The Tools Artists Use

Verónica Navarro Castillo

Posted on March 18, 2009 | Comments

Verónica Navarro Castillo is an artist based in Madrid, Spain.

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

I always start with graphite pencil. It is the base of my work and, for me, the fundamental step in all the illustrations I make (no matter if they will end up being digital or traditional). Then, on my canvas paintings, I like to work with acrylics, on my works on paper, watercolour pencils and markers and if I choose to go digital, Photoshop is the one and only for me.

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

Usually it depends on the time I'm planning to spend working on the illustration. Most frequently I choose to colour it digitally. I don't have a large space to work at home so, making it in the computer turns out to be a lot easier. Also, another big reason for me to take the digital way is that I'm so lazy. One doesn't have to clean and wash all the brushes and paint stuff after a digital work session.

For more elaborated works or those in which I have a special interest, I usually go with acrylics, sometimes watercolour pencils. This doesn't mean that the digital ones are less important to me, it's more about my mood in each moment.

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

I have a huge collection of Stabilo point 88. They are available in a lot of colours and they are so cheap too (about 0,60€ ? each). Most of the Moleskine sketches I did during my college years were done with them. It has been a long time since the last time I used them for an illustration, but I don't think this is a permanent situation. I'm sure someday in a near future my interest in them will reawaken.

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

Acrylics, undoubtedly. Since I found them, while I was a student, it has been a true love relationship. I can do anything I imagine with them. They have bright colours, dry fast, are water-soluble, and they don't have that intense smell of oil painting. Also, they allow me to work fast and, if needed, to make a lot of corrections during the process.

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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?

In acrylics, I like Amsterdam. They have a great price/quality relation. I use them with synthetic fiber round brushes.

If we talk about pencils, I adore the Faber-Castells, both graphite and colouring ones.

In graphite, I like the Grip series. I use the regular ones, not too hard, not too soft.

In colours, I choose always the watercolour ones, even If I'm not going to use water with them. In my experience, I found out that they are softer and give more vivid colours.

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

Well, I like the plain Moleskines a lot (and I have a shelf loaded with them), but there is a problem with "Molleys": they are a little too expensive. Fortunately, a lot of brands are starting to make their own version of the famous black notebooks, and I've found a few models with the same good quality at more affordable prices.

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

I love to paint on wood. My home is full of plankets and wood pieces that I collect from everywere (furniture parts, boxes, etc). If it has a clean surface with no marks and it is made with natural wood, I mean, the one that has those beautiful tree streaks, then, it's perfect for me. I just prepare it with sandpaper, and, sometimes, a thin layer of gesso.

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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. As I said above, I like the digital process as much as the traditional. It allows infinite possibilities of colour adjustments, retouching and effects, plus the advantage that you can step back and choose from different versions of the same work.

Sometimes, when I am making a non-digital work and I make a mistake, I have to think twice to realize that I can't type "ctrl+z" to fix it. I know it sounds stupid, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who has suffered this silly syndrome at one moment.

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

Yes, of course. I am always looking for inspiration on the internet or in the portfolios of other artists, and yes, sometimes I've tried by myself some of the techniques and tools I've seen there. The issue is that, in my case, very rarely I adopt the working method of someone else, or the use of a new material, as mine. I guess the pure copy is not for me, I have to adapt everything to my style and if it just doesn't work, I soon forget it and carry on.

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

I use Photoshop more than any other. It has everything I need to make a good work so I don't waste time trying other programs. The only exception is when I need to make a vector illustration (usually for web and graphic designs), then I use Freehand and Adobe Illustrator. I enjoy vector illustrations very much. I'm not sure why I don't use them more often.

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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 is once and for all a help for me. As a tool, as a way of self promoting and of course as an infinite resource of inspiration and knowledge. Maybe a few years ago there were still some doubts about this subject, but I don't think there's still anyone that thinks the computers are not useful in the artists work nowadays.

Thanks Verónica!

You can visit Verónica Navarro Castillo online at her website and portfolio poorsailor.es, her weblog Sailing Sailing, or on Flickr (poorsailor).

Verónica also shares an Etsy shop with her boyfriend, Corcoise, where they sell prints of their work among other handmade stuff.

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Stephanie Toppin

Posted on March 16, 2009 | Comments

Stephanie Toppin is an artist from Houston, Texas.

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

Pens, markers, never pencils. Sometimes permanent markers.

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

Bic and Papermate. Always black. Sharpie pens, fine, and in black.

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

Markers and Acrylic. Mostly Acrylic. Enamel house paint at times, that indoor / outdoor paint you find at Home Depot. It drips soooo well.

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 always use Basics acrylic paint in the tube and jar and I only buy primary colors. I think learning to mix and handle your paint is key. Premixed colors don't have the life and warmth at times. Factory black esp.

When I buy the Home Depot house paint I try to get the pints and not the gallons too much. It's hard to lift and paint that way. You can hold the pint in your hand and it gives you more freedom.

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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 want to draw I have to take what I can get, anything around, but if I have a preference I like white cardstock sheets. And a small journal, really small with white paper and black cover are always best. There are sooo many brands now, I am not really religious about the brand.

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

I paint on MDF board, precut at Home Depot 1/4 inch and 4 ft. tall, 2 ft. wide. Some people have told me it will deteriorate and not last my life time. I tried wood but not too keen on it. I really love MDF.

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

Sometimes I scan and it comes out faint or maybe just the scanner is cheap so I usually increase the contrast so people can see the drawing better. But that is just for the image of it. The original piece is never altered and reprinted.

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

Yeah I have tried to use different pens, more expensive ones, and it never works. The only thing I think worth spending money on for me is paper. You know the paper when you feel it under your pen, it does make a difference.

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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)?

Computers are a helpful distraction. They are the new television in some ways. I would have never known so many artists and seen so many different types of work if it were not for a computer but at the same time I could have been painting instead of sitting in front of a screen. I think everything just has to have a balance.

Thanks Stephanie!

You can follow Stephanie Toppin's work on Flickr (stoppin) and on Artadia.

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Vivien Blackburn

Posted on March 13, 2009 | Comments

Vivien Blackburn is an artist from the UK who also teaches painting and printmaking. Vivien is also the very first contributed interview.

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

Charcoal has to be one of my favourites; not always practical because it's quite messy, so I would use it in the studio or on a day out sketching where getting dirty didn't matter - not on a day out with family :>)

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I also like mechanical pencils with an eraser on the end - really simple and accessible, biro on occassion, Conte pencils. charcoal pencils. coloured pencils, Caran d'Ache Neocolor II with water, but only very occasionally ink,

I like painterly drawing media rather than the graphic lines of an ink drawing for the way I work (though I love them in other peoples work). I do like those double ended Tombo pens with water soluble ink (mid grey is a favourite) as you can get lovely washes - again it's the painterly feel that attracts me. I really don't like the scratchy feel of most dip pen nibs. I like bamboo pens and twigs because of the changes in line as the ink dries and the slight unpredictability but am more inclined to use them with watercolour.

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

It will depend on the subject matter and what will give me the vocabulary of marks that I need. Also on whether I'm out 'seriously' sketching with lots of choices with me or on a trip with family or friends where I can only carry a little, can only draw quickly in order not to hold everyone up and need to keep clean! I'm inclined to use fingers to smudge or drip paint or ink onto clothes or dip sleeves in paint so that is an important factor!

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A current long term project on local waterways has work in charcoal, watercolour, coloured pencils, mixed media. linoprints. pencil, Caran d'Ache neocolor II, Inktense - I don't think I've done any oil sketches yet which is unusual as that is usually my first choice at the coast.

How do you like your color? Watercolor? Acrylics? Oil? Colored pencils? Markers? All of the above?

Oil first usually, also watercolour, often with oil pastel or coloured pencil. coloured pencil. pastel - acrylic in the studio but not plein air and markers not for colour but occasionally as drawing tools. Studio work in acrylics is usually finished in oils as the oils work so well glazed or scumbled or scratched through, over underlying acrylic marks put in very very loosely. Most of my work is mixed media as I pick up whatever will give me the marks I want and so a combination of materials is often involved.

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 or do you need a full set of colors?

As a colourist painter I like to have a lot of blues, yellows and reds to choose from and a range of other colours. I mainly mix colours, not using them straight from the tube or pan and though a painting will only use a limited range of them. I want the specific blue or whatever to achieve the results I want to catch the light, mood and colour of the day.

I don't use sets but have a collection, bought individually over time, of colours that I like to use.

I use Winsor & Newton and Daler-Rowney Artists watercolours but also have a box of White Knights that I'm fond of. Oils are a mix of brands, mainly artists colours but not all. I also like the quick drying Griffin Alkyds. In pastels I like Unison - luscious and velvety and they don't break into tiny shards like some soft pastels.

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If you have a different set of tools for working in your studio (or office, or home, or on the couch) and out in public (at the park, or a coffee shop), what are the differences?

I answered this one earlier really - it depends on the subject, the situation - do I need to stay clean and tidy without smudges or paint on clothes or face, how long have I got to work? am I with friends with all day to paint and so getting paint splattered doesn't matter and I have all the time I need? then the bag of materials gets heavy as I can't resist all the stuff I may need - and if I don't take it will be certain to want!

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

A wide variety. I like heavy weight cartridge paper as you can use it with any medium, watercolour paper - Arches, Fabriano hot pressed, not Bockingford very much, hand made paper, moleskine for pencils, large A3 sketchbooks in a landscape format that open out to about 3 feet across. I've also made my own books recently but I'm no expert at this like Nina. In a pinch - anything.

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

I like deep sided canvasses as I never frame them, I prefer the look of them as they are without imprisoning the work. Plein air I do oil sketches on Cryla primed paper and frame as if for watercolours. I also sketch straight into sketch books of cartridge paper without any priming as I like the way the oil paint behaves - not archivally friendly but ok in a sketch book. Occasionally I've painted on hardboard (masonite) and like the firm surface but don't like the fact that it has to be framed.

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

I do use Photoshop to create images that exist in their own right and play with ideas - it's a great tool. You can see examples on my blog and website.

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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, I had been using coloured pencils in mixed media work but wanted some better quality ones and had great advice from Katherine and others. They advised Polychromos for the way I work and they were right - I love them.

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

The way I mix media probably. I like the variety of marks possible by combining for instance watercolour, oil pastel as a resist and coloured pencil to subtly enhance or overlay colour. Again on my blog you'll see lots of mixed media pieces - recently lino prints, printed non-traditionally with oil paints and then worked into with oil pastel and coloured pencils.

If you create collages, where do you get the materials and objects you use in your pieces?

I prefer to paint the papers myself if it is going to be a finished piece and then cut and tear them - recently I learned to marble to create some different papers for beach sketches - so far these are just in sketchbooks. I will also use hand made papers and elements that won't fade or tarnish.

When creating your digital art, what are the software programs you use? Is one used more than another?

Photoshop mostly and occasionally Corel Photopaint to manipulate and change elements fed in.

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 prefer the hands on of 'real' materials and the happy accidents and 'language' of marks. I don't paint digitally but manipulate elements to create something very very different from the starting point.

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)?

Very helpful for playing around with ideas, creating work that exists in its own right - and very distracting, eating up time if I'm not careful Very useful for research, for talking to fellow bloggers, critique, exchanging ideas, selling a little and learning a lot. So for me an essential.

Thanks Vivien!

Vivien Blackburn's website is vivienblackburn.com, her sketches can be seen at sitekreator.com/viviensketches, and she also has a shop on Etsy. She has also started a group weblog called Watermarks, which "is a small community of artists who make art from water."

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Mar Hernández (aka malota)

Posted on March 11, 2009 | Comments

Mar Hernández (aka malota) is an illustrator and animator from Valencia, Spain.

What are your favorite drawing tools (pens, pencils, markers, drawing tablet)?

This is such a complicated question. I love pens, pencils, markers, the computer, the drawing tablet... everything can be used for something interesting... There is a pen I absolutely love, the Pentel Brush Pen.

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

If I can choose in a personal project, some days I feel in the mood for painting and other ones I feel in the mood of drawing or making watercolors... and if there is a briefing for the project, I try to work with the technique and the tools that allow me to transmit the thing I want to say.

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

The Pentel Brush Pen. I think that it's absolutely yummy.

How do you like your color? Watercolour? Acrylics? Oil?

I love everything, but watercolors are the most difficult technique for me. I would love to paint again with oils, like at the university, but I don't have a place to do it right now because it smells a lot.

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 like Moleskines, they are nice. The quality and the variety of the paper are great.

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

Mostly. I always make some little changes alter scan my works, maybe just to adjust brightness and contrast, and to fix some colors.

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

Yeah, I think that everyone does... no? :D

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

I like to add beer to my watercolors. Someone told me that in the university. It makes the colors look more brilliant.

When creating your digital art, what are the software programs you use? Is one used more than another?

I mainly use Freehand and Photoshop.

Do you approach making art on the computer differently than you do with pen, inks, paper, and paint?

Not too much, I think it's the same with different tools. Well, with the computer I can be more precise, but look at Charley Harper's work. He never used a computer.

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Since 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 love both, so I can't decide. I love my computer, but I never stop drawing by hand.

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 is a powerful tool. You choose how to use it, indeed.

Thanks Mar!

Mar Hernández can be found online at MalotaProjects, and her online shop, MalotaShop. She also posts regularly to her Flickr account (malota) and occasionally on LiveJournal (h2okt).

And quite recently, some of Mar's illustrations/characters were featured in a television commercial for Greek ION TV.

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How should the tool links work?

Posted on March 10, 2009 | Comments

When I first started this site, I had the vision of how all the interviews would be interlinked and related by the common tools that many artists use. One attempt at that was to link the tool names in the interviews to an archive page where you can see other interviews that featured the same tools. This goes part way towards that goal, but perhaps it's not the best way.

Over the last few days, I have received some thoughtful email from a pair of readers of the site that suggested that the way I was linking those tools was a little counterintuitive. They think that those links would be better if they linked to a product page instead of the tool archive page. For example, "Adobe Photoshop" would link here (Adobe's page) instead of here (the Photoshop tool archive page). And I think they're right! Plus, as they pointed out, at the bottom of each post there is a list of the tools featured, which also link to those archive pages.

Now, I need help deciding the best way to adjust how some of those links will work. For many of the tools, I can find official product pages, or something close enough. But, in the cases where the product is a little more ambiguous, like "watercolor" or "sketchbook," how do you think those links could work? There are a couple of options I think:

  1. For tools with official product pages (like Photoshop), I'll use that link. For the ambiguous tools, I'll do no linking but I could highlight the word in a sentence (like sketchbook), and leave it like that.
  2. For tools with official product pages (like Photoshop), I'll use that link. If no product page can be found, I could find an online store (like Dick Blick, Daniel Smith, or Amazon.com) and link to a product page there where at least some information could be found.
  3. Or, in the extreme opposite, I could just not highlight the tools in the interviews in any way at all (no product links, no buying links, no bolding, etc), and just leave the interviews plain. And I could try and include product links in the list of tools featured at the bottom of each post.

I'm leaning more towards option #2, but I really would like to hear what you, the weblog readers, think. Which sounds best to you?

UPDATE 3/21/09:

I truly appreciate everyone's opinion and suggestions and I think the solution I ended up with kind of sits in the middle of all the options I laid out.

Previously, all tool links within the body of an artist interview would take you to the archive page (here on this site) for that tool--showing you any other artist interviews that contain the same tool. It was pointed out, in the comments and via email, that those archive pages are linked in other places so perhaps they aren't needed in the posts. And I still agree with that.

So, here's how I've changed things. In the body of the interviews, the tools will only be linked if there is an "official" site for it (e.g. Adobe's page for Photoshop). If there is no official site, there's no link in the interview. Then, at the bottom of each interview's page, all the tools are linked under the text "Tools mentioned in this post". Clicking on those links will take you to the archive page for that particular tool.

I've also added an "extended" view of the tools. If you click on the "show more detail" link next to "Tools mentioned in this post", it should display an expanded table view of the tools. This expanded view has 1) a link to the tool's archive page, 2) a link to that tool's "official" website (if any), and 3) links where it's possible to buy the tool from either DickBlick.com and/or Amazon.com (if available). Go visit the most recent interview, scroll down to the tool links section, and see how it works.

I hope this will work okay for everyone.