The Tools Artists Use

Dustin Harbin

Posted on April 09, 2013 | Comments

Dustin Harbin is a cartoonist and illustrator living in Charlotte, NC.

In The Woods, by Dustin Harbin

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

Okay here's my basic list, in order of importance, as in, if the house were on fire, what would I grab first?

  1. Tachikawa T-77 mapping nib. Like a firmer, better made, and all around superior Hunt 102. I draw very small, and the T-77 is firm enough for small regular lines like hatching, but with just enough flexible to give you a range between a very delicate line and one with a little bit of body--but without sacrificing control.
  2. Hunt 108. Super flexible nib that I use for all my "big" lines, or anywhere I want the texture of the paper to show through. At it's best it's my favorite drawing instrument, but Hunt nibs are so poorly made now that only 2 out of 3 are really usable, they are easily damaged, and bend out of shape after a fairly short time. :(
  3. Dr. Ph. Martin's Black Star ink (matte). Richard Thompson turned me onto this ink, and I praise his name every day. It's VERY black, to the point that you might need to thin it, especially if you're like me and forget to close your ink bottle occasionally. But somehow, improbably, it also works in technical pens, so I also use it in my larger Rapidograph pens for spotting blacks. It's totally waterproof, lightfast, and best of all, eraser-PROOF, unlike many india inks.
  4. Koh-I-Noor Rapidomatic mechanical pencil, .5mm, 2H lead. I don't know that this pencil is any better than any other, but I've had it a million years, which must mean something. Plus it has a metal bottom, which gives it a pleasing weight in the hand. I use 2H lead for nice light lines, but not so light that you're digging into the paper. I often don't erase my pencil lines, and 2H is fairly easy to "tune" out in scanned artwork.
  5. Strathmore 500 bristol board, semi-smooth surface. Strathmore 500 is the only bristol I've found that reliably doesn't bleed, and is also fairly (thought not, I think, totally) archival. The semi-smooth is smooth enough to take a light pen line without bouncing, but rough enough that if you want the texture of the paper visible, it's easy to make happen. And it'll take a limited amount of watercolor/inkwash, usually about 2 or 3 touches before it starts to break down under moisture.

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

I do have a pretty wide collection, but more from being a packrat than anything else. I think the tools I listed above compose about 95% of everything I do, with the exception of paint/digital coloring, stuff like that.

Bear Suit, by Dustin Harbin

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

I use Microns, especially the colored ones, to sketch with, but I haven't found a disposable pen yet that really sings for me. I recently got turned on to the Platinum Carbon pen, but it's too light to be pleasant to use extensively. I do like sketching with it though.

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

I generally use some very simple watercolor from a 16-pan travel set by Winsor & Newton. But I'm a baby at it, so it's mainly just tinting things. I sometimes color in commissions with Copic markers too, but they don't work with my preferred ink, so they're slowly falling out of favor in my workflow. More than either, I use inkwash, usually in 2 waterbrush pens, kind of like what Dan Berry describes here, except with diluted ink wash, in 2 tones, dark and light.

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?

As I was saying above, for watercolors I use a travel set, which is fine. For markers I buy Copics in colors I like--I've gotten a good collection together over the years, but as with everything I probably only use about 5-6 of them with any frequency.

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'm super snobby about paper, but my last three sketchbooks have been handmade by cartoonist Joe Lambert using a cream colored cardstock you can get at Kinko's. Remarkably, it takes pretty much any media. Plus Joe's sketchbooks are handsewn, lay flat, and often have covers featuring his work, or if you're like me you can get them plain and draw on them yourself. I've gotten so used to them it's hard to imagine switching back, so hopefully he'll keep making them.

Hysteria, by Dustin Harbin

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

I use Photoshop to color generally, but my last few projects have been colored almost entirely using Manga Studio 5 and Ray Frenden's MS5 brushset. MS5 is way more intuitive a drawing application, and for coloring there are a lot of great halftone features. Very into it lately.

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

Paper no, but pens for sure. The aforementioned Joe Lambert and Dan Berry are pretty influential for me as a tool snob, although I'm betting neither of them are very snobby--they seem to try a lot of different tools, which is healthy. I, however, am a True Snob and prefer to let others play The Most Dangerous Game (trying different tools).

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

I sure don't. Probably the only out-of-the-ordinary thing I do is draw really REALLY small, which both saves time and is easier (for me).

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

As mentioned above, Manga Studio 5 plus Ray Frenden's brushset. His drawing brushes are perfect, mimicking not only differing size/flexibilities of nib, but also 2 different "pencils" and a number of paintbrushes for wet/textured effects.

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?

BEHOLD! The Dinosaurs!, by Dustin Harbin

I would like to work digitally more--I'm not against it at all, but for myself I find I work faster on paper, weirdly. On paper small accidents and incidental pen bounces or surprises can be assets, but on a screen I can't stop undoing everything. I'm maybe too fussy to have undo available to me during drawing. So often I will take the extra steps of scanning and compositing to get things done quickly and without a lot of preciousness on paper, then reserve the tablet for edits and last minute additions.

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)?

Definitely all of the above. It's hard to imagine living without one now, though of course all the great illustration masters seemed to do okay without one. Heck, they did all the best Disney movies without a single computer, right?

Thanks Dustin!

You can find Dustin Harbin online on Tumblr, on Twitter (@dustinharbin), on Flickr (dharbin), and prints of his work can be found on his BigCartel shop.

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