The Tools Artists Use

Laura Wood

Posted on November 13, 2013 | Comments

Laura Wood is a freelance illustrator currently living in Melbourne, Australia. She likes to create funny and colourful pictures for both big and small people.

Art from an upcoming iPhone/iPad app by Laura Wood

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

I like to create my illustrations with a combination of graphite tools and the digital drawing tablet.

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

I have a wide collections of graphite pencils and I usually decide which one to use depending on how thick and bold I want my lines to be. That's because for me lines and textures are a crucial part in the look of my drawings.

In particular, HB, 2B, 4B and 6B pencils are my absolute favourites.

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

I do all the colour part digitally in the computer. However, I like to use also coloured textures made with watercolour or acrylic.

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 particularly love Mars Lumograph Staedtler pencils because they tend to be thicker than other brands. I like thick lines 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?

No particular brand of paper… however, all my finals are drawn either on watercolour paper, which adds a bit of texture, or smooth white paper, which works better for drawing with a lot of details.

The A-mazing Life of a Rabbit, by Laura Wood

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

I often post process my work. For example sometimes I draw little pieces of a bigger drawing and then I assemble them together in Photoshop. That makes my life so much easier and gives me the freedom to manipulate shapes and objects.

Also I do all my colours in Photoshop. I do so since it's very practical, especially when clients ask me for changes. In order to give a less flat and digital look to my work, I like to use organic textures and paint with textured digital brushes.

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

After seeing it in action, I've bought a Spyder monitor calibrator. It's great for adjusting colours on my computer, getting their calibration right and have less surprise later in print.

Another thing I've bought after seeing it, it's my monitor. It's a Dell UltraSharp 24", and the great thing about is that it has a antiglare flat screen, which is great if you spent endless hours in front of it like me!

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

Well, not really. But my textures are made of the weirdest things, from cement and brick walls to tree bark and jute fabric. Sometimes these elements end up in my finals, so I guess that counts, right? :)

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

The only software I use is Photoshop… it is everything I need and even more!

The Monsters in my Head, by Laura Wood

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 like to draw everything by hand. This is because I really like the organic look hand drawn illustrations have. However my colours are all made digitally. This is because I must to admit I don't consider myself a painter and I feel like I have more control doing this digitally.

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)?

Since a big part of my process happens on the computer, yes I truly believe the computer can be an extremely helpful tool.

And not just in making pictures, but also for promoting the work, looking for new clients, sharing your work.

I reckon computers make our possibilities endless.

Thanks Laura!

You can find Laura Wood online at her portfolio website, her weblog, on Twitter (@i_am_laura_wood), on Behance, and some prints of her work can be found on her Etsy shop. Laura also has been working on an app that is coming soon for iPhone & iPad.

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Michael Hirshon

Posted on July 26, 2013 | Comments

Michael Hirshon is an illustrator and designer in New York City.

Poster for the Hollywood Farmers Market (Oregon) by Michael Hirshon

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

I'm a pen man, through and through. Also, there's my Wacom tablet.

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

I use pens for my on-location drawings. For editorial assignments, I'll typically use my tablet.

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

I like to use cheap Uniball pens (for strong, precise lines…plus a little spontaneity when too much ink leaks out). I don't travel with them, however, as airplane pressurization makes them explode. For those trips, I'll use a thin Papermate pen marker.

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 printer paper for editorial sketches. My sketchbook is a Canson 180, which I highly recommend. It's got a coptic-style binding so it opens flat. That way you can draw across the entire spread with no pesky crease in the middle.

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

I do all of my color digitally -- I'm constantly changing colors around. I think if I tried my normal work process with oils, the canvas would end up caked with 4 inches of paint. In the end, I overlay textures from photographs I've shot (I often get weird looks from people while I painstakingly photograph decaying walls and dirty floors).

Illustration of a street corner, by Michael Hirshon

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

I have not.

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

Don't think so.

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

I use Photoshop, Bridge, and scanner software.

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 probably do a bit more work digitally, just because of the convenience of being able to move elements around, and quickly change colors and brushes. Though as far as linework goes, my pen-on-paper drawings look better than my tablet drawings.

From the Istanbul series, by Michael Hirshon

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 believe it's completely, 100% necessary. Not for the creation of art, but for promotion and communicating with clients. I've been living abroad for the last year, and the only way I was able to continue working was by communicating with my US clients via email and Skype. It's such a seamless communication platform -- many of my clients never even knew I was abroad! I moved all of my marketing efforts online this year and they're working better than postcards ever did (though I still have a soft spot for postcards...).

Thanks Michael!

You can find Michael Hirshon online at his portfolio site, and his blogs on Blogspot and Tumblr.

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Adam Rex

Posted on June 28, 2013 | Comments

Adam Rex is an illustrator and children's book author living in Tucson, Arizona.

A page from the Neil Gaiman book Chu's Day, illustrated by Adam Rex

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

I use my Intuos 3 tablet a lot these days. I'm even starting to sketch in Photoshop, which is not something I expected. I like drawing with brush pens like Faber Castell's Pitt series, and my day-to-day sketching is mostly done with a Staedtler lead holder, and usually an HB or 2B lead.

I'm starting to really like doing finished drawings with just a black Prismacolor pencil. Takes some foresight, I guess, since it can't be erased. But I like the quality of the marks.

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

Well, I'm painting in Photoshop more and more, but in traditional materials I'm most comfortable using oils.

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 guess mostly I'm picking up Winsor & Newton? I'm not beholden to any brand.

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 used to get everything, including paints and brushes, in the Utrecht brand. But that was back when I lived in Philly and there were a couple of Utrecht store there. I miss 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 don't paint on canvas. I usually paint on either illustration board or some heavy Arches watercolor paper (which has been sealed up with acrylic matte medium).

A couple of pages from the Mac Barnett book Chloe and the Lion, illustrated by Adam Rex

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

Sure, if it'll help.

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

I guess? I think I picked up brush pens after watching someone using one at the San Diego Comic Con.

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

I don't know what's ordinary. But I often sculpt busts of characters in Super Sculpey to use as models when I draw and paint. There are plenty of people who do that, though.

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

Just Photoshop. I don't know how to use anything else.

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?

Some pencil sketch ideas for the cover of Cold Cereal, by Adam Rex

I paint digitally when I'm pressed for time. And I'm almost always pressed for time, so I paint digitally a lot. I like all the obvious things about digital–the Undo button, the versatility–but I still can't paint characters digitally with the same charm that comes naturally in traditional media.

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 a toolbox like any other. It has its weaknesses and strengths.

Thanks Adam!

You can find Adam Rex online at his main portfolio site, on his weblog, and on Twitter (@MrAdamRex). The books Adam has written or illustrated can be found on Amazon.com.

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Aldous Massie

Posted on May 30, 2013 | Comments

Aldous Massie is a designer and illustrator based in Sydney, Australia.

Laura, by Aldous Massie

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

I've got a plastic pencil case that I carry around with me. Inside, there's a Staedtler clutch pencil (with HB lead), a Pentel brush pen, two SKB SB-1000 biros, a gold marker and some nib holders. I very recently purchased a Wacom Cintiq 24HD, but have mainly used a Wacom Intuos 3 graphics tablet for digital work for the past six years or so.

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

I probably use the clutch pencil the most because of its speed and versatility—I feel I have more control with it than I do with, say, ink and a nib. All of my projects start in pencil, as I find digital tools to be initially cumbersome—there's not as much of a gap between mind and paper than there is between mind and, say, Photoshop. The computer is a mandatory step for the later stages of a project, whether its compositing or retouching. A digital conversion is necessary for most clients—everything in-between is dependent on the type of brief or concept.

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

I like SKB-1000's, which are also known as the "James Jean" pen because of the variety of line weights. It's a biro that has a tip measuring 0.5mm, which allows for both hair-thin lines for shading and bold linework. I also use a Pentel brush pen to sketch things that resemble "mass drawing" more than "line drawing"—the black ink can be spread more quickly to block in sections because of the thick brush.

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

I like colouring with watercolour because of its elegant, subtle aesthetics, but rarely do it mainly due to the costs of high quality watercolour paper. I don't have much experience with acrylics or oils, and it's been a while since I've used coloured pencils or markers.

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?

Caran d'Ache are the best colour pencils, in my opinion. Unfortunately, they're very hard to find here in Australia. Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer pencils are really good, too. Compared to colouring with pencils, I don't have much experience with traditional painting, so I can't recommend anything.

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 to sketch on anything that's off-white with a bit of tooth. I don't really sketch at large scales when on the move, either—my sketchbooks are usually between A5 and A3. No brand preference, really.

Poster for the band Gossip, by Aldous Massie

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

I don't paint traditionally (yet).

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

If it's personal work, then not really. But, for client work, it's necessary. It's a lot more efficient to be experimenting with colours (and whatever else) on Photoshop due to its speed. However, thumbnail compositing will always be quicker by hand.

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

The SKB-1000 biro is a James Jean thing. Japanese concept artist Yoji Shinkawa is also the master of the brush pen. I started using a clutch pencil (as opposed to a regular pencil) after reading about them on a concept art forum.

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

I often jump back and forth from traditional to digital mediums many times during the process of one project. The scanner and printer work as translators, and if the work is being bounced, it can become hard to categorise/define. I guess the printer and scanner, as hardware, aren't really unusual, but my use of them might be unconventional.

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

It depends on the brief or scope of the project, but I mainly use Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and Google SketchUp paired with V-Ray. I'm most comfortable in Photoshop.

Fashion illustration, by Aldous Massie

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?

It's a really balanced mix or both, so it's a bit of a blur. They're just different tool-sets, so there's no personal preference—it's all part of the same process.

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 is extremely helpful. On one hand, I think searching the net for inspiration is often limiting due to the obvious paths being very well travelled. But, if you know what questions to ask, then technical skills are very easy to get your hands on—anyone can learn Photoshop, or how to code mark-up, for example. For promotion, the internet's power is almost unrivalled. The internet, as a marketing tool and a place to seek specific (technical) answers is infinitely helpful, and maybe even necessary. It can only be defined as a distraction in relation to what someone's goals may be.

Thanks Aldous!

You can find Aldous Massie online at his portfolio site and on his weblog.

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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.