By Mark Alan Anderson | Liberty, Missouri
Marcia’s recent post about new tools got me thinking. Like many artists, I like experimenting with different drawing instruments and papers. I firmly believe that artists should work with the best materials they can afford – clearly, there’s a dramatic difference between the pigments in student grade paint and professional level stuff. But too often my students fool themselves into believing that expensive tools somehow equal “better” artwork. I’m a frugal guy (translation: cheapskate.) I need to justify “upgrading” those tools of mine that otherwise work just fine.
For instance, my lead holder. More expensive than a No. 2 Ticonderoga pencil (which I also keep ready to hand), but it’s lasted me thirty-five years and I see no reason to believe it won’t continue to work just fine at least that much longer. It’s a humble drawing tool.
Recently I rediscovered an old favorite, Nicholson’s Peerless Transparent Watercolors – definitely a humble artist tool, if there every was one. Rather than in tubes or half pans, these fifteen intense pigments are on individual sheets of card stock within a small pamphlet. While there seems to be many approaches to creating a palette of these paints, I simply snip off a half inch wide section and double stick it to a folded card. The card fits neatly into my sketchbook. The paint is activated with a dot of water, so brush pens are a perfect companion. (And talk about compact: a couple pens fit into a breast pocket and the sketchbook into my hip pocket.)
I’ve taped a piece of Yupo to the right hand side of the card stock (not shown) so that the palette winds up being a tri-fold configuration. The Yupo is an easily washed mixing surface.
And best of all, this incredibly simple kit has rich, intense colors – it doesn’t take much!
Last year one of my advanced drawing students began to experiment with ball point pens. Really, just a plain old Bic pen with black ink. I think they cost something like 59 cents...and the drawings were lovely, sensitive portraits! Plus, it turns out the ink is permanent. With a little practice one can produce nice tonal variations, and the ink likes to flow if one uses the medium point pen. I like Bic pens on nice, soft, white, cottony papers. (Be advised that not all pens are alike. I’ve had poor results with roller ball pens – and don’t get me started on “gel” pens! Bic seems to be the best option.)
I also like making my own sketch books and sketch “booklets.” I don’t really save money doing this, but I do wind up with the paper I prefer. A couple of weeks ago I engaged in a little action research by testing out various watercolor papers. I wanted a surface that would work well with my Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, and would also produce good washes of color. My watercolor paper of choice has been Arches Cold Press for many years, but it doesn’t play nicely with the Pentel. So I made booklets up from various sheets of Arches and Fabriano Hot Press.
I should explain that one sheet of 22 x 30 inch watercolor paper costs between three and five bucks, and that I get four booklets of four pages (eight if you use both sides of the sheet) from each sheet of watercolor paper. My goal was to discover which paper best met my needs. (The winner, by the way, turned out to Fabriano Artistico Hot Press, but I have yet to try the Strathmore Aquarius II sheet that Marc Taro Holmes recommends for this same purpose. So stay tuned!)