The Secret of the Draw Fu Arsenal
It’s time for you to look inside that secret little box or bag that draftsmen walk around with which have so many mysterious pencils, markers, pens brushes, and even razor blades.
It’s also time to take a look at “The Tome,” you know the one. It’s more commonly called, “The Sketchbook.”
By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll be ready to have you’re own Draw Fu arsenal.
Why Bother With Drawing Tools
This is true.
I also said, It’s not the tools used that makes a good drawing- it’s the skill of the draftsman. <=CLICK TO RETWEET
Also very true.
So why am I suddenly talking about drawing tools? Simple, because good drawing tools make it easier.
That’s it. No mystery. They simply make it easier to get the results you want.
You can drive a nail into wood just as easily with a rock as with a hammer, but it’s much easier and more accurate with a hammer.
There’s also the added benefit of the unique effects you can get from specialized drawing tools.
But why now? Why tell you about these tools now, if all your going to be learning is cartoons?
Because this is the perfect time to learn about this stuff. This is the time you can experiment the most. Remember, there is no right way to draw cartoons. So you can experiment with all these tools without the fear of ruining anything.
You might drop ink on something or smudge something. That’s okay, this is the time to do it. This is the time to mess up the most with the tools.
You get better at drawing and get better at using fancy tools at the same time. So if you decided to take your work to the next level, you’ll be comfortable with all the drawing tools you’ll be using.
Now, a word on expense.
This stuff does cost money. If you want to make drawing you’re hobby of choice OR if you want to make it you’re career, you’ll need to invest in art supplies.
The money you spend is like the time you spend. It’s an investment in yourself.
If this is for your hobby then you’re investing in your personal growth as well as the sheer fun of using the art supplies (and trust me, some of this stuff is super fun to use.)
But if this is your career, not only do you get the personal growth and fun but, you’re investing in the possibility that the art supplies will eventually make you your money back.
Okay, so that being said, I will recommend this, don’t go overboard. Don’t buy EVERYTHING I suggest. You don’t need it all.
Even I don’t have it all, although I’ve used it all at some point.
Buy one or two things, see what they’re like. Experiment and play with it. Have fun.
And if you find you need one of the other things, by all means get that too. It’s best to buy a thing when you know you’ll use it than having it sit there collecting dust.
Don’t buy ANYTHING I recommend if you know for a fact you WILL NOT use it. That would not be an investment, it’s a waste of money. Don’t do that to yourself.
Don’t INTEND to use the art supplies you invest in, USE the art supplies you invest in. Otherwise, don’t bother. Save your money.
So let’s begin. Behold the mysterious weapons of Draw Fu:
Copy Paper – Believe or not regular copy paper is totally fine to use. You know, the kind you can get an office supply store? If you don’t know what to get, get this first.
Depending on your preference, you might want slightly thinker paper or thinner cheaper paper, so prices may vary. Really, it’s just a matter of taste. This is the kind of paper you’ll probably use most when you’re not drawing in a sketchbook.
The only drawback to copy paper is that it’s smooth only. If you prefer rough paper, you need to look elsewhere.
Tracing Paper – Tracing paper comes in very handy. Especially if you don’t have a lightbox, which I will write about below.
Rarely does a drawing come out well the first time. You usually have to draw it over and over. Tracing paper comes in handy for doing just that.
Also, the waxy nature of tracing paper makes it ideal for shading your drawings. On top of that, Prismacolor Pencils are erasable on tracing paper. I’ll talk a bit about those types of pencils below.
SketchBook – The best sketchbook is the kind you will draw in. Don’t buy one if you won’t draw in it.
Rough paper is good for shading with a textured look. Also it’s spectacular with watercolors and gouache. Although it warps so you might want to go with Watercolor paper if you’re going to do finished work with those mediums.
Smooth paper takes pencil, ink, and many other mediums very well. Smooth paper seems to be what most sketchbooks come with, because it’s very versatile.
Hardcover or soft cover? That depends on your preference. I use both.
Spiral or Bound? Again, this is all preference.
That said, the spiral sketchbooks allows you to flip the sketchbook open in such a way that you’re only dealing with one page at a time. This takes up less space when drawing and it’s easier to hold when field sketching.
Bound sketchbooks come in handy when you lay them flat and you draw across the crease of the paper to make a much bigger drawing. They also look a tad more classy.
Sticky Notes - These kind of paper pads have a sticky side. They come in handy when experimenting with adjustments or additions to a drawing.
If you don’t like the way the hair came out on a drawing, add a sticky note on it and try again. Very handy when you don’t want to use tracing paper but you want to fix something without erasing the original drawing.
Regular Pencils - You can’t go wrong with a regular Number 2 pencil. It works. For regular line drawing, this is the pencil to have. No need to get fancy. Pretty much every artist uses a version of a regular pencil.
That said, every manufacturer of pencils is different. You might find you like the quality of one brand of number 2 pencil over another.
For the purposes of drawing cartoons, they’re good to use for under drawing and some final line art as well.
Art Pencils – If you prefer variety or you want to start experimenting with adding tone, (otherwise known as shading) you might want to invest in some sort of art pencils.
The pencils are made up of graphite of differing softness. The scale is from 9H to 9B.
“H” stands for Hard.
“B” stands for Black.
The higher the number on an “H” pencil the harder the graphite. The harder the pencil the lighter the line it will make. Basically it’s saying, it has a higher content of clay in it.
The higher the number in a “B” pencil the softer the graphite and the blacker the line quality. It has less clay so it’s much more “crumbly.” These pencils get dull faster but they make much bolder lines.
HB pencils are pretty standard midway pencils. Most Number 2 pencils are HB (Hard and Black.)
2B pencils are used most often as good versatile drawing pencil. Although if you’re very heavy handed you might want to go with an H pencil or you’ll have a hard time erasing your marks if you make a mistake.
Different brands of pencils vary in quality and feel. You might want to experiment to see which brand you like best.
That said, the hyperlinks I’ve provided, link to the kind of pencils I like using most.
Besides adding tone, art pencils can also be used for under drawings (especially the H pencils), and final line art (often using B pencils).
Colored Pencils – There are two types of color pencils that are used most when drawing cartoons. They are, Col-Erase Pencils and Prisma Color Pencils.
Col-Erase – These pencils’ unique feature are their erase-ability. When drawing cartoons, they’re most commonly used for under drawing. The color used is a matter of preference.
Prismacolor Colored Pencils – Prisma Color Pencils are a much more waxy and vibrant type of pencil. When used on tracing paper, they are erasable. Otherwise they’re very permanent.
For cartooning, black Prisma color pencils are mostly used. They come in handy for making finished line work, on regular paper or on tracing paper.
Mechanical Pencils – If you like drawing with fine lines, mechanical pencils are the way to go. They have the added advantage of not needing to be sharpened, nor do they get smaller as you sharpen them. The leads also come in grades of hardness as well as different colors.
0.5 leads are good for doing clean up work with consistent lines.
0.7 leads are good for doing under drawing and preliminary sketching.
The drawback to using mechanical pencils is that, the fine nature of the line may cause you to stiffen up more than you would using pencils that get duller as you draw. Also, it’s much more difficult to get a variety of lines with them.
Not all erasers are the same. Some are better than others. Here are the two that tend to work best when erasing artwork.
White Rubber Eraser – These erasers are the best. They tend to erase pencil art very well without smearing or ripping the paper.
Just don’t hold them in your hand too much. The oils in your hand rub off on them and cause them smear your work.
Kneaded Eraser – One of the most versatile erasers you can buy. They’re like erasers made out of puddy. You can shape them anyway you want. This makes them ideal for erasing tiny spots. Or you can roll them over a drawing to lighten up your rough line work, so you can draw a final line over it.
When they get too dirty, you just “knead” them until they’re clean.
Don’t hold these in your hands too much or play too much with them. The oils in your skin ruins them.
Pen and Ink
Time to start talking about pens and ink. Cartoons look best with black bold lines. It makes your work look great and professional.
Below I’m going to be recommending brushes and quills. I’m not worried at all about recommending these kind of ink tools. When I was about 11 or 12 years old, I started using quills. A year or two later I began using brushes.
If I could start that young, I think I can recommend these things.
Dip Pens - When drawing cartoons, dip pens are some one of the best ways to go. It’s difficult to get similar line work using any other types of pen.
They take some getting used to since there’s a bit of maintenance required when using these pens. Which basically means, washing the pens after use, so they last longer.
They’re also a tad tricky to learn to use. They only make marks when holding the pens a certain way and pulling the pen in the direction you want to make the mark. When you get one and play with it you’ll see what I mean.
There are two types of dip pens, Crow Quills , Holders and Nibs.
- Crow Quill – Crow Quills are these tiny dip pens that are usually connected to a little brown pen holder. They are great for fine detailed line work. They’re also very good beginner dip pens. This is what I used when I first started. They’re inexpensive so if you mess them up You don’t have to worry too much.
- Holders – Holders aren’t actually pens, they simply hold pen nibs. Holders are sometimes bought separately but often come packaged with nibs. The Holders are long pen shafts that you place nibs in. You can invest in only one and use it with many different nibs.
- Nibs – There are many kinds of nibs you can buy. They each have a purpose and create different kinds of lines. For cartooning purposes, we will only look at two. The Gillott #170, is a nib that you can ink fine detailed lines with and get a good varied line. The Hunt Dome Point is similar to the Gillot #170, but the nature of this nib makes it a tad more flexible to use. Both these nibs are very useful to have.
The recommended brushes to buys are the Winsor Newton Series 7 brushes at size 2 and 3. BUT these brushes can be a bit pricey. If you’re just learning to use a brush find an inexpensive watercolor brush with a point at size 2 and 3.
That way you can mess them up and ruin them as you learn to use them without it getting expensive.
You might also get a slightly bigger brush if you tend to use a lot of black and want to ink large areas faster.
Inks – If you have dip pens and brushes to ink with, you need ink. At this point, the brand doesn’t matter, what matters is that it’s black, waterproof and doesn’t have tar. The tar may ruin your tools. Here are some suggestions.
- Pelikan Ink – I like it because it’s a good black and it’s waterproof. Unfortunately it can be tricky to find.
Black Magic Ink – This is the brand I learned to ink with. It’s a good ink and it’s pretty much everywhere.
Felt tip Pens – Felt tip pens are great to ink with on the go. They used to be the worst kind of pens to ink with because they used to fade. Now a days many types of felt tip pens have good permanent ink that doesn’t fade.
I’m going to recommend two kinds of pens. Both type of pens give only one type of line quality depending on the width of the pen. If you don’t want line variety in you inks, these are the way to go.
- Pigma Microns – These pens come in a variety of different sizes from the 005 (0.20mm) to 08 (0.50mm). I tend to use sizes 02 and 05.
- Pitt Pens – These pens are mostly brush pens, which I will write about below, but they also have Super Fine, Fine, and Medium tips, which are similar to the Microns but often work better. They just aren’t as varied as the Microns.
Brush Pens – These pens are great when you want to get the line variety of a brush without the dipping and the cleaning. They’re not as versatile as inking with a real brush but they are a good substitute in a pinch.
They’re also good practice tools to get you comfortable with the line variety you can get with brushes.
- Felt Tip – There are many kinds of felt tip brush pens. Some are better than others. They don’t react like brushes and they sometimes get rough and beat up. That said, they are good beginner brushes. I don’t use felt tip brush pens very often, but when I do, I like using the size B Pitt Pens .
- Synthetic Brush – These brushes are the closest thing to inking with an actual dip brush you can get. You can even simulate some dip brush effects, to some extent, using these type of brushes. The Pentel Pocket Brush Pens are very handy and versatile. They use replaceable ink cartridges. Although it’s arguable that the Pentel Standard Brush Pen is the way to go since you can regulate the amount of ink that comes out by squeezing the stem of the brush. That way you can get dry brush and other effect. These pens are a good next step when training to use brushes.
When I was 14, I discovered, rather quickly, that having a light box was one of the most helpful tools to have for analog drawing. I made mine in my high school Woodshop class. I’ve been using it ever since.
A Light Box is a large or small box like object, or tablet that lights up from the inside. The drawing surface is made of glass or transparent white plastic.
Light boxes are really handy for drawing. They allow you to basically replace tracing paper as a way to fix or finish your drawing.
With a light box you can rough out a drawing on regular paper, then put a new piece of regular paper on top, and using the light box to see through both sheets, draw a tighter line over it.
Or you can use it draw different elements of a drawing on separate pieces of paper and then transfer them all to one piece later.
This is a HUGE deal. If you’re familiar with programs like Photoshop, this is the analog equivalent of “adding layers.” It makes reworking and adjusting your artwork, so much easier.
Also, you can flip over your drawing over your light box to see how it looks like in reverse. Very often you can see the imbalances in your drawing this way.
You can then draw rough fixes on the back of the sheet. Once that’s done, you can turn it back around, erase the bad parts of the drawing and fix the drawing based on the roughs you can see through the sheet.
I can’t live without my light box. I don’t know how other artists do what they do without one.
If it’s possible for you to get a light box, you should.
If you can’t, stick with tracing paper.
Q: That’s a lot of stuff. A bit too much actually. So what should I get first?
A: Well, first you might want to try getting yourself some copy paper and/or a sketchbook. You need something to draw on.
Then get a comfortable pencil. One you like. It can be mechanical, as long as you like using it. Also, pick up a white rubber eraser and the kneaded eraser. You will need them.
After that, simply start drawing on the paper and sketchbook.
Don’t go over board.
Once you think your ready for more, start using a regular ballpoint pen to finish off your pencil drawing. Draw a drawing with pencil first then draw over it with a ballpoint pen.
Using the kneaded eraser, erase the pencil art leaving only the ballpoint pen lines.
You’re now “inking.” Do this for a while until you feel comfortable. Then experiment with other types of pens.
After that, pick something new to use. A col-erase pencil, tracing paper, etc, and experiment with those.
It’s all about not going too fast and not spending too much. Enjoy the process, explore and have fun.