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).
← Bagged eraser crumbs → 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.