After reviewing the materials available and the various uses to which they are best suited, the next step is the manipulation of the materials in order to produce a workmanlike drawing.
The first need is to provide a firm backing for the paper. The simplest way, of course, is to buy a drawing block which has the pages attached either at one side or all around. These blocks, however, are not made for all types of drawing paper, and the shape of the block dictates the format of every drawing; so it is better to buy the paper in separate, large sheets.
The artist gets quite a different feeling for the paper if she is able to see and handle it on both sides, and the financial outlay for individual sheets is not so great as for a series of blocks, some of which may not prove to her taste when she starts using them. It is much more interesting to choose one sheet each of different kinds of paper in a good shop. The make, specification, and price can be marked on the back of each, if there is no imprint or watermark by which to refer to it. It is useful to make one's own pattern book with cuttings, marking down comments on each example as it is tested, so that one becomes a real connoisseur.
A drawing board provides a good backing for paper. It should not be too large to begin with, about 2 by 3 feet. This will comfortably take imperial size sheets. The board should be of poplar wood, which, being one of the softest woods, makes it easy to pullout the drawing pins to remove the paper. It should have a hardwood border, which is intended to prevent its warping; however, it is advisable to make sure that the surface is quite flat before buying it.
Architects' drawing pins are the best. They are sold on cards instead of in boxes. These special pins have carefully turned, conical points and are easy to pull out of the board. If one of the points breaks off in the board in the course of time, a small pair of flat pliers should be used to pull it out. It is clumsy to hammer the point in to flatten it, as this inevitably makes dents in the board, which renders it useless for many types of drawing.
It is often better to use bands of adhesive tape instead of pins. If this is done, a board covered on both sides with white or light gray plastic can be used instead of the wooden drawing board, as it allows for greater ease in adhering and removing the tape. Care should be taken again to see that it is perfectly flat. These boards have the advantage of being completely resistant to water and India ink.
However the paper is mounted, the corners should always be fixed diagonally so that it lies quite flat: the paper is smoothed from one fixed corner, either with the edge of the hand or, better, with a dry clean cloth, down to the opposite corner before fixing it there.
It is important not to touch the surface of the paper any more than necessary, for even the cleanest hand leaves some grease, which can prevent watercolors from flowing evenly and also affect chalks. If there is any doubt about the cleanliness of the surface, it can be rubbed over just before work with diluted oxgall to remove any grease. This product is sold ready prepared in good art shops. The dry surface should also be brushed with a small clean brush, for no speck of dust must interfere with the strokes of the pencil, pen, or paint brush. The brush is also needed after using the eraser.
Paper should be quite dry, but not too dry, as it may be if it has lain too long in an overheated room. If the sheets of paper have become too dry, they should be hung up with clothes pins in a cool atmosphere near an open window and left for a day or two so that they can slowly absorb the necessary moisture from the air. It is difficult to flatten paper when it has been wet, except by fixing it in a horizontal frame so that the air can reach it from both sides.