Category Archives: Tools

Get It Now

I have some Art advice worth sharing. When a child needs art equipment—find a way to get it for them.

My grand daughter is a young aspiring artist and loves painting, also she loves art supplies, tools and equipment. She has fallen in love with the idea of getting a French easel (usually $140 plus unless on sale) and is saving towards it. Family members have discussed getting it for her birthday. “Really”….if she were a hockey player or in any other sport it would be equipment needed for playing the game and would be purchased immediately as needed. Because it is art the tools are thought of as gifts instead of equipment. This is her sport. She needs it now.

As to materials and supplies, magazines and books that support and enlighten the young artist, well birthdays and Christmas are great times to fatten up the studio with the more exotic or expensive items, but like a hockey stick and gear, an easel is the gear of an artist, a main tool, so are general supplies. Paper and brushes are like tape and hockey pucks, they are a consumable and replacements are needed continuously.

It is not a pony or a castle. most kids today have a cell phone worth hundreds, and most small studios for a child can be equipped with materials, supplies and equipment for the price of one cell phone or e-device. Start with a French easel, they are portable, small and very versatile.   is a good place to start.

Get them now get them going you never know how long the “Muse” will await a child.

The tip…don’t just think about it and don’t  forget about instruction, lessons and exposure by a real capable teacher for art, a mentor if possible.





Work Stations – Studio Smart

Don’t be an aspiring painter, be a painter. Be an artist, not becoming an artist, not learning how to be an artist.  Claim it!

You are all in, and then we artists must all produce art work. Here is a really important tip:

For artists, the studio can be thought of in terms of work stations. Each one always ready and tooled for a specific task. Even if you only have one drawing board on one desk, with one drawer and one paint brush.

Doing the art of your choice is a state of “being there” bliss. Yes, we must all still be productive, even if it is a hobby.  Even things like casual doodling should not use time to find tools and materials; doodling should not be dwadeling, having to look for stuff in different places because we are disorganized.  We should be able to just doodle, with tools at the ready, supplies there, and a place for the doodle “art” to land when finished.

It’s not about being super organized, or even efficient.  It’s about being effective in using the time for rendering your art. There are times when my studio sits idle for weeks or months and collects junk but none the less is ready, because it is set up in work stations.  Even when filled with boxes headed to storage, I can cut, paint, draw, glue, fix, create, not necessarily efficiently, but effectively.  Note: I do try and keep it clean though, and usually do!

Here is what a work station is:  First and foremost, no preparation should be needed to use it; not even clean up – that should happen after you finish your last piece you did.  The work space should always be artist-ready!

It is not size, but the assembly of right tools and materials for one specific task or skill.

A surface to work on, a light to work by.  Materials, tools and supplies within ready reach to use.  A place to put the finished work that is other than the work table.

Simple enough, right? Example: If you watercolor, your main area is set to do that.  Paint, water, paper, tape, rags, tools, supplies, anything that you include in a complete watercolor work session, is right there.

Even when you write or sketch or do other work in that space, it is “set” for watercolor.  If you’re sketching, the supplies and tools should be adjacent to that area in drawers, or containers.

If you paint in oil, set that work station in oil painting readiness, and if you choose to watercolor there also, set it also in watercolor readiness.

Don’t put all your supplies in one place, your tools in another place, and your materials in another place. Not in cabinets you have to go to, not in drawers over against a wall, but “there,” right there at the work station.

If you use one space to do several different skills, then you must re-set or mix your work station.  Your work “boxes” or “drawers” should contain everything needed to reset the “station.”  That is a very common situation, but if you are lucky enough to have several work stations in one room, one for drawing, one for painting, one for layout, a space for photography or whatever you do, then each one is set with its own tools and materials.  Pencils at every station, erasers, knives, brushes, pens, etc.  Duplicate or triplicate tools is both smart and useful.  It is not expensive.

I paint, and draw, and silversmith, paper sculpt, work in glass and mixed media, acrylic, photograph, computer render, copy and file, etc.  In my studio space, I have a dedicated surface for each and a common place for the unusual (fixing grand-daughter dolls, or broken stuff).  I don’t have a large studio – 18’X26’, that is about equal to a couple of medium bedrooms.

My drawing board is always render ready. The larger layout board is always standing by. The easel is canvas ready for painting or drawing within moments of inspiration striking.  Each area with its own set of tools and supplies.

The computer work area is adjacent to my smaller drafting table and that is adjacent to my colored pencil and felt tip pens with both flat and tilted drawing surfaces, ink and fine point graphite all within the same seated area.  One seat with four work stations within reach and without having to get up.  The thing that takes time is clean up and pre-prep of canvas or stretching paper and such.  Those things are table tasks and are done on the “big” table which has its own knives, pliers, pencils, cutting mat.  Glues, and a drawer full of small items, such as: tacks, string, wire, staples, hole punches (3), pencil sharpeners (3), stacks of paper by the ream, shelves nearby hold chemicals and solutions.

The tip: assign a work space and condition to each various task, and keep it that way: “Work stations.”  Now when you go to do art, it is art you are doing, not prep or search or distraction, just do art.


It’s in the Cards

One of my favorite tools in the studio is old credit cards.

I prepare them by sanding one edge with 400 grit wet or dry sandpaper. ( you can use an emery board or fingernail file too). I sand them wet to keep any heat created by friction on the abrasive sanding paper from deforming the plastic. This smooths them and removes small burrs and irregularities along the working edge left over from their previous life. They have small nicks and rough spots, as well a some that I create using them. You can have a small bowl of water to set them in during a work session. This keeps them both clean and ready to touch up with the sanding paper.

I  use them as glue spreaders, or to lay down a smooth layer of gesso.

I use them to squeegee out a water-soaked paper.

Lay down oil paint background into a fresh canvas.

Clean off a palette knife.

Paint shield for straight edges.


eraser-pens_web ←Erasing pens & Power eraser→ power-eraser_web


OK, did you know that for a really fine drawing, the first thing you do before you draw, is erase the paper? Well, that is, if you have paper that has been handled or is suspect of having exposure to dust, or graphite particles (often found on or near drawing boards, work areas and storage in a studio). You usually don’t use a regular eraser for this – (you can) but you use an eraser bag, (cleaning pad).

eraser-bag-1_web   ← Bagged eraser crumbs →    eraser-bag-2  Hand-held and rubbed lightly across the sheet of paper. The eraser crumbs are formulated to dry remove and counter oils and dirt, and pick up graphite by sticking to it, then brushed away with a studio brush, not the hands!   Oh, and first you must wash your hands and dry them – this removes any oil or dirt that might transfer either to the paper or to the bag.  Don’t ever use an eraser bag on a rendering once you have started to draw, as it will ruin your bag and your work.  Use only on fresh paper.

Fully ink rendered work, or permanent media can be cleaned with these (cleaning pad) bags after the work is completed.

Here is why artists “erase first”:  If any hand oil or foreign dirt is hiding in or on the paper, and graphite marks are placed over it, the oil or dirt will show up; that is bad enough, but if the eraser is drawn across graphite in that area, the eraser will “skid,” pushing the graphite into the oil or dirt, and then pushing that into the paper.  This scars the rendering in that spot beyond repair.  Often, this is done near the end of a picture creation.

Erasers, tortillions, chamois and other blending tools will cause problems with oil and dirt sketched over as well.  Many hours can be lost.  Usually it ends with trying to save the work by changing the drawing, until another “skid” is encountered.  When in doubt, wash your hands and lightly erase first .

Keep in mind that placing hands or arms on paper while sketching can also add oil and dirt and damage to areas not yet rendered, as well as areas already finished.  To avoid this, use clean paper scraps to lay your hands on or use a drawing bridge or maul stick.  Use nothing that can smudge, smear or transfer foreign matter to your drawing surface.

Often an artist will try and “clean” finished areas with an eraser, moving oil into the work and creating “edges” where working strokes end. Keeping contact with the paper to a minimum is important.  Use of covers, shields and “bridges” helps this. [Other tools for rendering handle these and other difficulties. This post is just about erasers].

In my studio, I always keep at least the selection of erasers shown above. Clean rags, paper towels, a maul stick and plastic drawing bridge.

The eraser:  “Tips”

◊  I think of the eraser more as a drawing tool and an editing tool.

  The eraser is used to make shapes in a drawing; not just for removing mistakes, but for placing effects and remarks.

◊  Erasers remove a little or a lot or all of placed graphite marks, making areas lighter or blended or highlighted.  It is easier to “remove” graphite to make a highlight than to “leave” a highlight in the graphite marks.

◊  When used with straight edges, masks, eraser shields, and erasers are design tools.

◊  I don’t suggest anyone ever use a pink colored eraser on fine art work; they will disappoint you before you’re done.  But for regular sketching, a #2 yellow pencil with pink eraser is great.

◊  To remove larger areas of rendering use an Art Gum (don’t brush off crumbs with hands).  Follow up with a clean drafting brush.  If you don’t have one, you should.

◊  I keep the older (hardened with age) erasers to clean my sanding boards.  I also use as props for the drawing board or the drawing bridge and often carve them for fun.

◊  After a long session on the drawing board, or before I begin again, I take my erasers to the sink, and wash the oil and dust off as much as possible. Let them dry for an hour or more before using again (a blow dryer will ruin them after a while).  Don’t do this with a kneaded eraser.

◊  Erasers are a consumable tool, meant to be used up just like paint or pencils.  Cut them, shape them, sand them clean, use them up and your drawing will go better and quicker.  Don’t protect them – just keep them clean!

Basic types of erasers

Plastic erasers are made of a material that is less likely to scar the paper.  Use these for fine art work, cut and shape them for fine lines.  Cut away edges that have heavy graphite if you can’t get them clean.

Pink pearl erasers are great when new, but begin to leave pink trails with age.  They also scar the paper as there is a small amount of abrasive in the material.

Art gum erasers are designed to crumb up and take the carbon dust with them.  Messy as they are, they work well.

All ink erasers work on the principal of releasing dissolve and absorb chemicals while abrading the paper, and will certainly damage the surface if used very much  (Most of them don’t work well).

The kneaded eraser is like putty; you can shape it and keep it kneaded to clean it. They absorb graphite carbon and pastel very well, last a long time and only need replacing if they get too dirty from picking up graphite dust. Then you can entertain yourself by sculpting desk top figures out of them.

For very fine work use a kneaded eraser or a vinyl eraser.  Kneaded erasers will do very fine delicate work and can be used to lighten or blend graphite passages. Kneaded erasers will heat up with long or hard strokes, smudging the graphite and flattening the “tooth” of the paper. Use in small strokes and knead often to keep the surface clean.  Shape the eraser for fine points or lines.  Reshape after every stroke. They work best if strokes are started in the lighter or white areas and moved into the darker areas.  Remember that kneading the eraser also lifts oil and dirt from your fingers, so start with very clean hands.

White soft rubber erasers are used for pastels.  Designed to “lift” and should be cloth wiped after every stroke of erasing.

◊ The number one eraser of oil and dirt is:

Soap & Water!  ……….. Before you begin and ever so often, wash your hands!

White bread was the first eraser (cut off the crust and roll up tightly and erase your pencil lines; some artists still use it for removing charcoal or pastel as it is very sensitive, absorbent and you can shape it.  If you get hungry you can just eat your eraser.

1770 was the date of the first rubber eraser.  Edward Naime (English). Using a piece of “rubber” by mistake, instead of the roll of white bread (turned black from carbon dust), he rubbed his drawing and it worked better than the bread.

Goodyear’s vulcanization of rubber (1839) made rubber work well and rubber erasers became common place. The term to rub, or a rubber was a part of how rubber got its original name.



Sharper pencils (sanding boards)

MAKE YOUR OWN Sanding boards!

(Commercial) sanding boards are usually too rough for good rendering points on graphite or pencils.  You need:  Double-faced tape. Carpet tape works well.

A piece (or several) of hard, waterproof material (not glass) – metal or plastic is good, old kitchen spatula or just get a piece of plastic from the hardware store, 2″x8″ or thereabout.

Wet or dry sandpaper – Hardware or building supply stores carry this (usually black in color).  I use 200 grit – 320 grit and 400 grit.  Cut into 2″ strips and put double face tape on back and affix to your plastic strip. (I use carpet tape, it holds good, removes easily and can take the water when washing the sandpaper out).

These sanding boards are then washable and you can keep both your work area and hands cleaner.  I wash mine and dry with a hair dryer about every half hour when sketching.

jmc/emc extra


Masking with Post Its

Post it notes for masking

The familiar little squares in a sticky tablet, are the greatest addition to a drawing table tool kit. I use them to mask out, create edges, and make safe places to set my dirty hands on. I also use them with the kneaded eraser (and plastic eraser) to shield out areas I wish to protect. Used with almost any media they will protect areas from spoil, they lift off without leaving any noticeable residue, are re-useable, inexpensive, and you can shape them.

If you get white ones as well as colored ones, you can see through them enough to trace outlines then cut a mask to fit your needs.

If you use them with graphite though, they will lift some of the graphite if you stick them to it, use them only on un-rendered paper.

With ink you can use them over the ink without any problems.

I keep a sharp pointed pair of Scherenschnitte scissors, and an x-acto knife, nearby, to  cut into the sticky edge side. Also a hole puncher to nibble out edges.

Use with Graphite shading, pastel, pencil cross hatching, ink line hatching, finger smudging effects.

The list is huge. Go buy some and use them beside your drawing board.