The Tools Artists Use

Becky Dreistadt

Posted on January 29, 2013 | Comments

Becky Dreistadt is a painter and comic artist living with her partner Frank in Los Angeles.

From Becky Dreistadt's (and Frank's) comic, Tiny Kitten Teeth

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

I use Staedtler 4H, 2B, and 6B pencils. 4H is for watercolor paper, the rest is for drawing and sketching.

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

For my quick rough work I love a Kuretake No. 9 brush pen. I also have a few other random foam tip brush pens from Kinokuniya and Jet Pens.

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

I work primarily in gouache, a little watercolor and every so often cel vinyl. I've started experimenting with Japanese Poster Color (Nicker and Turner).

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 use Winsor & Newton Series 7 brushes for my painting, which is primarily in Pebeo T7 Extra Fine Gouache. I also work in Holbein Acryla and occasionally Turner Gouache, as well as Animation Cel Vinyl. I have a couple of travel sets, I have Schmincke Watercolor & Gouache sets, but I mostly use little Pelikan sets when I am moving around.

Hapytzu illustration, from Becky Dreistadt's Capture Creatures

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 love these kraft paper recycled sketchbooks that I found in a Walmart in Virginia, which were super underpriced there. When I sketch, I mostly just use US Letter paper.

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

Painting on wood is fun, as well as cels and crazy Yupo plastic watercolor paper, but I mostly work on Hahnemuhle watercolor paper.

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

When I scan paintings it generally washes out the colors. I usually just do some basic level color correction in Photoshop then I'm done.

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 tried Rosemary & Co brushes because of Bryan Lee O'Malley, which are lovely and I'm going to do a big order of those pretty soon. Also John Pham told me about Deleter #3 ink, which has replaced Winsor & Newton Spider Ink as my favorite ink.

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

Illustration by Becky Dreistadt

I sometimes do fingerprints in the watercolor, I also use rubber ceramic painting brushes to mix my paints.

The strangest one is when I was living in New Zealand, my partner Frank did a radio show at a small station based above what I could only imagine was an illegal hookah bar. They had this plastic sticker that covered the window that had tiny holes in it, so you could see from inside but not from outside. When that bar was closed, I assume for being illegal, I tore a big chunk of it off the window. I use that to create dot pattern/zipatone patterns in my paintings.

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'm about to get into digital coloring a little more for expediency in certain projects, but we'll see if it's actually faster for me.

Thanks Becky!

You can find Becky Dreistadt online at the website she runs with her partner Frank, Tiny Kitten Teeth, her own portfolio site, on Twitter (@beckyandfrank), and on Capture Creatures. You can also watch a timelapse video of Becky painting on the Soul Pancake YouTube channel.

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Koren Shadmi

Posted on January 22, 2013 | Comments

Koren Shadmi is a Brooklyn-based illustrator and cartoonist.

Illustration for Business Week Magazine, by Koren Shadmi

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

I use mechanical pencils, 0.9 B. together with B pencil leads since they are soft and more flexible in their line. I also use small Kolinsky brushes from Rosemary & Co. for inking. I rarely use markers or artificial pens - usually only when I need to make straight lines. I use nibs once in awhile, but most often my 'go to' tool is the brush.

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

I usually go through the same process of penciling then inking, but in the past two years I have decided to forgo inking on my comics project, The Abaddon, since I wanted a more soft and atmospheric feel. But otherwise I almost always ink the art.

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

I use Sumi ink with my brushes, its very fluid and much better for making smooth lines, but it's not as good if you plan to use watercolors on the actual art after inking, which I rarely do. I almost always use the watercolors on a copy of the original art.

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

I mostly use watercolors, they are of a variety of brands, but I try to get the better brands for the candmium colors, which are more expensive but also show a huge differance. Cheap red watercolor, for instance, is very dull - while the cadmium version from Winsor & Newton or Schmincke looks really bright and colorful. These can cost up to 20$ for a small tube but are really worth it and last a long time.

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 far as watercolors go I made my own set, I use tubes to fill in a steel case, let it dry and then I have a custom made watercolor collection.

A panel from Koren Shadmi's web comic, Abaddon

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

Usually either printer paper or simple sketch pads work for me, my sketches are not for 'show' but just to figure out the concept of the illustration, the layout of the comic, or for random doodles. I sometimes wish I had beautiful immaculate sketchbooks like Robert Crumb, but I've given up on that dream.

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

When I do make a painting, which is about once a year, I like to use acrylic on very thick watercolor paper, I usually stretch the paper on some wood surface, prime it with gesso, then start painting. I like to use either Saunders or Arches. I used to stretch canvases in art school, but I feel like those take up too much space, especially when you live in NY.

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

Definitely, I manipulate the lines and colors afterwards on Photoshop. It's rare that I scan in a complete piece, there is almost always a lot of color adjustments, cleaning up and patching things together on the computer. There's still an element of surprise when I try some adjustment in Photoshop and the piece takes on a new look that wasn't even what I had in mind.

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

Yes, The Rosemary & Co brushes were mentioned on a blog by an old friend from SVA. I ordered them and never went back. They are better than the Winsor & Newton Series 7 and cost about a 1/4.

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

I don't think so.

A portrait of Rod Serling, by Koren Shadmi

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 try to have a good balance in my work of digital and organic elements. People mostly have a hard time telling if there was digital processing to the work, and I think that's when it's successful, when the computer work in invisible. I think the computer has given me a lot of freedom, but I also don't want to rely on it too much, I want to always have some organic and 'real' element involved.

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 both helpful and a distraction, I feel like if a was working in some studio in the 80s I would probably produce more work, since I wouldnt be spending so much time procrastinating online. Then again, I would have to go to the library and sift through books to find correct reference shots, and that would be a great waste of time.

I've recently installed a program on my computer that blocks Facebook and the likes for the duration of time you choose. I turn it on in the morning for 6 hours, and I find that I'm less distracted.

Thanks Koren!

You can find Koren Shadmi online at his portfolio site, on Twitter (@KorenShadmi), on Facebook, and his online comic, The Abaddon.

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Mark Hess

Posted on December 13, 2012 | Comments

Mark Hess is an award-winning illustrator, portrait painter, designer, marketer and entrepreneur living in New York.

Illustration for the cover of Arthur Blythe's album 'Lenox Avenue Breakdown', by Mark Hess

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

I have always loved using Winsor & Newton series 7 brushes for my "actual" paintings; usually the 00, 0, 1 and 2's. But they have gotten god-awful expensive so I try a lot of pointy small brushes, both natural and synthetic; like Pro Stroke White 200 R from Creative Mark. They don't last as long but are 1/4 the price. I use #3 pencils for my drawings with some #2's. I also use white chalk. I always paint my canvases raw umber before painting and the chalk goes on nicely, but disappears as I paint. Another tool I use a lot is Photoshop, mostly for color correcting the files I scan in to create digital files, but also for some actual painting; drawing so too hard on it.

I've recently started doodling on the iPad. At first just for the novelty of it, but the medium is actually starting to grow on me. I've teamed up with my son to help him on a fantastic drawing app he is putting together. We are currently fundraising through Kickstarter: Doodler App: Learn to Draw, then Share your Doodles.

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

I have always felt that experimenting around with lots of tools means I would never get really good at one, so i stick to paint brushes on canvas or wood; and some Photoshopping.

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

My friend Barry Blitt (New Yorker covers) gave me a set of pens that he uses, but I didn't like using them.

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

For twenty years, while my kids were going up I used acrylic, then overnight I switched to oils and now I'll rarely go back.

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 a set of colors I like. They're not in a travel set, but I can get anything I want out of a set of about 15 colors.

Portrait of Al Gore for the cover of The New Republic magazine, by Mark Hess

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

Yea, I use almost anything; tracing paper pads so I can refine images by laying one over the other; and bond paper notebooks and pads.

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

I use pre gessoed canvas with a fine texture, and also smooth pieces of wood I prepare with gesso and raw umber. I have occasionally used illustration board as well.

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

Yes I will sometimes do a painting or drawing and then refine it in Photoshop. I'm in CS3.

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 someone mentions a new brush I try it out. But it's always something that enhances the one main skill I like and am good at: painting.

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

You mean like rolling my naked body in paint and using that? No, but I do think that your physical setup: drawing table and lamps, chair, studio, etc. is incredibly important. I have a very stable, consistent, ergonomic set up so I always feel comfortable.

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

When I use pure digital, I use Photoshop CS3.

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 crazy thing about using pure digital for me is when I go back to painting with brush and oil, I'm constantly wishing I had a "History" button so I could go back. But digital doesn't really save me any time in the long run, because I try out so many variations that it takes just as long. With direct painting you have to make decisions and pretty much stick with them as oppose to try 16 different sky's in digital, for example.

Illustration for the cover of The Atlantic magazine, by Mark Hess

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)?

Oh man, the computer is a huge advantage in all those areas. Research and inspiration: I used to buy tons of books and visit libraries and museums and other "visual" places; now i can find anything I need online. I feel bad for the libraries, bookstores and such; but every tech advance puts people's jobs at risk. Promotion: I used to spend lots of money to promote myself; now? not so much. Plus the ease in communicating with other artists is so useful and inspiring. This blog is a perfect example.

Thanks Mark!

You can find Mark Hess online at his portfolio site Hess Design Works, his marketing company FullVoiceMedia, on Twitter (@hesspaint), and the Kickstarter campaign he's running with his son, Alec: Doodler App: Learn to Draw, then Share your Doodles.

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Michael DeForge

Posted on December 07, 2012 | Comments

Michael DeForge is a comic artist based in Toronto, Ontario.

Ant Comic 22, by Michael DeForge

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

I use mechanical pencils, pens and a Cintiq tablet.

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

I use Staedtler and Microns, usually the 005 or 01 sizes.

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

All my colors are digital, although I sometimes use markers in my sketchbook. I never really learned how to paint properly.

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

I try to buy the cheapest possible sketchbooks. I usually have a 6x9 and one 9x12 one going at a time. I also draw a lot of tracing paper and keep a few pads of gridded Chinese character workbooks to rough out comic pages on.

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

For comics, all my inking and coloring is done with my tablet on Photoshop now.

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

I do some work in animation, and some friends who do similar work recommended I get a Cintiq tablet to speed up certain tasks. It's helped a lot.

18x24, by Michael DeForge

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 started inking comics digitally because I tend to make a lot of revisions on every page, both in the art and the lettering. My originals used to have panels pasted on and cut out and rearranged with globs of white out everywhere that were kind of a pain to clean up. So it's much faster and cleaner this way. When I ink by hand, I tend to use the same sterile, skinny pen line on everything, which is pretty easy to replicate on Photoshop, so it wasn't a very difficult transition to make.

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)?

All of the above. I try to limit the amount of time I spend on Tumblr or Twitter or whatever. I tell myself I use those sites to promote myself and interact with other artists, but I'm mostly just using them to post dumb jokes and procrastinate.

Thanks Michael!

You can find Michael DeForge online at his website, king trash, and on Twitter (@michael_deforge).

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Julian Callos

Posted on November 30, 2012 | Comments

Julian Callos is an illustrator and gallery artist based in Los Angeles, California.

Too Cool for School, by Julian Callos

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

I love working primarily with pencils, pens, and brushes. For sketching I use Prismacolor Col-Erase pencils (Tuscan Red, mostly) because they draw pretty smoothly. For line work drawings I use Micron pens, but when I want to get a lot of variety in line quality/weight, I'll use a Winsor & Newton round watercolor sable brush dipped in Speedball Super Black India ink instead. I use that same type of sable brush in different sizes (usually 00 to 1) for the line work in my paintings, as well as a few other types of brushes for washes depending on how large an area I need to cover (a size 3 sable brush for small/medium areas, and a size 10 Winsor & Newton Cotman or a random assortment of flat brushes for larger areas). My paintings usually don't go bigger than 18" x 24" so I haven't really had the need to go much bigger than those sizes.

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

First I panic at how many different tools I own, then I throw everything I have in the air and whatever doesn't hit me on the head will be used that day. No, um...It depends on the type of project it is. If I'm just sketching I'll stick to pencils. For finished paintings I'll probably cycle through most of the tools I just mentioned (except probably the Microns and ink, unless I'm doing a black & white ink drawing/painting).

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

For ink drawings I like using Speedball Super Black India Ink + brushes the most, but I use Microns too. I am, however, looking to try out some different pens and hopefully find something that works better than the Microns. I really wish I was better with nib pens because I like the calligraphic quality to their lines, but I've messed up so many drawings with blobs of ink from nibs; I switched to brushes because they allow me to get a similar line quality and are easier for me to control.

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

My paintings are a combination of line work, washes, and flat areas of color. For the line work and flat colors I use Acryla gouache. Usually I'll mix in some acrylic to get the hue that I want or as a filler because I don't want to use up all the gouache. For the washes I use acrylics and occasionally acrylic inks.

What Develops, by Julian Callos

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 favorites are Holbein Acryla Gouache, Liquitex Heavy Body Acrylics, and FW Acrylic Artists Ink. I've amassed a bunch unnecessary colors because every time I go to an art store I stand in the paint aisle, look at all the pretty shades, and try to resist (but occasionally give into) the urge to buy a new one to try out. They're just so...mesmerizing. And there are so many of them. And their names are so interesting..."Quinacridone Magenta." "Cosmos Pink." Anyway, usually I'll rein myself in and just stick to a couple different shades of the primary colors when I paint.

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 stick to my Canson sketchbook for most sketching because the paper isn't too thick or flimsy, but if I'm on the go I'll sometimes take one of those small, plain Moleskine notebooks for jotting down ideas and making dumb doodles when I'm bored. They're mostly filled with dumb doodles.

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 Rives BFK paper, sometimes mounted onto a wood panel. Clear gessoed Rives is the perfect texture for the way I like to paint.

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

You Eat Like a Bird (inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho), by Julian Callos

Sometimes I'll adjust the colors of a scanned painting just because the scan isn't perfect, but usually I'll work entirely in traditional media unless I specifically set out to do a digital illustration (which is rare, but I plan on playing around in Photoshop more). Even if I do set out to make a digital illustration, I draw and ink traditionally and just color the scanned line work in Photoshop.

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

I think I started using brushes to do line work after reading about a comic artist using it for his drawings and I've been in love with the technique ever since. I forgot who the artist was, though. It may have been Craig Thompson. I've also heard good things about the Pentel brush pen, so I want to try that out.

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

When I make sculptures sometimes I'll use unconventional materials, which are usually just things that are lying around the house. One time I made a banjo for a sculpture of Harold from "Harold and Maude." The banjo was a mix of Sculpey, wire, wooden skewers, brads, a big metal button, and a cupcake wrapper for the banjo head. I'm particularly proud of my ingenuity with that cupcake wrapper. If only all my work involved cupcakes in some way.

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 definitely work non-digitally more. I'm just much more comfortable with traditional tools and I like the tactile experience. Also I am an old man who has no time to learn all these newfangled gizmos and hey you get off my lawn! Just kidding. I don't have a lawn.

Sam sculpture (inspired by Moonrise Kingdom), by Julian Callos

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)?

All of the above! Finding inspiration, promoting your work, networking...all of that good stuff is made SO much easier because of the internet. I'm pretty sure 99% of the people who know my work only know it because they saw it somewhere on the internet. And I've gotten most gigs through some sort of interaction online, whether it was an email response or someone contacting me after seeing my online portfolio. Sure, the internet is a big distraction (the biggest distraction??) but it's also one of the best tools at an illustrator's disposal.

Thanks Julian!

You can find Julian Callos online at his website, on Twitter (@juliancallos), on Facebook, on Tumblr, and you can find prints of his work for sale in his online shop at inPRNT!.