The Tools Artists Use

Laura Barnard

Posted on May 15, 2013 | Comments

Laura Barnard is an illustrator living in Peterborough in the UK.

Illustrative map of five architectural sights from Barcelona, by Laura Barnard

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

I do most of my commercial work purely digitally, although the initial sketch is usually on paper first. It seems like the hardest thing to translate to digital is that free and easy sketching at the start. So I start off on cheap A4 paper and a softish pencil and then use an A5 Wacom and my 13" Macbook Pro.

The humble Crayola wax crayon is also vastly underrated as a colouring tool.

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

I used to draw my cityscapes with those Uni-ball Eye pens, which just seemed to flow nicely and work well. I used to get through fistfuls of them at a time for some of the huge cityscapes on paper. These days I don't use pens nearly as much now I work digitally as I prefer pencils for roughs and generating ideas.

For the occasional ink original I do, I tend to use a dip pen as that's really super black and dense looking. I'd love to find a fountain pen that would recreate that as scruffy me and a dip pen are inevitably a bit of a disaster waiting to happen. The lack of undo when you've knocked a bottle of ink over is immensely frustrating.

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 really like Daler Rowney acrylic inks – the colours are really vibrant. I use them with a dip pen and with a brush. There's something incredibly satisfying about drawing a eye-meltingly bright red line with a dip pen. Pleasing stuff.

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 use cheap A4 paper for sketching ideas when I'm at my desk – it's easy to scan in (or lazily photograph with the webcam – we've all done it, haven't we?) and it's cheap enough to not feel precious about it. As for notebooks, I've gone off fancy hardback notebooks as I found them a bit intimidating as they're so nice, and they're heavy to carry around. I usually use Rhodia A5 stapled softback squared paper notebooks as they're a bit like a school exercise book. I dearly wish they'd do dotted paper ones of them though.

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

I always found it a bit fiddly adding colour to a line drawing as the scan was never perfect, so I took the long-winded approach of just teaching myself to draw straight into Photoshop with a tablet. It was worth the effort in the long run!

Detail of an illustration for the Sainsbury’s heritage store in Buckinghamshire, by Laura Barnard (visit her site for more details)

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

I don't remember any specific instances but I know there's an awful lot of information floating around Twitter, which is really helpful. I was looking for a paper that would look delicious and expensive, was stretchable, but wouldn't make inks bleed and lots of people recommended Fabriano Artistico. It's a bit on the spendy side, but for a special commission was absolutely perfect.

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

I don't think I do – if anything the basicness of the tools I use every day are probably the most out of the ordinary thing. I use Photoshop in such a laughably simple way – drawing everything in black with the jagged Pencil tool and basically colouring everything in using a mixture of skills I learnt at primary school and early days of MS Paint. If I were to do a video of me working, like some people do, everyone would find it completely ridiculous I expect!

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

I prefer Photoshop to Illustrator, although I use both. I like the wobbly lines you get in Photoshop and it looks a lot more like my work on paper, so I'd always choose that over Illustrator which smooths everything a bit much for my work. I do use Illustrator as clients ask for vector work, though. The Blob Brush has helped a bit – it still looks too smooth for my taste but it feels a bit more natural to draw in than Illustrator used to.

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?

I've moved from being mostly analogue to nearly all digital, which I wouldn't say I preferred (it's just different) but it does make commercial work so much easier. So many deadlines are incredibly tight and if a client wants something moved at the last minute it's nice to be able to do it with minimal fuss.

I do try and keep experimenting on paper as well though, as I think happy accidents are harder to come across digitally. It's good to keep pushing yourself in the disciplines you don't do as often as well. I've got some plans up my sleeve for the next quiet spot I get that's almost the exact opposite of what I usually do – small, all about colour and fuzzy edges.

Detail of a panorama of Peterborough, UK, by Laura Barnard (visit her site for more details)

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)?

It's probably both a distraction and helpful at the same time!

I do think it must be tricky to promote yourself without a computer and the internet. It's made it so much easier. I don't have a physical portfolio to update at all, I rarely have to spend time travelling to meetings, I can work with people on the other side of the world. People find my work through Google and commission me – I rarely have to chase work these days, which is incredible.

I'm also part of the Mighty Pencil collective, which is a huge source of support, friendship and inspiration. That wouldn't be there without the internet. Safety (and world domination) in numbers!

I also really like the speed of working digitally but I don't think that's necessary for everyone, there's loads of people out there doing great work without it touching a computer. And as for inspiration, I think you have to be really careful to look for inspiration in unusual places. Not necessarily offline, but looking outside the obvious design blogs, feeds and pinboard sites is important otherwise it's all really one-dimensional.

Thanks Laura!

You can find Laura Barnard online at her portfolio site, on Twitter (@laura_barnard), on Facebook, and on Behance.

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