The Tools Artists Use

Jana Bouc

Posted on April 27, 2009 | Comments

Jana Bouc is a painter and watercolor teacher in the San Francisco East Bay Area.


What are some of your favorite drawing tools (pens, pencils, markers, drawing tablet, all of the above)?

I like to draw directly in pen when sketching since it forces me to loosen up and lighten up and let things get as goofy as they often do. Or, if I want to be more accurate, drawing in ink helps me to remember to go slow and look closely at my subject.

Pencil: I'm rather fond of my Papermate Titanium .5mm mechanical pencil with built in eraser. I have a variety of drawing, drafting and mechanical pencils but I'm not too attached to any of them.

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

The Pigma Micron .01 black ink pen is my favorite. I like the fact that ink is permanent and waterproof and doesn't bleed or dissolve when adding watercolor the way some other "permanent" or "waterproof" inks do. I've tried many others, from fountain pens to dip pens to markers, but I always come back to my Pigma Micron.

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

If I'm sketching from life, I choose my Pigma Micron. If I'm sketching from my imagination I usually use a pencil since I'm not sure where I'm going and kind of sculpt the drawing from scribbles as I go.

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

Watercolor had been my primary medium for 30 years. Then a couple years ago I tried (unsuccessfully) switching to acrylic. I just couldn't get acrylics to do what I wanted (though I will likely give them another try at some point). Then I moved on to oils and I've been studying oil painting since, while not giving up watercolor. I'm finding that some subjects look better to me in different media. For example, when I want to capture detail or delicate flowers, watercolor is my medium of choice; landscape, especially plein air, seems to call for oil painting.


If you do use paints, inks, pencils, or markers for coloring, are there any in particular that are your favorites? Do you prefer travel sets of paints to a full set?

I have several different watercolor sets and two oil-painting setups. When I use gouache or watercolor in the studio I have two large Robert E. Wood palettes that live on a Boby tabouret beside my large drafting table. One is filled with gouache, the other with watercolor. My watercolors are a variety of artist colors mostly from Winsor & Newton and Daniel Smith, with a couple of Holbein and Schmicke colors thrown in.

When I go out to sketch in ink and wash, I carry a Winsor & Newton Artists' Watercolor Field Box Set (over the years I've replaced all the original pan paint with colors I prefer from tubes).

If I want to use gouache in the field I carry an old small, Schmincke metal folding palette (my first watercolor set) that holds 12 half pans which I've filled with mostly M. Graham and Schmincke gouache from tubes.

I have a sturdy zipper bag I got at Utrecht that's about 8x10 into which I can easily fit my entire sketching kit in (including sketchbook). The items I include in my sketching kit are:

  • Micron Pigma .01 pen (my favorite sketching pen)
  • Kuretake waterbrushes
  • Kleenex purse pack of tissues
  • Sketchbook
  • optional extras:
    • 2 oz plastic squirt bottle (optional, easier than using waterbrushes to moisten paint and good for sprizting the paper if needed)
    • 2 oz plastic bottle with extra water
    • pencil
    • kneaded eraser

If I'm doing an actual plein air painting in watercolor rather than a sketch, I have a larger, Holbein palette. Then I use a watercolor block instead of a sketchbook and carry real brushes in a canvas brush holder, still quite portable.

For oil painting in the studio I have an old Stanrite Aluminum #700 easel and for field work I use my Soltek Pro (needed the Pro's extra height because I'm tall). I'm currently using mostly Winsor & Newton oils and a few Gamblin but selecting my oil colors is still a work in progress.


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

Lately I've been using mostly Moleskine watercolor sketchbooks and Strathmore Medium Drawing spiral bound sketchbooks. In the past I was fond of the inexpensive Aquabee Super Deluxe spiral bound. I've tried many others that I didn't like for one reason or another. I recently purchased a Fabriano Venezzia bound sketchbook and am looking forward to using it next. Of course I'll draw on just about anything if no sketchbook is at hand. One of my favorite sketches was done on the back of a bag of Trader Joe's Biscottis while waiting in the checkout line.

If you paint, is there any particular type of canvas you prefer? Do you like to paint on wood or any other materials?

Yes! I've tried stretched canvas and practically every kind of painting panel there is and I LOVE Ampersand's Gessobord. I use their 1/8" flat panels because they're the least expensive, while still being "archival, museum quality."

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

I went through a phase of drawing in ink or directly on the computer using a Wacom tablet and then coloring them in Painter for creating illustrations, but didn't love spending so much time at the computer so have moved away from that for now.

I do post-processing in Photoshop when I prepare photos or scans of my artwork for my blog. Despite my care in lighting, monitor calibrating, etc., I almost always have to make some adjustments to the digital photos. I also do the same for photos I want to use for reference material.

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

Oh yes! I'm easily seduced by glowing descriptions by other artists of their new discoveries.


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


If you create purely-digital art, what are the software programs you use? Is one used more than another?

I was using Painter rather than Photoshop as it had more artist-friendly tools but it crashed way too often.

If 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?

I prefer spending less time at the computer since I have a part-time day job that requires me to be at the computer the whole time, as does blogging, and too much computer time = too many physical aches and pains.

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)?

Yes, to all of the above.

Thanks Jana!

Jana Bouc can be found online at her website/porfolio, her journal and sketch weblog, and on Flickr (janabouc).

comments powered by Disqus