This is going to be the customary “tools I use” post I’ve been intending to do for a while. I’ll try to be specific about brands and such, since I am always eager to know that kind of details from other illustrators, but let me clarify in the first place that I am by no means a tool nerd. I use the tools I use because they are available or affordable or whatever, but of course I haven’t tried every possible alternative and you should not take the following list as what I recommend buying. That said, I’ll review my sketching and inking tools in this post, and will do a separate one for colour-related tools. I have already talked about most of this in previous posts, here and there, but I thought it would be useful to elaborate a little more, provide some nice pictures and have all the information in one or two posts I could point to when people ask. So here it goes.
I use any regular pencil for doodling and for doing rough sketches, and a mechanical pencil for refining details. I have no particular preferences about the pencils I use. In fact, I can’t remember having bought a single pencil since a very long time ago. No kidding. There’s always some crap pencil around (see 3, 4 in the picture) and, if not, I’d just borrow one from A. when she is not looking. Right now i have a Muji mechanical pencil (1) that holds a 0.5 HB lead (2). That’s what I use, as I’ve said, for more detailed pencil work. It’s in fact a two-in-one hybrid between ballpoint pen and mechanical pencil, which, again, may sound not too professional; but hey, it comes in handy. In the picture you can also see my better pencil sharpener (7), the retractable eraser I use most of the time (5), and a horsehair dusting brush (6) which is most useful for sweeping away eraser crumbs without getting your hands (and drawing) dirty. You know, I indulge myself in buying this sort of luxury items sometimes, and using it along with, em, crap pencils.
For inking, the brush is my tool of choice. I have used different types and brands throughout the years (the ones I was able to find around in local stores), but lately I seem to stick to Escoda brushes (9-12), which work just fine for me. I use the variety called Reserva; these are watercolor Kolynski sable brushes. Most often I would use number 1 or number 2, though i also have numbers 4 and 6. These sable brushes are of course more expensive than regular brushes, but the ones in the “small” series are still quite affordable. If you are into brush inking you should totally try them. Remember that the important thing about brushes is that they should shape to a sharp point when dipped in water (or ink). As long as you get this with your brush, you’re in the right path.
When I need to fill in big areas of black I use some bigger, synthetic brush (i.e., a brush whose bristles consists of synthetic filaments, instead of animal fur). The ones I use are labeled “Selected filament”, which seems to be a standard euphemistic way of naming them (13).
No matter whether you are using synthetic or sable brushes, you need to beware that ink doesn’t get into the ferrule of the brush (the metal part which holds the bristles together) and you need to wash them thoroughly after every use, always. To keep the ferrule save from ink, I use an inkwell (8). That’s what they were made for, after all. I pour just the small amount of ink needed to draw for a while, so that when I dip the brush only the part next to its point gets soaked. Easy. As for cleaning, I used to rinse my brushes with warm water and regular soap, which worked fine, but some months ago I bought a jar of the “Masters Brush Cleaner” (14) which I found by chance in a store. It’s a nice product i knew from someone’s blog. It works really well and It has become one of those things I don’t really need but I’d miss too much if I had to leave it.
I don’t use technical, rapidograph-style pens except for some ocassional details. It’s still too difficult to draw that tiny screw circles in your robot’s body using the brush, you know. Things like that. Still, I like having them around in different sizes (15-18), since they always come handy at some time. As for crow quills and such, honestly, I never learnt to use them properly, so let’s just leave them aside until that happens.
The brush pen at the bottom of the picture (19) deserves special mention: it’s a Muji calligraphic pen which provides a nice dry-brush effect. I use it sometimes for finishing details over an inked drawing.
I have tried plenty of different brands of Indian ink, each one having its own particular quality. It’s all a matter of what you’re using it for, and personal taste. Most of the time I use one of these two: Higgins black magic ink (20) or the calligraphy Sumi-e ink you see in the picture (21). I like the smooth flow of Higgins ink. Sumi ink, on the other side, is thicker and has a deeper, shinier kind of black. Of course you may dilute it in order to make it smoother, but I don’t like having to do that. Im beggining to use also Windsor & Newton ink (22) which seems totally alright, but I still haven’t used it enough to have a strong view about it. When inking, I usually have a cup with water at hand, but I hardly dip the brush in it -which is maybe exactly the opposite thing every sage person will advice you to do.
For sketches, I use plain copy paper. Not so long ago I used to ink on that also, which obviously was the worst choice I could made. Now I am wiser and expend some extra money by using bristol board in all my final drawings; specifically I like Windsor & Newton extra-smooth Bristol board, which has no texture at all. I have yet to find a paper with similar smoothness. When working with the airbrush I would most likely use a thicker board: I buy sheets of 50x70cm, 370gr board which are excelent for this medium.
A few more things before finishing. If you read this blog on a frequent basis, then you know that I use masking fluid (23) quite often. I apply masking fluid using a colour shaper (28), as explained here. Binder clips (25) are of course much useful when tracing drawings in the light table. That yellow roll (26) is a low-tack, 30 mm wide masking tape I use for masking the margins of the drawings before inking, when I want to leave them off. It’s not exactly artists tape, I think, but I kind of use it in the same fashion. And rulers… Well I’ve got lots of them: wooden, plastic or metal ones; triangle rulers, scale rulers, protactors… But let’s be honest, I hardly use any of them, except for setting up margins, grids and such. I’ve shown that metal small ruler in the picture (28) just because it looks nice and it’s small enought to fit inside.
So that’s all for the moment. Now, what tools do you use, my dear worthy reader? If you are into ink drawing I would like to know what your choices are regarding tools and supplies, so send me a message and tell me which is your favourite indian ink, or paste a link to your own tool post or… whatever. It would be nice hearing from you.