The Tools Artists Use

Chris Rodenhurst

Posted on August 31, 2009 | Comments

Chris Rodenhurst is an artist, illustrator and art instructor living in Liverpool, England.


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

I like mechanical pencils because I tend to draw in a very quick scruffy style and would have to sharpen a normal pencil about every couple of seconds. Even illustrations that end up rather minimal and tight start out as a mess of lines and corrections. For that reason, I also find a putty rubber indispensable, because it can get into all the little nooks and crannies of my drawing. I get into a panic if I don’t know where my putty rubber is. It's a bit like Dumbo's feather.

I use a lightbox a lot, because I like to keep my pencil artwork separate and the lightbox enables me to experiment with different approaches to the same illustration.

I use a Wacom when I'm on the computer, although it's just a little A6 tiddler, so I find it's only useful for rough sketches and quite broad actions, like using the burn tool in Photoshop.

My favourite pen would be my Pentel brush pen.

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

It generally depends on the subject matter. How a given medium supports what you're trying to communicate is something that really interests me. For example, I recently drew a character for a story set in the 80s so I've used half tones to give the illustration a kind of 80s newsprint feel. If I want to do a creepy, Victorian style illustration I'll use dense linework and treat paper in Photoshop to make it look older. Upbeat kids stuff might be looser more expressive pencils with bright, fresh watercolours.

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

I'm forever hassling people to take up Pentel brush pens. They're really convenient and versatile, you can use them in an expressive loose kind of way, or reign them in for nice tight graphic work. That said, I've recently started playing around with a mapping pen and have been really pleased with the results. 


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

Mainly watercolours and Photoshop. If I'm using watercolour I tend to make a set of swatches, scan them in and then compose the colours in Photoshop. I also colour things directly in Photoshop, and use bits of texture – old paper, metal etc. to give things a bit more depth. Photoshop is great with watercolours and 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?

I like using felt tip pens, I think because of their associations with being a kid. If I think of colouring in, I think of felt tip pens. I also like drawing with biros, for a similar reason – it reminds me doodling in exercise books in school.

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

I do most of my work in A4 sketchbooks with heavy paper with a bit of a grain to it. I need heavy paper because I make such a mess, it needs to be paper that can take a bit of a battering. I like the grain because of the way it picks up the pencil and the smudges…it gives more information to Photoshop that I can play with later, burning bits in or cloning nice bits of texture etc.

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

Pretty much everything goes through Photoshop. I use curves a lot, and the burn and dodge tool. I play with the colour values and I like to use multiply layers, e.g having a bit of old paper as a multiply layer, or having my inks on a multiply layer and colouring beneath. Even the scruffiest sketch gets curved up and has some bits burned in and other bits knocked back.


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

Almost everything I use. I think it's really important to keep experimenting and to stay clued up. Everything I've mentioned so far can be traced back to hearing about it or seeing it somewhere. I picked up the Pentel Brush Pen because the guy who does the concept art for the Metal Gear Solid videogames uses one. The last design studio I worked at had a really healthy culture of trying stuff out and sharing knowledge. I picked up loads of useful bits of Photoshop from the designers there. If I’m not sure how someone's achieved a particular effect I hunt around on the Internet for a relevant tutorial.

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

Not really. After talking up the computer so much I'd like to say that I’m a big fan of the ordinary! If the audience can understand how a picture was made, then I think that's another level to the relationship between the work and the viewer. There's something magical about seeing an amazing piece of art that is just pencil marks on paper.

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

I'm going to continue the trend of contradicting my last answer. I really love drawing in Flash, especially the way you can grab your lines and fills and pull them around until you're happy with them. Also, Flash and Illustrator are great for more modular pieces – loads of characters and stuff, because you can easily rearrange, resize and edit different elements.

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?

Nothing beats drawing in a sketchbook.


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)?

Well, generally I think computers are great. Especially for getting your work seen, communicating with clients, researching content for work or seeing what everyone else is up to. The danger with computers is that because they're so clever and offer you so much choice, you can struggle to keep a focus on yourself and your work. Regarding the Internet, sometimes it can be inspiring and sometimes it can be a bit bewildering when the whole creative industry is out there for you to explore and find your place in. Regarding post-processing, it's always a worry that by the time I've inked a sketch and scanned the inks and cleaned them up and moved them about and coloured them and added a texture I may have killed the spark from the original sketch stone dead. The trick with computers is using them to enhance whatever it is that makes you unique as an artist in the first place.

Thanks Chris!

You can find Chris Rodenhurst online at his weblog Sketchybeast.

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