The Tools Artists Use

Wil Freeborn

Posted on May 01, 2009 | Comments

Wil Freeborn is an interactive developer and artist living in Scotland.


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

My favourite drawing tools are Faber Castell PITT Artist pens, Pilot Super Grip pencils, Pentel brush pens and my Montblanc fountain pen.

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

I carry my drawing tools in a small Muji Pencil box. It means I can only carry 4 pens at a time, I like the fact that I have relatively few choices and don't really have to decide what pen to use at any time. Saying that I have tried lots of different type of pens from Rotring, Edding, Staedtler to Pigma Microns but for the moment I like drawing with brown ink as it throws the line back a bit and makes it a bit less dominant than a black line. I carry the Pentel brush pen and fountain pen as sometimes its good to have a looser approach and using a fountain pen or brush stops you be too precise and tight.

The other kit I carry around with me is another Muji Pencil box (large) in it are 2 pencils 2b and 4b, a pencil sharpener, a rubber (or for Americans an eraser) and 2 Pentel water brush pens a medium and a large. The box is padded with tissue to stop them rattling about.

All thats left is a small Winsor & Newton travel watercolour kit. I'm in the middle of trying to simplify the colours I use, but I like to replace some of the pans with colours I prefer such as Permanent Sap Green, Neural Grey, Permanent Mauve and Cerulean Blue. Typing this out I realise that maybe its colours suited to the Scotland's landscape and light?

It's all really basic. If I just want to draw on the way to work I take the small Muji box. If I want to paint I take the larger one with the watercolour set - no thinking involved at all! :)


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

Apart from Faber-Castell PITT artist pens I like to use Noodler's Bulletproof ink in my fountain pen. It's a total lifesaver as you can work over the top of it with watercolour.

How do you like your color? Watercolour? Acrylics? Oil?

I use watercolour pretty much all the time in Moleskine sketchbooks. They react pretty strangely to watercolour almost repelling the paint so you have to work in washes almost scrubbing the paint into the page. From what is kind of a negative thing, I've got into painting this way and enjoy the results. So, now I'm trying to do watercolour on proper paper and finding it really difficult.

You recently posted a weblog entry with the kit you carry around. If and when you work at home, or in an office, do you use the same types of tools, or do you have a larger set of colors, pens, brushes, etc.?

Yes, I have a larger variety of brushes and pens to choose from. I also use Dr. Ph Martin inks as well they really add a vibrancy to watercolours. So if you want the reds and greens to really pop out of the page its amazing fun to try these out.

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

Sorry, I'm a sucker for Moleskine sketchbooks, its a little bit embarrassing how ubiquitous they are. The fact that they are expensive is quite a good thing as you're not likely to leave them lying about, but because it takes me about a month or two to fill one they turn out to be okay value. Also I like the fact they fold flat so I draw over the two pages, its seems quite a small thing but its a rare quality in sketchbooks. Finally the proportion for the moleskine large sketch book just, well feels right.

I sound like a total fanboy!

I carry around sketchbooks around pretty much all the time, but aye if there's a scrap of paper around I'll use it.


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

Oh, occasionally. The Moleskine paper is quite yellow. So what I generally do in Photoshop is take a colour sample of the paper colour add a new layer and fill that layer with the colour then turn this layer off. The layer with the drawing I use auto tone, colour and levels to accentuate the tone and colours, but it takes the yellow tone away. I then turn that yellow layer back on and choose "multiply" and reduce the transparency to what looks right.

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

Yes I've tried some new Kuretake brush pens which I read about on Meg Hunt's site which have an amazing dark fluent line. I think they're for Japanese calligraphy. I just wish they weren't water soluble.

Also I've experimented with trying dip pens after an article by Kevin Cornell who recommended Hunt's Speedball #102 nibs.

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

When I'm traveling abroad drawing I carry around a Fuji Pivi printer which does small polaroid type photos. Instead of carrying glue to stick all those handy exotic receipts, tickets and bags of sugar you can buy pre blobs of glue on bits of paper. I put these handy things in the back of my Moleskine.

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, all of the above! I've avoided doing digital colouring deliberately. I'm not sure if I'm doing the right thing using watercolour but its something I really want to stick with as I'm really enjoying the process.

Building a web presence and finding like minds has been incredible! At the same time I need to get away from the computer and make things.


From your CV/folio it looks like you do more web design and layout. Do you, in a way, consider that art? I certainly do, even though I'm not very good at it. I'm more on the programming side. If so, what are your common tools for web design and graphic/art layout?

I don't know if web design is art? I use Photoshop for layouts and Illustrator for more design logo work.

For so long though its been part of who I am as a designer who likes to sketch. I'm at a crossroads at the moment as I've left the BBC and I'm looking to try and spend more time doing illustration. It's a big step for me but at the moment it feels like the right thing to do.

Thanks Wil!

Wil Freeborn can be found online at his weblog, on Flickr (ghostschool), and on Twitter (@ghostschool). Wil also participated in the 6th Moleskine Exchange.

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