The Tools Artists Use

Caitlin Clarkson

Posted on May 01, 2013 | Comments

Caitlin Clarkson is an illustrator who lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.

Strangeness and Charm (portrait of Florence Welch), by Caitlin Clarkson

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

Usually, I only draw in pencil. If I'm working on the final drawing for a painting, I'll do a gesture drawing with a graphite stick, put in the shapes with a wood pencil, then switch to a mechanical pencil for the details.

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

My collection is actually very small! I have quite a few pencils and brushes, but I find myself consistently going back to the same 3 or 4.

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

I usually do one or two base washes of acrylic ink, then paint with gouache. If I'm feeling ambitious, I'll try to do the entire painting in ink, which takes much more planning and patience.

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 prefer the gouache and inks from Daler Rowney and Winsor & Newton. I use a cheap fold-out palette that I think was made to travel, but I just use it to save space on my desk.

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 do all my drawing in a 8.5x11, hardbound sketchbook. Anything else just doesn't feel right! I have years' worth, a big stack of them, that I can't bear to get rid of.

Mystery of the Moss Covered Mansion, by Caitlin Clarkson

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

Just some watercolor paper with some tooth to it!

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

I've been playing more and more with using Photoshop to add color to black and white ink drawings. It's come in handy while putting together textile patterns.

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

Not physical materials, but I started tackling Photoshop with a tutorial Ryan Andrews posted last summer.

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

Lots of tracing paper. My final sketches are always finely tweaked tracings from my sketchbook; then I use a graphite stick to turn the tracing paper into transfer paper.

Lifeboat, by Caitlin Clarkson

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)?

Definitely all of the above! I love having reference right at my fingertips at all times. And listening to old radio programs or watching tv shows on the computer helps keep me in my seat and stops me from wandering away from my work. Having a blog and a portfolio site that need to be updated definitely gives me a little extra push when I'm feeling unmotivated. But the internet is definitely also a huge distraction that takes up way more time than it should.

Thanks Caitlin!

You can find Caitlin Clarkson online at her portfolio website, on her weblog, on Facebook, and you can buy prints of Caitlin's work in her Etsy shop.

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Alex Robinson

Posted on April 19, 2013 | Comments

Alex Robinson is a comic book artist living in New York, New York.

A page from BOP!: More Box Office Poison, by Alex Robinson

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

At this point, I mostly use two types of pens:

  1. These brush pens I buy at a local Japanese bookstore. I have no idea what they're called, since all the lettering is in Japanese but here's a picture if you're interested.

    I experimented with other brush pens (hoping to find one that was cheaper and easier to get) but with little success. I've been using them for almost ten years so it's possible I've just gotten too used to them to switch. For comics, I use them to draw organic forms like people, animals, trees, etc. Anything with curves.

  2. For lettering, most background elements and faces I use Microns. I use them for faces since I feel like I have greater control with the Microns and sometimes one tiny line out of place in a small face can change the expression entirely.

    I actually think I do my best work with ballpoint pens. I love being able to transition from a hard line to the lighter shading with one tool. I don't know exactly why I don't use them for my actual comics but I assume they're a pain in the ass to reproduce and I didn't go to a fancy pants art school to draw with ballpoint pens, right?

    I've been thinking more of changing to digital drawings and finally bought a Bamboo tablet but in all likelihood I'll go to my grave before I learn to use it well enough to do anything besides silly doodles with it.

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

I don't do color very often but when I do I use Prismacolor pencils. I like the subtlety you can get with colored pencils, compared with something like markers, but I've never been able to figure out a satisfying way to scan them. A recurring theme of this interview is going to be that I don't really know what I'm doing.

Alex Robinson's version of the Archie's Pals 'n' Gals issue #115 cover

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've learned that I like a very smooth finish on my paper. Unlike my pens, which I've stuck with for a decade, I've switched papers a few times, always to something with a smoother finish. I currently use Borden & Riley's #120 Bristol plate. I actually ordered about 20 pads worth last time, since sometimes it can be hard to find.

My first book, BOX OFFICE POISON, was drawn at a whopping 10 x 15" image size but now I've shrunk down to a relatively tiny 6 x 11". My art is not intensely detailed so I hoped I could get by (and fill pages faster) using a smaller size. The problem with drawing smaller is that you don't have a lot of room for error.

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

I'm very bad at computers so my artwork is pretty much exactly what you see on the printed page. It's funny: I graduated from art school in 1993 just before computers really became a thing and I fell behind on the computing curve. Oh well, next time.

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

My friend Mike Dawson is the one who told me about the mysterious Japanese brush-pens so I have him to thank for that.

Pug Mona Lisa sketch, by Alex Robinson

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

I didn't think they were unusual but I was in the market for a new T-square and the art supply store only had two to choose from and they were hidden in a dark corner so that might qualify.

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 think it's a mix. There's obviously a lot of fantastic digital work being created. I find the promotional aspect is a double-edged sword, personally. It's great to be able to promote and share your stuff on the web but it can also become a tail-wagging-dog phenomenon. I recently had a really fun time doing a silly short story, but when I posted it on the web it got almost no reaction so it soured me on continuing which is completely backwards. If I liked it--and it was probably the most fun I'd had drawing anything since I was a kid--it shouldn't matter what anyone else thinks but it's the 21st century and we all live in computers. In olden times you had to wait months to find out if anyone liked your stuff but I can confirm my self-loathing before the ink is barely dry.

Thanks Alex!

You can find Alex Robinson online at comicbookalex.com, on Facebook, on Twitter (@arobtwit), on Tumblr, and he also acts as co-host of the Ink Panthers podcast.

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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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Miguel Co

Posted on April 12, 2013 | Comments

Miguel Co is an illustrator based in Philadelphia, PA.

Kait, by Miguel Co

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

Graphite is my all-time fave. I currently use a Sumo Grip (.9) mechanical pencil because it doesn't break on me every 2 minutes. I also recently acquired a Cintiq, which is extremely helpful for sketches.

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

I use Photoshop to color my drawings for several reasons:

  1. I love drawing with graphite pencils, and I don't like painting over top of them because they will always be gray.
  2. It's easier to make value decisions and color adjustments.
  3. It's cheaper, cleaner, faster
  4. I'm a horrible painter

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 Time to Rest, by Miguel Co

I tend to mix things up. Sometimes I like to draw on clean, smooth paper, sometimes the more folds it has, the better. I do love me some toothy papers though.

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 used to draw more before I colored, mostly because I've been drawing with graphite all my life, and only using digital for several years. Now that I'm a little better, I end up doing more on Photoshop. It is doubtful that I'll go purely digital anytime soon.

Thanks Miguel!

You can find Miguel Co online at his portfolio website, on his Tumblr blog, on Twitter (@MiguelCoStudio), and prints of his work can be bought on his Society6 page.

Tools featured in this interview: , , ,

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Dustin Harbin

Posted on April 09, 2013 | Comments

Dustin Harbin is a cartoonist and illustrator living in Charlotte, NC.

In The Woods, by Dustin Harbin

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

Okay here's my basic list, in order of importance, as in, if the house were on fire, what would I grab first?

  1. Tachikawa T-77 mapping nib. Like a firmer, better made, and all around superior Hunt 102. I draw very small, and the T-77 is firm enough for small regular lines like hatching, but with just enough flexible to give you a range between a very delicate line and one with a little bit of body--but without sacrificing control.
  2. Hunt 108. Super flexible nib that I use for all my "big" lines, or anywhere I want the texture of the paper to show through. At it's best it's my favorite drawing instrument, but Hunt nibs are so poorly made now that only 2 out of 3 are really usable, they are easily damaged, and bend out of shape after a fairly short time. :(
  3. Dr. Ph. Martin's Black Star ink (matte). Richard Thompson turned me onto this ink, and I praise his name every day. It's VERY black, to the point that you might need to thin it, especially if you're like me and forget to close your ink bottle occasionally. But somehow, improbably, it also works in technical pens, so I also use it in my larger Rapidograph pens for spotting blacks. It's totally waterproof, lightfast, and best of all, eraser-PROOF, unlike many india inks.
  4. Koh-I-Noor Rapidomatic mechanical pencil, .5mm, 2H lead. I don't know that this pencil is any better than any other, but I've had it a million years, which must mean something. Plus it has a metal bottom, which gives it a pleasing weight in the hand. I use 2H lead for nice light lines, but not so light that you're digging into the paper. I often don't erase my pencil lines, and 2H is fairly easy to "tune" out in scanned artwork.
  5. Strathmore 500 bristol board, semi-smooth surface. Strathmore 500 is the only bristol I've found that reliably doesn't bleed, and is also fairly (thought not, I think, totally) archival. The semi-smooth is smooth enough to take a light pen line without bouncing, but rough enough that if you want the texture of the paper visible, it's easy to make happen. And it'll take a limited amount of watercolor/inkwash, usually about 2 or 3 touches before it starts to break down under moisture.

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

I do have a pretty wide collection, but more from being a packrat than anything else. I think the tools I listed above compose about 95% of everything I do, with the exception of paint/digital coloring, stuff like that.

Bear Suit, by Dustin Harbin

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

I use Microns, especially the colored ones, to sketch with, but I haven't found a disposable pen yet that really sings for me. I recently got turned on to the Platinum Carbon pen, but it's too light to be pleasant to use extensively. I do like sketching with it though.

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

I generally use some very simple watercolor from a 16-pan travel set by Winsor & Newton. But I'm a baby at it, so it's mainly just tinting things. I sometimes color in commissions with Copic markers too, but they don't work with my preferred ink, so they're slowly falling out of favor in my workflow. More than either, I use inkwash, usually in 2 waterbrush pens, kind of like what Dan Berry describes here, except with diluted ink wash, in 2 tones, dark and light.

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?

As I was saying above, for watercolors I use a travel set, which is fine. For markers I buy Copics in colors I like--I've gotten a good collection together over the years, but as with everything I probably only use about 5-6 of them with any frequency.

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'm super snobby about paper, but my last three sketchbooks have been handmade by cartoonist Joe Lambert using a cream colored cardstock you can get at Kinko's. Remarkably, it takes pretty much any media. Plus Joe's sketchbooks are handsewn, lay flat, and often have covers featuring his work, or if you're like me you can get them plain and draw on them yourself. I've gotten so used to them it's hard to imagine switching back, so hopefully he'll keep making them.

Hysteria, by Dustin Harbin

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

I use Photoshop to color generally, but my last few projects have been colored almost entirely using Manga Studio 5 and Ray Frenden's MS5 brushset. MS5 is way more intuitive a drawing application, and for coloring there are a lot of great halftone features. Very into it lately.

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

Paper no, but pens for sure. The aforementioned Joe Lambert and Dan Berry are pretty influential for me as a tool snob, although I'm betting neither of them are very snobby--they seem to try a lot of different tools, which is healthy. I, however, am a True Snob and prefer to let others play The Most Dangerous Game (trying different tools).

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

I sure don't. Probably the only out-of-the-ordinary thing I do is draw really REALLY small, which both saves time and is easier (for me).

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

As mentioned above, Manga Studio 5 plus Ray Frenden's brushset. His drawing brushes are perfect, mimicking not only differing size/flexibilities of nib, but also 2 different "pencils" and a number of paintbrushes for wet/textured effects.

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?

BEHOLD! The Dinosaurs!, by Dustin Harbin

I would like to work digitally more--I'm not against it at all, but for myself I find I work faster on paper, weirdly. On paper small accidents and incidental pen bounces or surprises can be assets, but on a screen I can't stop undoing everything. I'm maybe too fussy to have undo available to me during drawing. So often I will take the extra steps of scanning and compositing to get things done quickly and without a lot of preciousness on paper, then reserve the tablet for edits and last minute additions.

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)?

Definitely all of the above. It's hard to imagine living without one now, though of course all the great illustration masters seemed to do okay without one. Heck, they did all the best Disney movies without a single computer, right?

Thanks Dustin!

You can find Dustin Harbin online on Tumblr, on Twitter (@dustinharbin), on Flickr (dharbin), and prints of his work can be found on his BigCartel shop.