Friday, January 21, 2005

Drawing Materials

This blog entry may eventually turn into a tutorial on my website. If you got here from Noadi's Pixels you've probably seen the poll on it, if you got here through the Shaman website or some other means go check it out the poll is also repeated at the bottom of this page.

So I wanted to go over my drawing process since I occasionally get questions on it. Now I really draw in two ways, first in pencil of course and also in pen and ink. I'm going to start with materials for pencil drawing, my next entry will describe my actual drawing process and then pen and ink.

Pencil Drawing Materials

You're materials have a direct impact on how good your final product will be, this doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of money on them just buy quality where it matters. Drawing is a simple cheap hobby.

Important Tools

Pencils: There are many drawing pencils out on the market and I really don't use any of them. I have two types of pencils that I use most. The first is a mechanical pencil with .5 mm HB leads don't but the really cheap disposable mechanical pencils get a decent ones with lead refills, mine are Papermate Cleat Points. The other pencils I use are Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencils, which in my opinion are some of the best out there but any quality wood pencil will work (never buy cheap pencils with fake wood casing they are very poor quality). Both can be bought anywhere that sells office supplies. I have some fancy drawing pencils that were given to me as a present by my aunt but I don't use them as often as my regular pencils.

Kneaded Eraser: These are wonderful things and the best friend of pencil artists. A kneaded eraser is a grey tacky rubbery putty-like substance, the great thing about them is that these can be pulled apart into any size you want and shaped into many useful shapes. You can erase with them normally or lightly scrub or press with them to only lighten an area of pencil.

Vinyl Eraser: These are some of the cleanest erasers you can get, they really lift the graphite out of the paper. This doesn't mean you can press really hard with you pencils because while it lifts graphite well it can't get rid of the indents in the paper that pressing too hard can leave.

Blending Stumps: These resemble double ended pencils and are made of tightly pressed typically gray paper. They are used to blend pencil tones. The fine points help achieve more detail, they come in various sizes and are extremely inexpensive (I bought a pack of 12 in 4 sizes for a little over $2).

Tortillons: These are tapered rolls of paper, you can buy them or make them. They are similar to blending stumps and are used in much the same way, the difference is that they don't have as fine a point so the detail possible with them is a bit limited.

Rulers and protractor: You rarely see straight lines in nature but man-made structures have lots of straight lines and angles. I have several rulers because I seem to collect them but the most useful are the 12 and 18 inch ones. I also have triangular rulers and a protractor for getting angles right. A simple school/kids geometry set is fine. I usually use these for setting up my perspective lines since I rarely draw buildings or furniture.

Brush: A cheap 1 inch craft paintbrush (you can get them for less than a dollar at craft stores), use this for cleaning graphite dusts and bits of eraser off your paper. Using you hand can smudge the drawing and deposit oil from your fingers on the paper.

Pencil sharpener: Doesn't need to be fancy just a good sturdy one with a sharp blade. Electric sharpeners are wonderful but a plain manual sharpener is okay or even a sharp knife (though I don't recommend using a knife).

Optional tools

Light Box: I use a Fiskars Lightboss which I bought cheap at walmart for about $18, it's intended purpose was for embossing and other scrapbook making stuff but a lightbox is a lightbox and other brands can be very expensive. You can also build one there are lots of plans online for them, here is one Perfect for tracing preliminary sketches onto your final drawing paper.

Masking Tape: If you are using a lightbox or like your work not to move around you need masking tape. It's best to test the tape on a piece of scrap paper before using it. If it damages the paper you can still use it but remove some of the adhesive by sticking it to your clothes or other piece of fabric. Artists masking tape is a little pricier than the kind you find at the hardware store but it's pretty much guaranteed not to damage paper.

Gloves: If you like to smudge with your fingers wear gloves or finger cots, the oils from your hands can discolor your paper. Mine are plain old latex lab gloves, if you have a latex allergy you can find synthetic rubber gloves pharmacies often stock them. Finger cots are sold at art stores, they are basically just latex finger covers, if you prefer them you can also make them by snipping the fingers off gloves.

Templates: These tools can save you time but really aren't necessary, they are french curves, circles, ellipses, etc.

Sandpaper: Use the extra fine variety to get exactly the point you want on your pencil or to clean stumps and tortillons. You can also use scrap paper for this instead which is why I listed it as optional but sandpaper does work a bit better than scrap paper.

Tissues, paper towels, cotton swabs, felt, pastel shaders: These are all other blending tools, that you can use. Tissues (no lotion dyes or scents), paper towels (no dyes) and cotton swabs can be picked up almost anywhere. Craft stores will carry sheets of felt, buy white ones (to better see how much graphite is on it) and cut it down to sizes comfortable for you. Pastel shaders are tools sold at art stores for use with oil pastels but work just as nicely with pencil.

Scanner and graphics software: If you want to display your work online this is a must. I have a Lexmark All-in-One printer/scanner that cost about $85, it's not top of the line but it works fine for me. What scanner you choose is completely up to what you want and what your budget can afford, so shop around.

Eraser shield: This is a thin steel sheet with various shapes cut into it, it works like an erasing stencil. They are very inexpensive (under a dollar) but the shape are limited, thin plastic sheets with shapes cut into them and stencils can also be used if you need other shapes.

Powdered graphite: I've never used this so I'm only going by what I've heard about it. As the name implies it's a graphite dust and is usually applied with the fingers (remember never bare fingers), a rag, or cotton swap, it's most often used for soft loose drawing or tonal work. If you have breathing problems you should use a dust mask with this stuff.

Conte, carbon, pastel, chalk and charcoal pencils: These are other non-graphite pencils that are sometimes used. I have almost never used them (chalk and charcoal is quite messy for one reason) but it's completely up to you, you can get very different and attractive looks to your work with them.


You paper is the base of your drawing, your choice will affect the overall look of it. First some definitions of the different properties of paper.

Acid-Free, PH neutral or Archival Quality: Acids break down over time which causes paper to discolor and deteriorate, if you want your work to last choose papers labeled acid free, pH neutral, or archival.

Fiber: Cotton and cellulose (wood pulp) are the two most common fibers used in paper. Cotton papers are the highest quality papers. Cellulose fibers naturally contain acid, better quality cellulose papers are buffered to neutralize the acid content, they can still deteriorate but they last far longer than non-buffered papers. Combination papers are a mix of cotton and cellulose and are a mid-grade quality paper, usually labeled multipurpose like pastel and charcoal papers, bristol board, and student grade watercolor paper, they have good lasting quality but not quite as good as 100% cotton. There are specialty papers made from other materials like rice paper, mulberry, kozo, or even synthetic papers like yupo.

Tooth: This describes the surface of the paper. These have various descriptions like plate, vellum, smooth, rough, hot press, cold press. Experiment to find the ones you prefer.

Weight: This is determined by measuring how much one ream weighs or the grams per square meter (gsm). These determine how thick the paper is, the thicker the paper is the more expensive but also the stiffer and more durable. For pencil drawing any weight higher than 60lb or 98gsm is good.

Types of Paper

Watercolor paper This paper works equally well for drawing and painting. It comes in 3 surfaces, rough which has a very pronounced surface, cold press with has a nice texture (most economical or student papers come in this finish), and hot press(the most expensive usually). 140lb(300gsm) is the most common weight, lower weights are fine to use as well, 300lb(640gsm) is a very heavy paper and while perfectly usable it's often quite expensive and for pencil isn't really an improvement over 140lb.

Sulphite Drawing Paper This is what is commonly found in sketch pads. It's a good drawing paper (make sure it's acid-free of course) though usually of a fairly light weight such as 60lb(98gsm).

Newsprint Best for practice and preliminary work since it's typically very lightweight and not acid free.

Printer/Typing Paper This is just the plain paper for use in computer printers. Cheap and perfect for practicing.

Bristol and Illustration Board This comes in several weights and two surfaces plate(smooth) and vellum(rough). They are truly multipurpose papers, and my absolute favorite to use.

Pastel and Charcoal Papers These are a medium weight paper that often comes in a variety of soft colors in a vellum surface. The colors are the main attraction of these papers.

Specialty papers These are papers such as rice paper, bark paper, papyrus. Most of these are not acid free so always check before buying them. They usually have very unique and beautiful textures, unfortunately they are often also pricey.

Other Comments
Like I said before you don't have to spend lots of money on drawing supplies, these tips are mostly on how to save money.

Spend your money where is counts, on your paper. Practice paper can be nice and cheap but for pieces you want to last buy the good stuff.

Be somewhat organized. You don't need to be a neat freak with your pencils all sorted by size and color, just keep your stuff in about the same place. I have a couple cheap sets of rubbermaid drawers that I keep most of my supplies in, and a small plastic bin with all my pencils, eraser, etc in it. If you have some idea where your stuff is you won't have to rebuy things. In particular if you have kids or younger siblings keep kneaded erasers away from them, they are too much like silly putty so little kids love to play with them and little kids are always losing things, I've lost a few erasers to my little cousin.

Avoid fancy boxed drawing sets. You're paying for the packaging as much as the supplies and half the time you'll never use half the stuff in them. There are good drawing sets out there for good prices and they can be a good option for someone just starting to get serious about drawing. The good sets are usually the simplest looking ones, in plain cardboard packaging. If it's in a tin or wood box you might be getting good materials but you'll be paying too much for them.

Safety is important. Drawing isn't as hazardous as other mediums such as painting but it has it's problems. Graphite chalk, and charcoal dust can aggravate asthma, allergies and other breathing problems, if you have any either draw in a well ventilated area or wear a dust mask. Keep all art supplies away from small children and pets, they can be injured from choking on erasers and other small objects or from being poked by the sharp end of a pencil.

Store you finished artwork that isn't on display in a clean dry place. I keep mine in either a large portfolio folder or laying flat in my desk drawer, nothing else goes in that drawer except artwork and blank paper. Framing can be very expensive but archival plastic sleeves can be bought much cheaper and is a good alternative. Of course never pin your good artwork directly to the wall (save that for roughs and photocopies), put it in a plastic sleeve and pin the sleeve to the wall.

Give me you opinions, vote in the poll or leave a comment.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Art in progress

Okay, I can never finish one project before starting another so I've got several art projects going at once right now and I thought I'd share them with you.

"Searching for Sea Dragons" is actually a series of pieces, one each in pencil, ink, and watercolor. The pencil version is finished, the ink is on progress, and I haven't started the watercolor.

"Untitled" so far anyway this doesn't have a title. It's a pencil portrait of Noadi, experimenting with a new style. So far I have no background done but she'll be looking up at some migrating gryphons.

"Lady Portrait" This is a watercolor portrait of Lady the bluetick hound I had growing up, since she's no longer with us I based this on a photo.

Artist Trading Cardss, so far I've only done this one. But ATCs are pretty cool, their miniature works of art done on 2.5x3.5 inch paper to be like trading cards. They're quick, fun, and you're supposed to trade them with other artists, so if you've made an ATC that you would like to trade with me, drop me an email.