A Word about Drawing Tools

You can find a host of drawing tools on the market. Here’s some information, to help you choose the best gear for you.

The applicator, the most essential drawing tool of all, is the means by which you apply the pigment to the drawing surface. Some applicators are wet—such as inks. Others, such as pencils, are dry. In this case, we will focus on the dry applicators and on monochromatic and black-and-white applications.

Dry Applicators
The most commonly used dry drawing pigments are graphite, charcoal and sanguine. Although we call them “mediums,” they are in fact pigments. The pencils and pieces of these pigments, which you buy in the art store, are combined with various binders. And these binders, which are often wax, are the actual mediums.

Other dry drawing materials include things such as pencil clay and natural chalk. Some chalks are white and some are black. Graphite, chalk and pencil clay are mined from the earth, whereas charcoal is made by burning a variety of plant materials.

Sanguine merits special attention here. It’s not actually one specific color; it’s instead a broad term for several variations of red earth colors. Sang, the first part of the word, means “blood.” And the term refers to the hematites and red ochres.

Natural state and processed drawing tools
The processed tools are those that have been mixed with a binder and fashioned into a convenient form. The most commonly processed medium is the pencil, in which a protective wooden shaft houses and protects the medium. Other processed mediums are those that are formed into sticks or blocks.

Mediums in their natural state are chunks of earth pigment that are in the same form as they were when they came out of the earth. Examples are natural “chunks” of chalk, pencil clay, graphite, and sanguine. This category also includes natural charcoal, which comes in the form of burnt sticks, such as grape vines. These are pigments without binders and may not adhere as well. Thus you might need to help them along with a bit of fixative.

(Some pigments are also available in powder and paint forms. Thus your drawing tools may include brushes, as well.)

Some Sources for Mediums in Chunk Form
(You’re not likely to find these mediums on most art store shelves.)

Kremer  www.kremerpigments.com

  • Hematite pieces
  • Black drawing chalk
  • Red bole
  • Drawing clay

Natural Pigments  www.naturalpigments.com

  • Red ochre

Sinopia  www.sinopia.com

  • Red ochre

South London Art Supply  www.southlondonartsupplies.com

  • A wide range of earth pieces for drawing

Studio Products  www.studioproducts.com

  • Hematite pieces
  • Pastel-like sticks of hematite dust formed with a binder

Support Tools
In addition to drawing applicators, there are also a number of support tools available. These include implements with which you can improve the accuracy of your drawings that you do from life. One of them is a divider. This is a measuring tool, which looks much like a compass, and is usually associated with things such as mechanical drawing and drafting. You can, however, also use them for your life drawings. You simply hold the divider up to your view of the model, and adjust the two points to your measurement—and then use it to measure the corresponding distance on you paper.

Another tool for accuracy is the proportional divider. This implement looks much like the regular divider, except that it has two points on each end, and it’s adjustable. You set the crisscrossing arms at a desired enlargement or reduction that you choose, and then you use it as you would a regular divider. The difference, though, is that the two ends are fixed at the same determined ratio. If, for example, the proportional divider is set at “2,” then one end will always be twice as far open as the other. You can also use a proportional divider as a regular divider.

The Durer Grid (this is really a brand name, which is sometimes used as a generic term) is an actual square physical apparatus that has vertical and horizontal lines forming a grid of squares. You use it by drawing a reciprocal grid on your paper. Durer Grids are available through Dick Blick  (www.dickblick.com) and Natural Pigments (www.naturalpigments.com).

You can also use a straightedge, such as a ruler, or a plumb bob, to align the placement of features. And you do so by holding the ruler—vertically and horizontally—up to your model. This will tell you what feature is directly across from another, and which feature is directly beneath or above another. Some artists use a plumb bob, which hangs on a string, to align their drawings vertically.

Modifying Tools
Drawing support tools also include implements that you can use to modify your medium, once you have applied it to the surface of your paper or board. Erasers, themselves, are modifying tools. You use them to alter a deposit of medium, by removing all or part of it. Erasers come in two general types, one of which you use to rub out a mistake, and the other of which you use by dabbing or pressing.

The hardest rubbing erasers usually are gray and white, whereas the pink ones are usually softer. The harder the eraser is, the more effective it is at rubbing out a mistake. Use the hard erasers carefully, though, because they tend to mar the surface of your paper or board more.

The softest rubbing erasers are the gum erasers. Gum erasers are not as powerful as the harder types, but they are also less abrasive. They also tend to crumble as you use them. These are the best kind for removing fingerprints and smudges around the sides of your drawing image.

The pressing-type erasers are called kneaded erasers, because you can change their shape by kneading them. You use them to lighten an area in a drawing by pressing them into it. Some artists also use kneaded erasers for rubbing out mistakes.

Other commonly used modifying tools are the stomp, tortillion and chamois cloth. If you like to use your finger to smooth and blend your medium, your tools may also include finger cots.

Another supplemental tool is an erasing shield. This handy little implement enables you to erase a spot, without disturbing the area closely surrounding it. You can buy erasing shields or you can make them yourself. You can even custom-make one. If you have a certain area that you what to erase, for example, you can cut and remove a hole in an acetate sheet. If the hole matches the area that you want to lighten or correct, you can lay the sheet down and erase within it.

Finding the right drawing tools for yourself, is a matter of trial-and-error. Fortunately, however, drawing supplies are among the least expensive of all the artist’s materials. The only way you can decide which of them is best for you, is to experiment with them.


Butch Krieger is an artist and contributing editor   to The Artist’s Magazine. He lives and works in Port Angeles, Washington.

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