The Tools Artists Use

Julia Gfrörer

Posted on May 08, 2009 | Comments

Julia Gfrörer is an artist living in Portland, Oregon.


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

Pencil is my primary medium. Most often I use a .9mm mechanical pencil with a 6H lead to sketch a few guide lines, then finish with an HB lead or, for a bigger drawing, a toddler's fat pencil, like Lyra Ferby or My First Ticonderoga. I use a lot of pressure when I draw, so a thick lead that doesn't break easily is important. And my favorite Rapidograph is essential for any ink drawings or comics.

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

A .35mm (size 0) Rapidograph, the one with the gray collar, is my constant companion, and I've been known to really lose my shit if I misplace that pen when I need it. (You'll know it's mine because it has a strip of black bookbinding tape wrapped around the barrel, and the inside of the cap is stained brown.) I also use a red .6mm Rapidograph for larger drawings, and I have a few others that I only use once in a while, if I need them. All my ink illustrations and comics are done with these pens. (For comics I rarely pencil first, which is probably obvious if you've read my comics.)

I like to use brown ink with a few drops of black, because drawing in brown makes me feel like a monk.

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

Most of my drawings include areas of opaque color laid up against the pencil lines, and I'm always looking for coloring tools that provide the right amount of control as well as opacity. Prismacolor colored pencils are excellent. I also use china markers for lots of my reds and whites. (The red area on my Mercury cover is china marker.) I like pencil-style coloring tools because of the scratchy marks they make. Often the only real color hue my drawings comes from the background, which is a colored card stock, and the drawing itself is executed in black and white pencils.


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?

Since I prefer a very limited palette (usually only one or two colors plus graphite), a travel or starter kit of paints or colored pencils is useless to me. I buy individual Prismacolors in White, Cream, and Sky Blue Light, and about 90% of my drawings are executed with those colors alone.

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

Bookbinding is a hobby of mine and I generally make my own notebooks and sketchbooks. Most card stocks are fine as long as they take both ink and pencil well, without bleeding or too much smudging (though I like a little pencil smudging). I have seperate sketchbooks for comics, with the panels already in place, and these are a great innovation because they keep me on task, and prevent story fragments from being lost amid fifty sketches of my boyfriend's monkey feet. For a finished pencil drawing, I prefer soft cotton rag papers--Stonehenge, or Magnani Pescia if I can afford it, which I usually can't.


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

I use Photoshop to make my scanned drawings look more like the originals. The pale blues, for example, tend to scan pretty grayish, so I'll increase the contrast on the image to brighten them and make sure they read as blue online. I sometimes add color for illustration projects, if I'm delivering them digitally--my Brett Dennen poster originally had a white background, but it looked too stark on the scan so I added a pale yellow tint to the entire image--but I would never do that for self-generated work. The original drawing is the finished piece.

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

Yes, but for the most part that hasn't worked out for me. I love other people's charcoal line drawings, for example, but my own never satisfy me. The one exception is the Rapidograph pen, which I always insisted I didn't need, until my boyfriend started using one and I got envious.


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

Two slim hardcover books: "The Life and Times of Saint Francis of Assisi," a children's biography with full-color photos of his relics, and "Les Bidochon: Ragots Intimes," a pretty dark French comic book about lower-class married life. Both of them provide a lightweight, portable drawing surface, safe storage for unfinished work, inspiration, or distraction, as needed. I don't have a desk, but I always keep one of these books with me.

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)?

I do a lot of my drawings from photos that I take myself or find online, so the computer is an important part of my work in that respect. The internet can be a distraction, but it's so useful for research, and to keep in touch with other artists and with people who want to support your work, that any artist who doesn't use it is handicapped.

Thanks Julia!

Julia Gfrörer can be found online on her website and on Flickr (thorazos).

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