The Tools Artists Use

Renée Kurilla

Posted on April 15, 2013 | Comments

Renée Kurilla is a Lead Artist at FableVision Studios and a Freelance Children's Illustrator who lives in Boston, MA.

Night Owl, by Renée Kurilla

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

I'm primarily a digital artist, I use an Intuos 3 tablet and Photoshop CS4 or CS5.1. It's a little archaic these days, but I'm pretty comfortable with these tools! I also have a small Cintiq, but there are way too many wires. Wires hinder the creative process. :)

I do not leave home without a few sharp Ticonderoga #2 pencils. I also use Staedtler Lumograph pencils of all weights (my favorite are: 2B, 4B, and 6B). I often draw on top of my sketches with a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen.

Then there are tools I only WISH I could use on a daily basis: oil paint, fabric, glue, wool, thread, string even. Maybe someday I'll have the opportunity to be an oil painting, collage artist.

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

I start everything in my sketchbook. I use an Epson scanner to transfer my drawings to Photoshop, which I can then manipulate if I need to edit the composition or pose. I usually move all sorts of stuff around this way: heads, arms, legs, backgrounds. In fact, the sketch I end up working with is a totally mess that only makes sense to me. But then, I start blocking in color and I get totally lost in it until the scene makes sense again!

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

The Pentel Brush Pen is the only pen I've ever used for art making. I have good days and bad days with it. I think the wobbly days are mostly due to too much caffeine. (I love coffee.)

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

I am a trained oil painter, but I unfortunately don't practice those skills anymore. In my 8 or so years since college, my tastes have changed and I started to gear my work more towards Picture Book Illustration which lends itself to more of a watercolor, loose style. (However, all the books I've illustrated so far have been digitally colored.)

Recently, I started taking a watercolor class which is being taught by my illustrator friend, Dan Moynihan. I want to relearn the painting skills I worked so hard to attain, though watercolor has much less control than the oil paint I'm used to. I think it's a going to help me be more expressive... and I can use my brush pen with it because it's waterproof ink.

From Renée Kurilla's sketchbook

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?

My go-to is a Winsor & Newton Field Set for now and I am absolutely in love with the new Isabey Squirrel Brush my husband, Keith, gave me as a present.

I prefer the travel set for now because I can take it with me everywhere as I'm learning. If I get more serious about watercolor, I'm sure I'll get a larger palette and start using tubes so I can mix bigger batches of colors.

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

When I sketch, I use a Strathmore 400 Series Field Sketchbook. I like wire bound books because I don't have to keep holding the front pages down when I get to the end like some perfect bound sketchbooks. The paper has a nice toothy, recycled feel to it as well.

Scrap paper used to be fine, but I started losing everything and was more abt to throwing sketches away because I didn't know what to do with them. I'm kind of an anti-clutter freak, if it's in the way I toss it.

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

I've been using Arches 140lb Watercolor Hot Press, because the smooth texture is really nice for inking. Cold Press paper creates a really nice watercolor effect, but I always end up ruining what I've created because I'll try to draw or ink over it. The texture is too bumpy to have a steady hand.

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

When I scan my sketches, I always mess with the levels and hue/saturation tabs. More so if I'm going to be using the sketch line in my illustration. I'll set the sketch layer to "multiply" and color underneath it (here's an example of that). If I'm completely coloring in Photoshop, I just turn the sketch layer opacity down to about 20% and color on layers over it (here's an example of that).

Cover for the book Pool Girls #3, by Renée Kurilla

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

I actually started using my Pentel Pocket brush pen because I was introduced to @PentelofAmerica on Twitter. They sent me a sample pen to try and I never stopped using it! That was years ago now - thanks Pentel!

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

Lately I've been really into felting, which is the process of repeatedly stabbing loose wool with a barbed needle. It's more of a hobby than anything, but I've found that sketching and felting at the same time produce pretty cool results (here's an example of that)!

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

Photoshop is the BEST! I've also dabbled in ArtRage, rage-battled with Flash, and failed in Illustrator. I guess it's better to focus on one, I want to master it.

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 biggest reason I prefer digital is the speed. I often have to create large amounts of art really fast and nothing helps more than CMD + Z. Every once in a while, your computer will have a total meltdown and you'll lose hours of progress, but it doesn't happen often enough for me to place blame. I AM trusting a robot with my entire career. They have feelings too.

Mary Had a Little Lamb illustration, by Renée Kurilla

Any time I get stuck in Photoshop, I go looking for new brushes to add to my brush palette. It's very easy to find brushes and usually gets me out of a creative style jam. Right now, like many folks, I'm using Ray Frenden's set. They aren't free, but it's not much money to spare.

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)?

My entire career exists because of the internet. I have met SO many cool working professional peers and been inspired by art I would have normally not gotten access to. I have a presence on lots of sites including (in order of awesomeness): Twitter, Blogger, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Google+, Instagram, Dribbble.

Of course these sites are all SO distracting, but I like knowing what my peers are up to and I feel the support right back.

Thanks Renée!

You can find Renée Kurilla online at her portfolio site Kurillastration, on her weblog, on Twitter (@reneekurilla), on Tumblr, and on the group blog covering children's illustration, Simply Messing About.

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