Sit back, relax and let's talk chalk! We'll explore craft chalk on lots of levels: find out what it is, learn to evaluate containers, see a list of supplies you'll need, and learn how chalking is done.

I've Got Some Good News and Some Bad News...

Eva Flake, Emmalee Is

The good news about chalk:

  • Excellent medium for adding soft color, aging or shading to letters, borders, backgrounds, and embellishments
  • Versatile, inexpensive, and easy to use
  • Doesn't dry out and never needs sharpening (unless in pencil form)
  • Takes up little space
  • Comes in dozens of colors
  • Forgiving (erasable) and flexible
  • Great investment
  • Long lasting

And now, the bad news - illustrated by two incidents:

I accidentally spilled an open chalk set, face down, onto my light-colored carpet. Less than a year later I did the same thing on my tile floor. My carpet was left with minor stains (red and black were the biggest culprits), and the tile disaster left me with a colorful mixture of unusable chalk shards, dust, and some noticeable staining in my grout.

Moral: fragile chalk will break, broken chalk is difficult to use, and chalk can permanently stain some surfaces.

An Ounce of Prevention:

1. Protect your chalks by placing them in the center of your work area when in use. That way you won't accidentally knock them off the table and break them. (Of course, I'm speaking from unhappy experience here)

2. Protect your clothing with an apron.

3. Protect surfaces you work on with scrap paper or paper towels.

What Do I Need to Know about Purchasing Chalks?

Individual vs. Multi-Pack Chalks
Chalks are sometimes referred to as pastels. The chalks for paper crafting come in wafer form, are made from talc and pure pigment color, and are acid-free. Individual chalks come in protective hard plastic containers. Single-lid multi-pack containers are also available and affordable. Prices generally range from $.65 per single container to $30+ for some multi-pack containers. I've used both types and found the following advantages and disadvantages:

Individual Chalks

Advantages:

  • You can purchase only the colors you want--initially and for replacement
  • If a container is dropped, only that single chalk wafer is affected
  • Chalk dust won't "migrate" unless you don't use a clean applicator when changing colors
  • You can control the number of colors you need to use at your work space

Disadvantages:

  • Multiple containers with opened lids can take up space and clutter your work area
  • You'll need to store the small containers in a larger storage container to keep them all together
  • Containers are lightweight and need to be held when an applicator is drawn across the chalk wafer; since you need both hands to chalk, and containers have a tendency to move easily on the tabletop, this presents a problem

Multi-Pack Chalks

Advantages:

  • All chalk colors fit under one lid
  • Easy to take to crops and classes
  • Cost per wafer is less than individual containers of chalk
  • Circular twist-trays are compact and can be stacked
  • Trays don't shift when you move the applicator across the chalk wafers

Disadvantages:

  • If the container is dropped all chalk wafers may be damaged
  • As you use the chalks, their dust "migrates" within the container making the other chalks "dirty"
  • The lid from a single-layer container takes up valuable work space when open

Because of my susceptibility to chalk accidents, I purchase chalks in individual containers and place them in a larger storage container (my chalking tools are in there too). I have a loop-side strip of adhesive-backed Velcro attached to a sheet of Plexiglas (9" x 9" with non-skid pads on the bottom) and the hook-side of Velcro on the bottoms of my chalk cases. When I want to chalk, I take out the colors I need, place them on the Velcro strip on the Plexiglas, open them and happily chalk. I can position the Plexiglas wherever I want and it doesn't slide when I use the chalks. So what did I do with all those chalk chunks and shards from my accidents? They're all in one multi-pack container to use with other chalk techniques.

How do I select chalks?

First, decide whether you'll purchase Individual or Multi-Packs. If you choose Multi-Packs you'll need to choose the container(s) that fit your needs. Craf-T has single-level multi-packs while EK Chalklets come in compact twist-top stackable trays. Think about how and where you scrapbook as you weigh your options.

I recommend Decorator Chalks from Craf-T or EK Success and not the standard artists pastels or oil pastels for layouts and paper crafts. Craf-T and EK Success chalks are clearly labeled acid-free and made with scrapbookers in mind.

What supplies do I need in order to chalk?

Suggested Supplies for Chalk Starter Kit:

a. Decorative Chalks - individual or multi-pack
b. Pom poms - washable, durable fuzzy balls used in crafting and great for applying chalk
c. Chalk applicators - different sized foam tips on plastic handles used to add and blend color; can be turned on edge to make sharp lines
d. Cotton swabs - disposable, dual-tipped applicators. Hint: To keep the tips from "fraying" give them a firm twist before using
e. Cotton Balls - for applying and blending chalk in large areas
f. Make-up sponge - angle-cut sponge used to blend chalks
g. Baby wipes - to keep your fingers and workspace clean
h. Chalk Away Eraser - removes unwanted chalk leaving the surface clean or ready to chalk again
i. Paper towels - to protect your work space
j. Scrap paper - use for practicing before you apply chalk to your final project

Other Supplies You May Want:

a. Chalkin' Easy Applicator Tool - holds all sizes of pom poms for applying chalk to projects
b. Paint brushes - to add water or Chalk Enhancer to projects
c. Chalk Pencils - smooth, pigment-rich, acid-free chalk in easy-to-use pencil form, for outlining, striping, shading, detailing and aging
d. Versa Mark Pad - clear pigment ink that turns a few shades darker when stamped onto colored cardstock--available in a pad and a pen (you'll need a Versa Mark if you want to do Chalk Popping, a technique explained in a future article)
e. Smudge or blending sticks - to push and blend color
f. Dove Blending Pen - to make chalk look like watercolor--the fine tip can be dipped directly into the chalk or used as a blender after chalk has been applied. Note: Clean tip by drawing on scrap paper before changing colors
g. E-Z Chalk Enhancer - an acid-free liquid applied over chalk in large or small areas to add depth and intensify color--can also be manipulated to look like watercolor--it works like the Dove Blending Pen but comes in a larger container so you can use brushes and larger applicators with it

Tip: I store a 7mm pom pom in each of my individual chalk containers so I don't have to rinse out a single pom pom every time I change colors. The pom poms work perfectly with my Chalkin' Easy Applicator and they don't leave fuzz behind like cotton swabs.

How Do I Apply Chalk to My Projects?

Example 1
Example 2
Example 3

Chalking Large or Detailed Areas:

1. Prep the paper pieces with a thin coat of chalk that is close to the color of your paper (use a cotton ball or applicator and rub with a circular motion). This thin coat of chalk enables the next layer of chalk to blend in and look like natural shading, without obvious lines. Prepping is a must when working with red or black chalk. (see Example 1)

2. Apply your detail colors with a pom pom, chalk applicator or a cotton swab. Your prep color will dilute these colors, so use a darker color than you think you will need. (see Example 2)

3. Rub the chalk into your paper piece with your finger. (see "setting" instructions below)

Chalking Torn Edges:

1. You don't need to prep torn edges unless you want the color to be diluted. Find a chalk color that will show up on your paper--after all, we chalk so it will be seen. If you don't have a dark enough color, add grey or black to the applicator as you work the color into your torn edges.

2. Hold your paper piece parallel to the floor and gently swipe your applicator over the edges. Or, you can lay your paper piece on the table over a paper towel and apply the chalk.

Julie Mason, Hunting (different colored edge chalking)

How Do I "Set" the Chalk on My Project?

1. Rub the chalk into your paper with your finger.

2. Wipe excess dust off with a paper towel. To get the chalk dust off intricate designs (or large pieces of paper) turn the chalked piece over onto a paper towel and rub it from behind so you won't smear or smudge the detailing or get lots of chalk dust all over your work space.

FYI: When you look at paper under a microscope you see a maze of intertwined fibers. When chalk is added to paper, the chalk dust settles on top of and in between those fibers. You may hear the term "burnishing" used to describe, "setting" chalk. (The term "burnish" is confusing because to burnish means, "to make smooth or glossy by or as if by rubbing; polish" [Dictionary.com].) When we set chalk, however, we aren't polishing the paper, we're rubbing the chalk deeper into the fibers to make it stay there.

Finishing Touches

1. Erase any color you don't want using a Chalk Away Eraser.

2. Add pen work. (see Example 3) If my pen becomes sluggish from chalk dust, I roll the tip on scratch paper to get the ink flowing again.

If you want to know more about how to use chalks with specific techniques stay tuned. I have a beautiful pallet of samples, techniques and tips coming soon. So for now, chalk away and enjoy watching your layouts take on dramatic dimension.

Nikki Barber, Fussy Farmer (aged look to layout)