Drawing on Kenaf

Kenaf is a tree-free paper made from a plant related to cotton and okra. Its historical roots go back thousands of years to ancient Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The United States Department of Agriculture became interested in this environmentally-friendly source of paper pulp during the 1940s and early '50s when paper usage here nearly doubled. To meet the demand, forests were being logged at a tremendous rate, so the USDA began looking for a non-wood alternative. After much research, the agency decided that kenaf was the best choice.

Kenaf compares favorably in quality with trees as a source of fibers for paper, and it yields more fiber per acre than southern pines grown in tree plantations. While trees can take 20 to 25 years to reach maturity, kenaf can be harvested in just five months. Another advantage of growing this tree-free substitute is that it's naturally resistent to most pests and disease, and herbicides are needed less since the plant crowds out weeds.

Using kenaf as a source of paper pulp can help save natural resources and the energy needed to produce wood-based paper. In addition, it reduces pollution, and substituting it for tree fibers helps to preserve wildlife habitats that are lost in logging. Making people aware of kenaf is the first step in winning support for this non-wood paper alternative.

You will need:

  • Kenaf or other tree-free paper
  • Pencils
  • Erasers
  • Ink pen (optional)
  • Drawing board

How to:

Available in cut sheets and rolls, kenaf can be used as a support in making sketches and drawings. It will react similarly to wood-based paper when drawn upon or erased. An online source of kenaf is the Greg Barber Company.

All About Pencils and Erasers

When purchasing drawing pencils, it's helpful to know the characteristics of different leads so that you will choose the "right" pencil for the effect you're trying to achieve. Pencils vary in degree of hardness, and this, in turn, affects the value or how light or dark the lines or shading will be.

Most drawings can be made with two or three pencils of different hardnesses, and choosing pencils which fall somewhere in the area of 3B to 2H will serve your purposes. Following is a scale which shows the degree of pencil hardness.

Very Soft Soft Medium Hard Very Hard
7B 8B B 2B 3B 4B 5B 6B F HB H 2H 3H 4H 5H 6H 7H 8H 9H

Use soft pencils marked 8B, 7B, 6B, and 5B for dark shading. Pencils marked 4B, 3B, and 2B are good for sketching, and B, HB, and F can be used for drawing or writing. Hard pencils, which range from H to 9H are used to achieve light, thin lines, and they're used for technical drawing.

You'll notice that there's no eraser attached to the end of a drawing pencil. This isn't because artists don't make mistakes! Rather it's due to the fact that you need a more effective eraser than the kind normally found on conventional pencils. When erasing, it's very important that you're careful not to bruise or damage the paper. For your purposes, a large, rubber eraser will do for most drawing.

In addition, a kneaded eraser is helpful for getting into "tight" places and for lifting areas of pencil from your drawing. Use a soft, blotting action when using a kneaded, and when it becomes soiled, just pull on it to turn out a clean area. Unlike the rubber eraser which can be used for a long time, however, a kneaded eraser must be discarded when it becomes too dirty.

If you prefer to draw in ink, there are several types of pens available. You can use the common ballpoint pen, or try a cartridge pen or an extra fine rolling ball pen. Professional artist's pens, which can be purchased singly or in sets, allow you to choose the width of the drawing point. While you can achieve a variety of effects with them, they're very delicate and require careful maintenance.

Now that you have all your art materials together, it's time to start drawing. You can draw people, animals, or objects you see around you, or just use your imagination to create a picture. Whatever subject you choose, you'll have the most fun and success drawing things in which you're really interested. When you're finished with your work, look it over for any stray pencil lines or marks, and use an eraser to clean the drawing. Now you're ready to show the world how talented you are, so submit your artwork for display in The Global Children's Art Gallery.

Tips and Tricks:

There are many other sources of tree-free paper. Hemp is a fiber which has been grown for thousands of years, and it has many of the same advantages as kenaf. Another paper is composed of high content seaweed, and blue denim jeans and worn United States currency have been used to make stationery. An Arizona entrepreneur even recycled grass clippings from Phoenix golf courses to make paper!

Drawings by Matt T., Columbus, Indiana

Thanks to Vision Paper, a division of KP Products, Inc., for providing the Kenaf. Visit Vision Paper at http:www.visionpaper.com/ for more information.

© 1997 Marilyn J. Brackney (updated 2018)

Volume 8 No. 3

Return to Departments

Previous Activities
Select this to choose other activities.
(updated 2018)