Tools of the Trade: Drawing

Of all the art forms that I do, drawing is my oldest friend. It is what has matured my skills as an artist and what still hones them today.   While I am constantly experimenting with new tools and techniques, these are the ones I found to be tried and true.


For high-level of detail drawing, the paper needs to be smooth enough to keep the image from distortion but should have enough tooth in the texture to hold charcoal and graphite in place. Because of the time I spend on a piece and the constant shifting I do with it, I use multi-ply paper or archival illustration board. The ones I use are…
  • Strathmore 3-Ply 500 Series
  •  Canson 100% Cotton Rag Illustration Board




This is a progress photo taken of me and my charcoal and pencil drawing, Of Smoke and Sea. You can read more about this piece at King of the Boundless Sea.



Graphite provides unbelievable amount of detail with fairly wide variation of shade. **Note: It is important that whatever brand of pencils you use, you should consider sticking with that single brand within a given piece. This creates greater consistency in shades/color throughout the piece. Every pencil company has its own composite recipe for making their graphite and they differ one to another. My brand of choice is…
  • Staedtler Pencils

Little Sparrow

 A drawing that emerged from my sorrow felt in the tragic aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December of 2012.


Clutch Pencils

One of my favorite tools for drawing is my mechanical pencil (that uses .2 millimeter led). I suggest that you purchase a sharpener for it as sharpening allows you to achieve a needle-point tip.  This pencil is excellent for detail work. Staedtler also makes a great mechanical pencil. This is my brand of choice. 



Charcoal brings greater depth and a greater range of shades to drawing but it tends to be more difficult to work with.  it is more fragile and much darker than pencil. Charcoal also provides a glare-free  surface to your very black blacks which would otherwise have a sheen if built-up in graphite pencil due to the mixture of clay with the graphite. When charcoal is used combination with graphite, magic happens.  By using a mix of the two, you can increase your range of shades immensely than if you used only one of them. I do not notice the same variation in brands of charcoal that I do with different brands of graphite, so I use a few different brands of charcoal…
  • General’s Charcoal Pencils.
◦                      They come in a range of shades and hardness.
  • Primo Charcoal
  • Primo Elite Grande No. 5000 gives a beautiful dark black, even shade.
  • Primo White Charcoal is great for highlights.
   Sketching Bernini's David in the Borghese Villa Museum. Rome, Italy, 2014.



People think of using erasers only for mistakes but I use my erasers to draw almost as much as I use pencil. They can be used to create convincing highlights. **Note: Use non-silicon erasers only-especially with electronic erasers.  Silicon erasers only create smudging and gunk build-up. I use the following:
  • General’s Kneaded Eraser
  • Magic Eraser
  • Staedtler Electronic Eraser
  • Extra Fine Mechanical Eraser

The finished version of my latest drawing: Of Smoke and Sea.


Blending Tools 

Blending is a key technique to creating believable shades.  The softer the blending tool, the smoother the shade. Some of the unexpected tools I use to blend…
  • Soft Paper Rolled Stumpy
  • Soft Bristled Painter’s Brush (pointed tip)
  • Kleenex tissue (for larger shades).

◦  I prefer Puffs because it’s softest. 



My last tool (and the last step in the drawing process) is a high-quality fixative.  A good one will not only secure graphite and charcoal to paper but will even out the shades of your finished drawing.

I use…
  •  Grumbaucher Fixatives

The Heart of Music drawing completed in 2010.


Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published