The Tools Artists Use

Andrew DeGraff

Posted on June 29, 2009 | Comments

Andrew DeGraff is an artist living in Fort Greene, Brooklyn and teaches at the Pratt Institute.


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

I'm definitely an old fashioned type of fella when it comes to drawing. My favorite of the past couple years is brush and ink. I have yet to find anything that gives me equal helpings of control and spontaneity. I love the Silver Ultra mini brushes - they keep a fine point and last a while if they're kept clean. The only thing lacking with the old brush and ink is it inability to travel well. For portability I, like so many, like the .005 Micron in various colors. I love to be able to mingle some different colors in a drawing, especially if I'm working outside or on the subway. I'm also a fan of the Micron Brush Pens. I've also become a fan of the COPIC sketch markers. They're a little pricey, but they're dual tipped with a fat, flat end and a pretty sharp brush end. I also buy cheap calligraphy markers, mostly in black. I've been picking up Elegant Writer pens and using them to death for quick sketches. Again, the variable line is nice and you can do really fast fills. The line decays through the stroke, but that can give things a nice character and give you something more than a flat saturated black - something almost more photographic, especially in small sketches.

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

For a drawing day at the Natural History Museum, or the subway, I like to make purposefully random selections. A handful from the maker bin, and then try to go make it work. Illustration can get formulaic by design, so a strange assortment of pencils and pens can be really helpful to get out of a drawing rut.

For an illustration, I'll generally rough in pencil, and then move right to ink, or gouache of late, to lay out the line structure.


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

As far as ink, I'm still trying to find the perfect ink. Since I use a lot and can correct in photoshop after the fact, I will use the old standard, Higgins waterproof black. I find it's pretty wishy-washy. For more gallery type drawing I have been using Speedball's Super Black India Ink. It gets better coverage and cavernous deep blacks. Although it professes to be non clogging, I find just the opposite. It can get a little chunky, and even syrupy if left open even a little too long. It also has a slight but noticeable bleed. I have experimented with Bombay inks as well, but find they have an iridescence I'm not too fond of.

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

I was an acrylic painter for a longtime, and love the saturation. Maybe it's because I'm getting older I've moved to watercolor and gouache paint gouache. Gouache can give you that really nice saturated color without the chunkiness of acrylics, along with a really nice matte finish. Since a lot of my work is reduced pallette work, it's nice to do a full tone of watercolor on the bottom with a little mask to leave some of the white of the paper showing, and then draw with gouache on top.

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?

For watercolors and gouache, I definitely like the Winsor & Newton stuff, and for watercolor I do use a Winsor & Newton 14 color travel set as my default setup. It does have some drawbacks - the cools in travel sets always seem to be a little weak. I pull out the cobalt and substitute cerulean (I love the plastic-y, processed look of cerulean). I will also premix some gouache in the water dish that I'll use as my major line color. I also have a Daler Rowney 12 set that Ive been pretty happy with too, and is a little smaller.

Is there any particular type of notebook or drawing pad you prefer? Or does any scrap of decent-sized paper work in a pinch? / If you paint, is there any particular type of canvas you prefer? Do you like to paint on wood or any other materials?

In general, I think paper is the most underrated supply people buy. Unfortunately, sketchbook are always notoriously filled with weak paper: 60lb paper is just sort of weak for my purposes. That does lower the price point and make it more expendable, which I suppose is the point, but I find sketchbooks a little frustrating to buy. I generally use the Daler Rowney bound sketchbooks. My favorite, which I've had a hard time finding of late, is the Canson Balloon Field Sketch book. It's wire bound from the top which I definitely prefer. Dealing with the gutters in the bound sketchbook can be frustrating when you just need that extra half inch to make it work. I also like a Il Torchio notebook my cousin brought back for me from Florence. It has a really nice tooth and holds up really well for 50lb paper. My other little fettishy sketchbooks are a 3" by 5" R. Baldwin 150 gms cartridge paper book from England, and a 4"x 5" Daler Rowney Fabriano colored paper sampler book.


As far as painting, if I'm working on canvas or board, it gets the same treatment. I use the NY Central Acrylic Gesso - about 5 layers - and sand it down to as glassy smooth a surface as I can get.

I've come to prefer painting on paper, and haven't found anything I like better that Arches 300lb, hot press for gouache and acrylic and cold press for watercolor. I also like their 140lb cold press for mixed media work and watercolors with very controlled but small bleeds. I will also use Strathmore smooth Bristol, but mostly for work line work that then gets re-colored in photoshop. Rives BFK is a close runner up, probably my drawing favorite for straight ink and pencil.

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

I often do, especially for quick turnaround illustration assignments. I still draw everything by hand but will work with black and two or three arbitrary colors (generally a hot and a cool) to flesh out the design, and then assign them new colors in Photoshop.

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

I saw a Marcel Dzama show at the Richard Heller Gallery a few years ago, and it really made me realize the power of working on paper. I had been making acrylic paintings that were really emulating silkscreen and woodcut prints, and realized that they should be on paper to really get that matte finish I was looking for. Acrylic suddenly felt way too plastic.

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

I generally use the edge of an old credit card to apply gesso, a trick I picked up from Tom LaPadula, one of my teachers at Pratt. It saves a lot of time with sanding down a canvas or board.

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?

After a few years of creating art that was about half digital, I'm really trying to move back towards more traditional media. Mostly because I am working in better spaces and have constructed a light table and have the space to really avoid putting things into the computer until it's sitting on the scan bed.


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)?

The computer is an amazing resource. I was very anti-computer as a young idealistic artist/idiot, and have come around big time. I use to feel that digitally produced work was a rather hack-y type method, but I've long since seen the light. What people are doing now with digital collage and painting and drawing is really incredible. I keep finding out people who I thought were traditional illustrators are working totally digitally.

As far as work as an illustrator goes, it's a double-edged sword. In this economic downturn, magazines and newspaper are having a rough go. As more and more go online, it's more common than not that the illustrators they used to hire don't come with them, or if they do, the illustrator works for smaller fees. Conversely, having a website which you can construct and update yourself for free, a blog you can post on for free, and emails which you can send for free - it's pretty convenient. It does have a democratizing effect of allowing new people to get wide coverage, and allowing me to look at work from all over the world. That being said, it can be a bit of a distraction. It's easy to find yourself lost in a multimedia labyrinth only to emerge a hour later and none the wiser. . .

Thanks Andrew!

You can find Andrew DeGraff online at his portfolio website, his own weblog DEGRAFFLOG, and on the group weblog welcome friend or foe.

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