The Tools Artists Use

John Martz

Posted on March 09, 2009 | Comments

John Martz is a cartoonist and illustrator hailing from Toronto, Ontario.

What are your favorite drawing tools (pens, pencils, markers, drawing tablet)?

I like mechanical pencils so I don't have to sharpen them. I like to use coloured Col-Erase pencils for roughs, too, so I don't have to do any erasing before scanning.

For inking I prefer dip-pens, and my favourite nibs are the Hunt 108 and the Nikko G-Nib. I've played with brushes, but never really took them over nibs, but I do like the Pentel pocket brush pen for sketching.

Tablet-wise I use a Wacom Cintiq.


If you have a wide collection, how do you decide on which to use on a particular drawing, project, or day?

I generally use whichever is right for a given project. Generally, most of what I do involves pen-and-ink drawings and Photoshop, so I don't vary too much.

If you prefer pens, is there any particular brand, color, or type of ink you like best?

See above.

How do you like your color? Watercolour? Acrylics? Oil? Markers? Colored pencils?

Almost all my colour work is done digitally. I can't visualize colours well enough to do them right the first time, and I'm too impatient to do colour studies beforehand, so I like working digitally and being able to alter colours on the fly. I work with dozens of layers and masks which gives me the freedom to experiment in changing the hue and saturation of my colours.

Is there any particular type of notebook or drawing pad you prefer? Or does any scrap of decent-sized paper work in a pinch?

Anything will do in a pinch, and there's a certain freedom that comes with using cheap paper since I'm less afraid to make mistakes, and oftentimes the mistakes are what make something great. Expensive sketchbooks can be intimidating, but I do like to use the cheapish generic black hardcover sketchbooks. Their quality seems to vary, and I've found it difficult to find ones with paper that can take ink without bleeding. But when I do, they're the perfect book for me -- I like the size, and they're generally durable enough to toss in a backpack and go.


I like Moleskine notebooks, but I find them too precious for everyday sketching. But I do use the squared graph-paper Moleskines for planning-out and thumbnailing comics since it's quick and easy to throw down grids of various dimensions.

Do you ever do any kind of post-processing (like adding color in Photoshop or similar tool) to your drawings?

Practically all of my colour work is done in Photoshop, so it's not post-processing so much as it is, well, processing. Using the computer is a standard element of my workflow, and many of my illustrations are created from start to finish on the computer without ever having touched a pencil or piece of paper.

But, I do use Photoshop to clean up and edit pen-and-ink drawings. It's often quicker and more accurate to fix things on the computer than to pull out the white ink to paint corrections.

Have you ever tried a new pen (or paper, etc) from reading about it, or seeing the results in another artist's work?

On occasion, but generally I just like to scour an art store for things I've never used before and try them out. Recently I've been aching to try out these Ackerman refillable brush and dip-pens on the recommendation of Michael Cho. Twitter is a great place to network with other artists to talk shop, which is where I first read about these pens.

Do you have anything you use out of the ordinary for making your art?

I don't have anything particularly unusual, but my favourite art tool is my drafting table from the 1960s that I've had since I was a teenager.

When creating your digital art, what are the software programs you use? Is one used more than another?

I use Photoshop primarily, but Illustrator is indispensable as well for creating geometric shapes and technical drawings. Illustrator is also far more forgiving when playing around with type. Photoshop's type tools are still rather limiting; I prefer being able to pull words and letters apart, convert them to objects, and be able to have fine control over everything.

I have also been playing around with Manga Studio, which I'm discovering has a unique approach to its drawing tools. It's the first digital drawing program I've used where the pen tool feels like and behaves like a dip-pen or a brush. It's still a bit sterile compared to using the real thing, but it seems to have been created with the cartoonist in mind.

Do you approach making art on the computer differently than you do with pen, inks, paper, and paint?

Absolutely. Working digitally allows me to better think in terms of shapes and colours. Working with flat colours on various layers makes the process of building an image a lot more like two-dimensional sculpting sometimes because I can add or take away mass from the shapes I'm working with. Drawing with traditional tools makes it too easy for me to rely on linework to define everything, and forget about the geometry and design of an image.

Since you work both digitally and non-digitally, which do you find yourself doing more? Is there a reason you would prefer one of the other? Is it because of the tools available in either space? Or perhaps because the client work you do?

I find I do most personal work with traditional tools, because it's a far more intimate experience, and I am not worried about meeting deadlines. With client work, any way for me to economize my time I will, and working on the Cintiq really cuts down on time spent drawing, erasing, inking, scanning, printing, etc.


I asked about post-processing on a computer, but do you think the computer is a helpful tool for making art? Whether it's looking for inspiration online, or using it to build a weblog to promote yourself and your art, do you think a computer is necessary, helpful, or a distraction (or all of the above)?

Obviously I find the computer to be a helpful tool for making art, but its greatest uses are just what you mention -- accessing an endless vault of inspiration and reference material, and being able to market myself and keep in contact with clients.

It can also be a distraction. The Internet is an incredible timesuck, which is dangerous when working on the computer, so I find it helpful to disconnect from the Internet every day for a few hours to concentrate on doing work.

Thanks John!

John Martz can be found online at his portfolio and his weblog John is also quite active on Twitter (@robotjohnny) and Flickr (robotjohnny).

And if you're not familiar with John's fantastic comic/cartoon artist and illustrator resource Drawn!, then it's time you update your bookmarks and feed reader!

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