relief manipulation techniques, because the inks are waterproof after they’ve been wetted. You can wet the pastels also, but obviously they are much messier to be manipulating etc.

As I look at the rough layouts of pieces, I make some judgement calls. For “The Star Maiden” (before image is shown at the end of the post) I think the green is much too “toothpaste-y”, the red vines need to have more dark areas, the blue background needs to be much darker, etc.

From the many pieces of scrap paper I end up with, I play with certain colors selected from my handy chart and see how they will work on the colored paper. I will do a gradient of shading and will sometimes overlap colors. I then add the water, working from less concentrated to more. I personally don’t choose to use water pens; I think I bought a bad set that I felt really didn’t let me control the water amounts. I have friends who love them though, so this is another option. Keep these “color charts” to test the pastels against your existing ink colors. These samples (and the others from each color) show me some consistent colors I can add across the colors to tie them together visually.

I have also found with inktense pencils that you only have one shot – it’s hard to layer colors after its been wetted. I will try to go as concentrated as I want initially and if I’m going to blend two colors, I will do so in the dry stage. I will also try to smooth out the visible lines as I go – this can be an interesting effect to leave in, however.

As an aside, the inktense pencils did not work well on the Tyvek paper.

On the aqua background, I know it’s going to be a larger area, and I’m noticing the inktense is making the paper get a little scrubby (lifting up when wet). So I tried some of the bottled Bombay inks, and I think I’m going to use them instead.

AAGGHH! Note: I generally use pastels in the background and haven’t run into this problem before. I did do transparent washes of the Bombay inks, and didn’t think about how they’d dry. And the background piece of foam core warped. At this point, I could either redo the background, since it’s hardly begun, or I can try to mount the piece to another backing board down the road. I think I’d better stick to pastels in the future, as it’s hard to weigh down the foam core with wet ink on top.

Sometimes, you don’t want to use the inktense pencils directly on the paper, but would rather have a less intense color. You can make an area of inktense on a piece of scrap paper and just transfer some color with the wetted brush, or "paint" the wetted brush on the pencil tip to lift some color. With the white lily flower leaves, I first colorized the red vines and then used a little residual color on the brush to give a faint shadow to the flower.

Lighting and photography can give a lot of play to your environment, but you still want to keep in mind where your light source would be in the image and think of your warm highlights/cool shadows (in this instance).

As you do the washes of the inks on the paper, you will notice the paper pieces warp. This is not a problem as we will be wetting and shaping the paper and will take the warping out.

Below are the BEFORE/AFTER of both pieces after adding ink. You will notice on “The Spirit in the Bottle” that there is little added coloring. I know that when we emboss and shape the folds on the pants, I will need to go back in to add shadows, but it’s a little tricky at the moment not really knowing where those folds will be.

On “the Star Maiden” it should be obvious that even this first pass of colorizing has unified the pieces so that they are relating to each other more.

Next post: Adding interest and bas-relief through shaping and embossing!

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