The Tools Artists Use

Tom Gauld

Posted on August 13, 2009 | Comments

Tom Gauld is a cartoonist and illustrator living in London, UK.

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What are some of your favorite drawing tools (pens, pencils, markers, drawing tablet, all of the above)? If you have a wide collection, how do you decide on which to use on a particular drawing, project, or day? If you prefer pens, is there any particular brand, color, or type of ink you like best?

I don't have a huge collection and I'm not hugely experimental with my technique. For pencilling I always use BicMatic disposable propelling pencils. For inking I always use Uniball Eye Micro rollerballs and Pentel Micro Correct whiteout. I use a Wacom for computer work. In my sketchbooks I also use Pilot G-tec C-4 rollerballs. Lying around my desk I have lots of Sharpies and Tombow brushpens for doodling

The Uniball is my favourite tool. I like the flat, unvarying line it gives, and the ink is lovely and black too. In a way I want the line (and, in a way all elements of technique) in my work to be quite unexpressive, just being there, not really being noticed.

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

I might add a bit of marker colour to doodles with a pen but generally all my colour is done in Photoshop.

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 a Maruman F2 art spiral sketchbooks, they're Japanese and are a good size for my work (19 x 25cm landscape) and have a good, slightly toothy paper.

My finished artwork is done on Daler-Rowney 96gsm drawing paper.

And I doodle on copier paper and post its.

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

Yes. I do all my colour and cleaning up of artwork with Photoshop. I also usually do a pencil drawing, scan it in, fiddle with the scale and composition and then print it out and trace off that on my lightbox, to make another pencil or the finished ink. I'm really into composition and I find the computer really helps me work on this. I'm a bit colour-blind so I've always had some difficulties with this, but the computer lets me endlessly change things till they're right, plus I can check the CMYK values and be sure I haven't made something pink instead of green for example.

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

I tried using blue pencils after seeing some Chris Ware originals in an exhibition, but they didn't work for me at all.

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

Not really. I have a nice big lightbox which i use a lot.

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 don't really enjoy being sat at my computer but it is so useful for editing and repositioning and colouring. I use it for everything I do to some extent. But I much prefer to start with doodles in a sketchbook or drawings on a paper, I don't seem to be able to come up with ideas in front of the computer.

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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 certainly a distraction, I spend way too much time looking at stuff on the internet. But as I said before it has some amazing functions. I think sometimes that the computer can rush me into making finished art before the idea is completely ready. I try to stay away from it when I'm trying to think. I try and leave the studio and just take my sketchbook when I can.

Thanks Tom!

You can find Tom Gauld online at his portfolio website cabanonpress.com, on Flickr (tomgauld), and some of his books can be purchased at Buenaventura Press.

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Bob Flynn

Posted on August 10, 2009 | Comments

Bob Flynn is a cartoonist based in Boston, Massachusetts.

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

When I'm in the studio, I typically draw with 2B pencils, but any old pencil will do for doodling. I sometimes draw with a non-photo blue pencil when I'm really trying to work something out in a study. If I'm inking on paper, I prefer nibs to brushes, though I'm trying to transition to brushes by working with brush pens. I find the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen particularly fun to use. But lately I really only ink my comics on paper—most of the inking I do is done in Flash MX with an Intuos drawing tablet. People familiar with my work already know I'm a large proponent of using Flash as an inking and drawing tool. I grew accustomed to it through animation; it really creates a fantastic brush-like line once you get the hang of it. I've actually written a few tutorials on my blog, Drip!.

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

When it comes to comics, I always prefer working on paper with a dip pen. I really enjoy working with ink, and it's much easier to lay out a comic on bristol board than it is on a computer screen. Plus I like to work big, normally at 14x17—a screen can feel so tiny. I ink with an assortment of vintage nibs, the Subway Stub being my favorite. But when I'm working on an illustration or just doodling around, my instinct is to hop on the computer and draw in Flash. It's the quickest way for me to draw something that looks sharp and professional—so, speed and ease-of-use are deciding factors. I've mentioned this elsewhere, but in my opinion Flash MX (note, not MX2004) is the best version of the app for drawing and inking. They (being Macromedia/Adobe) screwed something up along the way.

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

I haven't tried too many inks, but Higgins Black India Ink seems to do the trick.

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

I haven't used gouache or acrylics in awhile. I do most of my coloring in Flash or Photoshop. On a tip from friend and fellow cartoonist Sherm Cohen, I've been playing around with a fabulous digital painting app called ArtRage. It's basically an easy-to-use stripped down version of Painter, offering up only a dozen tools. I couldn't recommend it more, and its cheap. So, ArtRage for texture and Flash/Photoshop for laying in flat 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?

Any kind will do—I keep a few sketchbooks at a time. One for jotting down ideas and working rough in pencil, and one that I do cleaner inked studies and doodles in. I've tried Moleskines, but they are a bit small and I normally feel inclined to dirty them up. I just got a new sketchbook that I'm breaking in. I keep a stack of 11x17 copier paper nearby for drawing because its fun to sketch big and loose.

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

When I begin on paper, my drawings always end up in Photoshop for coloring. I spend time tiling and cleaning up my scans, and I correct the few marks that need editing in my inks. I don't use white-out as much for corrections anymore, as it can be done just as easily in post on the computer.

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

Yes, I've picked up tips from an assortment of blogs and on Twitter—a recent tool being the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. I just inked a comic with it. I'm looking to get my hands on a G nib, and Meg Hunt recently reviewed a Akashiya bamboo barrel brush pen. I love trying new tools, especially when it comes to working with ink. I was recently disappointed by my first chance to try a Cintiq. I like my Intuous, but something about the Cintiq really irks me. Maybe it's because they are so expensive, but I found it really distracting to have my hand in the way as I drew on the computer screen. Not to mention the gap because of the glass. There is something profoundly predictable and intuitive about working on paper that the Cintiq attempts to mimic (and fails at, in my opinion). We'll see—I'll might come around eventually.

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

Not really. Though, I stumbled upon a box containing my father-in-law's writing pen from grade school (a dip pen). Drawing with it was what first turned me on to inking with pen nibs, and I seek out vintage nibs because of it.

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

Again, Flash MX, Photoshop, and ArtRage. But Flash is open most of the time.

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 work digitally when I want to get something done quickly and if I know I'll be making edits along the way—traditionally when the piece requires a certain amount of care. Comics, in particular demand a traditional touch, and I like to have the original piece to hold in my hands when I'm done. I've worked digitally for so long that I find myself wanting to do more on paper.

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)?

I find it extremely useful—I'd be kidding myself if I didn't say so. But in addition to the tools I use (like Flash), the online community of artists is an endless source of inspiration and the Internet provides a wonderful way to connect with like minds. You need to know when and how to tune it out, but it's here for good...and I think for the better.

Thanks Bob!

You can find Bob Flynn online at his portfolio website www.jinxthemonkey.com, his weblog Drip!, Twitter (@bobjinx), Flickr (bobjinx), and contributing to the group weblog, Creative Juices.

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Stephanie Brown

Posted on August 05, 2009 | Comments

Stephanie Brown is an artist living in Chicago, Illinois.

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

Mechanical pencils and watercolor are my main weapon, and and occasionally Prismacolor markers and Micron .005 pens make special appearances. Mechanical pencils are sort of a guilty pleasure, I put a huge priority on line quality and mechanical pencils give me the consistency I need -- if I'm using a Faber-Castell graphite pencil, I can sharpen it to a nub in one sitting. I get a little overzealous with my sharpening.

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

Not so much a wide collection, but a collection to say the least. I've done a lot of trial and error and never seem to throw anything away -- so my materials are well worn, and for the most part, pretty shabby. I still use this crappy plastic watercolor set from high school, some of my brushes and charcoal may be older than that.

As for particular projects, I rarely have a final image in mind, so what I need for tools changes as I work.

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

I've used Micron pens for years, although recently I've only been using one -- the .005 red. Although the red color is a tiny bit too orange, the width of it makes every line delicate and precise, and also unforgiving. I am a glutton for punishment, I guess.

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

Watercolor has the lower-end range that I really need, it has the capability to deliver a very subtle and muted palette. I use Acryla gouache as a highlighter, which gives me the opacity and saturation that watercolors can lack. I approach oil color in a similar way, transparent colors like burnt sienna is dark and saturated when applied thickly, but when thinned with turpenoid, the color is vibrant and makes for great layering.

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'm in love with Holbein Acryla gouache, which functions more like acrylic than gouache, but their color selection is wonderful -- I have a very specific palette of them, about 10, any more than that would give me too many options. I have this terrible Angora watercolor set which has 32 cakes of color, half of which are totally offensive and unusable -- and I've used it for a year or so. I have some tubes of traditional colors that help me along the way. Everything's a travel set with watercolor, I just throw everything into a totebag. Oil painting, not so travel-friendly.

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

Moleskines. Moleskines forever. The tone and weight of the paper are perfect, and they put up with the ridiculous abuse I put them through. But otherwise, anything flat will do, legal pads especially.

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

Buying pre-stretched canvas can be an easy option, but building and stretching your own is so much more satisfying! I also enjoy a nice panel of raw birch to scrawl on.

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

I used to use Photoshop to color linework, many moons ago -- but presently everything I'm doing is purely by hand. More and more I've been thinking about delving more into digital work, I like the idea of flexibility, but there's also something very significant about having something physical and absolute.

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

Other than a large collection of bones found in the desert as source material, not really.

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, and the internet, are dangerous and amazingly helpful at the same time. I think it's safe to say that the internet has influenced my artwork a lot, for the fellow artists and the infinite resources -- I think artists my age owe a lot to it -- and the visibility it provides. Aside from that, I'm terribly distractible and can't imagine a world without Netflix instant play, or Google image search. I'll take D, "all of the above".

Thanks Stephanie!

Stephanie Brown can be found online at her portfolio website blueskycomplex.com, her weblog, Flickr (runsmiles), and on Twitter (@feralcatbox).

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Interviewee updates - Aug. 1, 2009

Posted on August 01, 2009 | Comments

I'm going to start a new feature here on The Tools Artists Use that catches up with the artists I've interviewed in the past. I'll try and feature upcoming shows and exhibitions, as well as any art tool-related blog posts I come across.

That's it for the first edition of interviewee updates!

And never fear, I do have some interviews in the works and will hopefully start resuming posting next week.

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Lauren Albert

Posted on July 06, 2009 | Comments

Lauren Albert is an illustrator and textile designer living in Brooklyn, New York.

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

Lately I've really been into using a .5 mechanical pencil (Papermate Pro Touch II) with millions of Chartpak markers. I'm starting to get into using brushes and brush pens for lines.

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

When I'm sketching it really just depends on my mood what tools I'm going to use that day. I can tell if I feel like drawing scratchy or drawing smooth and I choose my tools accordingly. It's all about texture and what it feels like for me to draw with what. If it's not right in front of my face, I tend to forget I have it. With my markers, I keep them all in a bag that I just reach into and grab around in until I find one that works (and is the right color).

For finished pieces, the idea usually comes into my head fully formed. I see what it looks like so I know what materials I need to use, or else I figure it out after a couple of tries.

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

Depending on what I feel like, I go between 3 different pens. One is this great super dark black watercolor brush pen (SAI). The other is a Crowquill nib and Higgins inks (Speedball for black). I like the super fine pencil like lines I can get from using light ink with the crowquill, it kind of makes me feel like I'm doing a naturalist sketch log. I also have this great square shaped .38mm black super inky pen that my cousin got me from a Korean dollar store. There are little cartoon pigs all over it, I think its name is MonokuRo Boo. For some reason I only like to use it for lifedrawing. It's probably a good thing, too, because I wouldn't know where to find another one if it runs out.

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

Before I started at art school in 2004, I have to admit I never really experimented or used much of any actual art materials. I did mostly really, really horrible, amateur digital art. So when I got to school I was blown away by all this real media I never really knew about. I started in on this process of trying to find the Right Coloring Materials (and figuring out what I don't like on the way). I think it's a quest for what will give me the flattest and brightest colors. I was seriously into inks for a while, switched to cut paper, then gouache. I've got a short attention span and I am always changing how I do what I do. Right now I am really into markers. I love Chartpak markers for the flat color I can get with them when they are super fresh. I think I might try gouache again next.

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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?

About a year ago my friend Carly Schmitt introduced me to Chartpak markers. Everytime we went to the art store we would test out a lot and then pick one or two and get them. Since I started doing that I've gotten a collection going. Even though I have a lot of colors, from picture to picture I like to try to keep my pallet somewhat limited. I've found that sets, while they might be able to save me money, seem to have a lot of useless colors, and never the ones I need.

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 usually have 2 or 3 sketchbooks going at once because at different times I just feel like working on different surfaces. Sometimes when I sit down to draw or sketch, one doesn't feel right and I have to switch. I just finished a Moleskine. I really like the paper in those, it's so smooth and off white. But sometimes I absolutely hate it and have to switch to something rougher, just a regular store brand sketch pad, sometimes a small Strathmore drawing pad. For bigger pieces sometimes I break out the smooth bristol. I'm sort of cheap when it comes to buying materials though, so I don't get much fancier than that.

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

I only ever painted when I was in school and it was usually on canvas board (because it was cheap). I was not a huge fan of it, or painting, either.

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

When I'm working physically or digitally, it's all or nothing. I don't like to change my physical drawings too much on the computer. When I know a piece is finished, it's how it's supposed to look. I don't like to add anything to it that you're not going to see in the original.

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

Yes. When I try working with something that I've seen another artist use I feel like I can unlock all of their secrets. A lot of the tools I've been using lately (like markers and brush pens) were introduced to me by other artist friends.

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

I have a couple boxes of sparkly things (mica, tinsel, sequins) I like to toss in sometimes. I haven't really been using it lately, or doing much else out of the ordinary. I know a lot of artists like to draw on hard surfaces or desks, but I really prefer just to rest my materials on my lap with a piece of cardboard underneath. I guess that is sort of unusual.

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

When I'm doing something all digital, I really like using Corel Painter X. I got it while I was in school and I really like fooling around with all the different tools it's got, even if I don't end up using them in the end. I really like it for digital drawing because the pens and brushes are pretty close to real tools. It works well with my dinosaur Wacom tablet. For finishing that stuff and color corrections, I like to use photoshop. Another cool program is Alchemy, though I really use it just for fun. I do more fooling around digitally than actually finishing anything real.

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 do more non-digitally unless I have this idea that I know I can only execute digitally. I have a better time drawing on paper because I can physically feel it. It's more real. I like to sculpt or carve out with line, which doesn't feel the same on the plastic of a tablet. Also since I draw looking down at something on my lap, usually hunched over with my face a couple inches away, it's a big difference to look at what I'm doing straight ahead on a screen. I mostly use the computer when I have an idea that is huge in scale or requires a ton of colors that I know I wouldn't be able to put down smoothly or brightly enough in the physical. I'd like to work on combining the two, but so far I haven't really found a way that I've been satisfied with.

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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)?

For me it's definitely all of the above. I need to be distracted to concentrate (I guess that is something else out of the ordinary). Being able to go online opens up this endless universe filled with reference material and inspiration. It's all right there. I've got this huge image file of art, photos and useless junk that I can go through whenever I want to.

Reading blogs and looking at artists' sites helps to keep me motivated, too. I see what other artists are doing. And looking at my own stuff on my blog or website, I can see what I'm doing, what I've done and what I need to do to keep going. It's like a personal timeline.

Thanks Lauren!

You can find Lauren Albert online on her portfolio website plslala.com, her personal weblog (exegesis)!!, her alien-art weblog ALIEN, and on Flickr (plslala).