Scrapbooking and Chalk - A Match Made in Layout Heaven
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Written by Chris Overton
Last updated: August 4, 2001

Chalk is a wonderful, flexible medium and is very easy to use in a scrapbook. As a matter of fact, it can probably offer you more alternatives for your scrapbooks than markers, pencils, or inks!

Chalk can be used to embellish die cuts and papers by adding shadows, depth, texture, touches of color, aging, adding color to embossed images, chalk a stencil onto your background, you name it, the options are really endless. If you feel that a die cut is too boring and needs some tweaking chalking might just be the answer. I used to dislike using die cuts in my scrapbooks because I felt they were flat and lifeless - until I discovered chalk! Now I easily add character and depth as well as colors to enhance, adding even more to each scrapbook page.

For scrapbooking it is best to use "Decorative Chalks" or an alternative chalk that is guaranteed acid free. It is not recommended that you use the standard artists pastels unless they are labeled acid free. The reason is that while the chalk itself is usually acid free, the pigment/oils that are used to color the chalk may not be and they can damage your work and photos over time. As always in scrapbooking it is better to be safe then sorry - so please look for the label!

So what colors? There are so many colors available in a standard palette with new palettes coming out to expand the color options and if you cannot find the right one - you can always blend your own! Just remember the simple rule, do not fight the color of the die cut. If you want a pink shaded die cut, do not start with green. Pick the foundation color of the die cut or paper that comes closest to the color you wish, you can always tone down a red, or brighten a yellow, but turning orange to green does not usually result in the desired effect.

Chalk is applied using a simple applicator to layer the color on paper as well as to blend colors to get some amazing effects. The applicators for chalking are simple cotton-tip and foam tip swabs. After doing some experimenting I discovered that the foam tip ones from the craft store are best, though they can be a bit pricey. I do not recommend using most make-up versions found in drug stores unless it is high quality and the foam is very soft because the pores in the craft store ones are smaller and allow for a more even application of the chalk. I use foam tip applicators when I want deep, rich color on the paper or die cut.

Most of the time however I use cotton-tip applicators called "Eye-Deal Tips" that are actually make-up applicators with a dual cotton tip. They even come in a flat and a pointed tip style for broad and detailed applications. The tips are wound tightly and offer a lot of control for blending and application. They also have a plastic shaft with a flat end under the cotton tip so they do not bend as easily as the paper sticks nor to do they leave a line embedded in the paper like the blunt end of cotton swabs can if you press too hard. I use the flat side for applying color and blending then the pointy end for adding shading to small or specific areas. They are not expensive and can be found in most drug stores.

Regular Q-tipsTM or cotton swabs can also be used but they have a tendency to 'fuzz' faster. Before using regular Q-tipsTM in the chalk, twist the cotton with your fingers so that the cotton is wrapped tighter around the stick. It will keep it from 'fuzzing' so fast. Be careful when using these types of applicators as they 'fuzz,' the stick is more likely to rub against the paper leaving indentations or lines where the chalk's color will catch. This can also damage the paper or die cut so do not press too hard and take care as the cotton begins to loosen from the stick.

When you are preparing to chalk, wash your hands. The oils on your hands will attract the chalk if it gets on the item you are chalking, so wash first and often to reduce the oils and the potential for transferring unwanted chalk from your hands to other items. A good tip is to have a damp, not wet, paper tool near you when you chalk so that it is easy to wipe off chalk covered fingertips and the table! A little tip, if you do get that little oily smudge on your paper and it is not too bad, apply a little bit of white chalk, just enough to cover the stain and blend it in. Let it sit for a few minutes and erase. Sometimes the addition of the white will absorb just enough oil so that you can chalk over the area and no one will notice!

Now that you are ready to chalk, take your applicator and fill it with the color of chalk you want - a circular motion works best. Now your first instinct may be to apply it directly to the item you want to chalk but this may cause you to have a bad first result. What I recommend is that you find a smooth piece of paper, like that from your computer printer, to use as a blending sheet. I do not use cardstock because much of it has texture and it will absorb a lot of the chalk and does not even out the chalk on your applicator like a smooth sheet does. On your smooth paper, create what I call a puddle of chalk, using a few circular strokes of the applicator. This process will even out the color on your applicator so you do not get a big dark spot when you first start and softer color when you move away from that area. Using these color puddles is also a good way to blend your colors to get just the right color before you put it on the time and when you need more for that touch up, you have a color puddle of just the right color waiting for you.

A few color blending tips: most folks use black, gray and white to do all of their shadows and highlights and in many cases when you are done the shadows just do not look right. The reason being is that shadows are a lighter or darker color of the item that is highlighted or shadowed so putting a dark black shadow line on a light yellow item will result in an unnatural looking shadow. Instead mix a little bit of black or gray (depending on the depth of the shadow you need) with touches of yellow to get just the right shadow shade, then use it on your die cut or paper. This will result in a softer, more natural shadow. And if you are chalking shadows on white, at a touch of soft blue to the gray or black to give the white a cleaner contrast. This touch of blue, just like bluing in white wash, will keep the white paper looking white instead of dirty.

If you want to try a fun and soft option for creating a customized background paper, select a clean white piece of cardstock and grab some cotton balls. Dab the cotton lightly in the color of your choice, tap off the excess and brush the cotton lightly across the paper. Add a few other colors and viola, you have the perfect paper to match that hard to scrap photo!

Another tip when preparing the die cut or paper for chalking is to glue carefully. The chalk adheres to the glue and you will get very noticeable patches of chalk on these spots. Apply your glue with care and use UNDUTM when you get glue in an area you do not want it in. UNDUTM will dry fast and in most cases, will not affect the application of chalk on the paper. Another option to use before you start chalking is the new adhesive erasers, but note, make sure you erase the glue before you chalk because the adhesive eraser WILL remove chalk too!

If you plan to chalk an item, I recommend that you use gel pens over markers unless you do ALL of your pen work before you chalk. The reason for this is that once you rub the surface of the paper during chalking you break the surface tension and rough up the surface layer of the paper. If you use gel ink on this surface, the thick gel ink stays on the surface and does not sink into the paper. If you use a marker at this stage, the paper can turn into a sponge and absorb far more ink than you wish AND cause those spreading ink splotches.

Penwork is the key to solid chalking. Adding touches of penwork before you start chalking will help define the shape and character of the item and help guide the placement of the chalk. Most of the penwork I do uses only a black and a white gel pen. Sometimes I might add touches of gold or silver to get the sparkle in the sand or water. If you want your penwork subtle and soft or want the white gel to pick up the colors you are chalking with, do your pen work first. If you want your penwork strong and defined, do your penwork after you chalk. Try both and even combine the two, you will be amazed at the different effects you get!

The best thing about chalk is that it is so easy to fix your mistakes! Using a chalk eraser (it is white and soft) you can remove the chalk and try again with little residual trace of the previous attempt. Note that some of the deeper colors - red, blue, purple, black and green - may not erase fully but will erase enough so that when you chalk over that area they will be blended in during the application of additional chalk. Please do not use a standard pink eraser as most have grit in them and may damage your papers by rubbing a hole in it, plus the pink can often stain light colored papers.

In most cases you will not need to use a fixative when chalking for a scrapbook because the pigments in the chalk become embedded in the paper as you apply and blend the colors and usually after a few hours become permanent. In addition, because a scrapbook page is in a protective sleeve, the chalk will not be rubbed away by something touching it. There maybe times when you use a lot of chalk to achieve a desired effect, if you do, I recommend "Blair's No-Order Fixative," an artists fixative spray and when spraying the item, do not point the nozzle directly at the item but rather spray across it from about 12 inches above it and let the fixative 'fall' on to the paper. Spraying directly at the item can often cause a speckling affect on textured or dark papers. And remember, do not spray this on photos!

I promise that chalking is much easier than it looks so please give it a try! I have included a link to some samples as well as one of my favorite chalking pieces. These were all done using white and black gel pens and chalk - nothing else. Some of these are layered die cuts (using the same die cut in different colors for each layer of color). See these Chalking samples and Chalk Used on Dolls. And check back soon, I plan to add more!

Once you see what you can do with chalks you will wonder how you ever lived with out them in your scrapbook toolbox!

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