Saturday, November 23, 2019

Cleaning Out My Life-Drawing Tools

All the dry materials I carried in my life-drawing bag before I cleaned it out.

Last Monday was the last life-drawing open session for the year before Gage takes a lengthy winter break, and I wasted maybe a minute of a 10-minute pose digging through my pencil bag, looking for my rainbow pencil. It made me realize it’s time again to clean out my life-drawing tools!

Nearly two years ago I went through the same thing: Whenever I came across a material that I thought would be interesting to try at life drawing, I would toss it into the bag – without taking anything out. Like bunnies hiding in my bag, they silently multiplied. Since that bag is not my daily-carry, and I don’t have to carry it far, excess weight is not an issue. But when I have so many tools that I can’t easily find what I want, it’s a problem.

The photo above shows all the dry materials I had been carrying. At left are the ones I use 80 percent of the time: a few Derwent Drawing Pencils and a Viarco ArtGraf water-soluble graphite pencil. The rest, shown at right, are used occasionally – lots of other soft colored pencils and water-soluble colored pencils, Conte in various colors, soft graphite and the elusive rainbow pencil. I love them all for different reasons and different lengths of poses, but I don’t need all those color choices to complicate my decisions when time is short.

The ArtGraf water-soluble graphite pencil in 6B has become a unique, essential life-drawing tool. I’ve tried many water-soluble graphite pencils, but none is as dark and soft as this one. According to that blog post from two years ago, I saved water-soluble pencils for 20-minute poses because I needed the time. Since that time, however, I’ve come to use the ArtGraf even for five-minute poses. (That’s very gratifying because it means I’m gaining greater control of my eye, hand and materials and drawing faster when I want to.) It’s a permanent resident of my life-drawing bag.
Viarco ArtGraf: unique and indispensible

For poses of 2 minutes or less, my favorite tool is a brush pen filled with water-soluble ink (the type with a refillable reservoir that can be squeezed to dispense the ink, such as Kuretake Brush Writers and Pentel Color Brush Pens). These I managed to keep under control because I haven’t been acquiring new ones; I just refill them when they go dry. I like to carry a few colors so that I can track poses of different durations. A quick swipe with my usual Kuretake waterbrush is for easy shading. Happily, I didn’t need to do any minimizing of these wet materials.
Essential for short poses: water-soluble ink-filled brush pens

After removing similar and rarely used colored and Conte pencils and several soft graphite pencils, I reduced the dry tools by half. Shown below are the pencils that made the cut: the ArtGraf, one very soft graphite (12B), two Conte, a Nero extra soft, five vintage and contemporary Derwent Drawing Pencils in warm hues, a few vintage Spectracolor pencils (some of the softest colored pencils I own, and therefore the easiest to use in life drawing) in cool hues, and a Camel rainbow pencil (plus a couple of tortillons to use with the Conte). That’s a manageable supply that will enable me to find whatever I need immediately. (Stay tuned for some future post when I reveal how the bunnies have multiplied again!)
Cut by half: Dry materials and tools after minimizing

By the way, I’m not the only one who has a hard time minimizing life-drawing tools. Some others whom I see regularly at Gage come into the studio with huge storage bins or portfolios full of charcoal, paint, pastels, markers, pencils and ink – yet they use one stick of charcoal the whole session. It’s a universal disease.

11/18/19 Timothy, 20-min. pose (Derwent Drawing Pencils)
11/18/19 Timothy, 5-min. pose (ArtGraf)

11/18/19 Timothy, 10-min. pose (Camel rainbow pencil)
11/18/19 Timothy, 10-min. pose (Spectracolor)

11/18/19 Timothy, 20-min. pose (Spectracolor and Derwent colored pencils)


  1. I am always amazed by the number of pens I end up with when I'm sketching...and I tend to use the same ones all the time. lol It's the "what if" syndrome that has affected us.


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