The Tools Artists Use

Mike Dominic

Posted on May 27, 2009 | Comments

Mike Dominic is a comic artist, colorist, and illustrator.


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

Pencil and paper. I like to keep things simple, with as little as possible in the way between me and the art. I construct my drawings in a non-photo blue pencil, then render them in either drawing pencil (2B & 2H) or in ink with a # 2 brush and disposable pens. From there, the work is (usually) scanned and colored digitally.

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

The tools used will depend on what the finished work will be used for. Comics will usually get the ink/color treatment, while illustrated works (e.g. a book cover, CD liners) may end up as a full-on digital painting.

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

I use disposable Micron pens. I used to depend on a set of Rotring Isograph technical pens that had an incredible ruler device in the lid of the case, but that set doesn't seem to be made any more, and the other technical pens I've used just don't perform as well. Microns (or any other brand of suitably dark brush pens) are quick and easy to wield, and give me a good solid ink line.

I also like to use a generic Staples brand black gel pen for sketching and looser work. It gives me a nice heavy black line, but allows me to more expressive and impulsive than do the Microns.

How do you like your color? Watercolor? Acrylics? Oil? Colored pencils? Markers? All of the above?

I like my color digital, if possible. I do use a Wacom at times, but, since I work from varied locations, I'm most comfortable with a mouse, and I love being able to manipulate photographs to add texture to my color. When I do paint a piece by hand, I prefer acrylics thinned with linseed oil (it slows the drying time and lets you work the paint better).


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 or do you need a full set of colors?

Winsor & Newton acrylics work just fine for me. I've also got a travel set of Pelikan watercolors that I've had forever that I sometimes use for painting backgrounds. I've gotten pretty good at mixing colors by hand, so I tend to work with a limited palette when I paint. I don't have room in my studio or in my head for a wide range of colors.

If you have a different set of tools for working in your studio (or office, or home, or on the couch) and out in public (at the park, or a coffee shop), what are the differences?

My studio tools are mostly digital, excepting my drafting table. It's a huge wooden job with a built in light table that some friends gave me for a birthday a couple of years ago, and it's an object of pride in my studio. When working away from home, I mostly use a mechanical pencil or the Staples brand pens I mentioned earlier.

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

Strathmore bristol for finished pencil or ink work. For sketchbooks, it's a matter of what's at hand. I've got sketchbooks ranging in size from about 3 inches square to 11 x 17, although if given a choice, I'd rather do my rough work on plain old bond paper. Comes from all those years spent doing phone doodles in an office environment.

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

For commercial work, I prefer a nice smooth Hi-Art illustration board. I sometimes like to mix ink with watercolor with acrylics, and nothing else takes the various media quite as well. Occasionally, I'll work on canvas board or plywood with lots of primer, but they're exceptions.

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

Yes. Almost always. As I mentioned earlier, I enjoy fiddling around with photographs to add textures to my art, and a judicious use of filters can save me hours of drawing and painting time. I prefer working with The Gimp, but until they add proper CMYK support, I'll be working with Photoshop as well.

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

I use the Micron pens because a friend (Ian McDonald, creator of Bruno the Bandit recommended them to me, and I happen to really like his inking, and especially his lettering. I got the trick of using linseed oil with my acrylics from a book by Boris Vallejo, and from being very frustrated with the quick drying time, because I like to fiddle around with my colors once I've laid them down.


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

Is Google still considered out of the ordinary for this sort of thing? For reference, there's no better tool than Google Image Search. Also, Wikimedia Commons is the source of many a photographic texture for me. I've also just started using a program called Ginipic that searches various image sources like Google, Flickr, etc., but I'm still getting the hang of that one.

If you create collages, where do you get the materials and objects you use in your pieces?

I don't do collages as such, but I will sometimes scan objects from around my house to use as textures.

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

I like working with the open source program The Gimp. I find it's brush scaling preferable to Photoshop's, and some of its filters work well for me. There are some little interface tweaks in there that I prefer, but that may just be because I'm more used to them. Also, I've collected a nice assortment of Gimp brushes from Deviantart and haven't found Photoshop replacements for all of them yet. If I know that the piece is going to be used digitally, or if CMYK does not matter, I'll use The Gimp to complete the project. Otherwise, I'll very often build up most of the piece in Gimp, then export it as a .psd and finish it off with a CMYK conversion and some color adjustments in Photoshop.

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?

The last couple of years, I'd say about 90% of my work is finished digitally, although it always starts out on the drawing board. I love the tactile immediacy of pencils, pens and brushes, but I also like the speed and intricacy of digital work, so it's a tossup which I prefer. I work in digital more because that's where my market is. Most of my clients approach me online, and the work is delivered to them via email or online storage services.


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)?

For me, the computer is absolutely indispensible. It's a sales tool, a communications device, and a production shop all in one. The internet is the largest swipe file and reference book you've ever seen, and the availability of so many free tools for writing, art production and self-promotion has significantly lowered the cost of getting your work out to the public.

It can also be quite a distraction if you allow yourself to get lost in surfing the net or tweaking out your system, but that's a test of the discipline of the artist. Any tool is only as good as your use of it.

Thanks Mike!

Mike Dominic can be found online at his weblog His older webcomics can be seen at "The Journals of Simon Pariah" and guest stories at Bruno the Bandit.

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