One of the main questions I get asked (one of the main questions, I’m sure, that any creative person of any sort is asked) is: what do you use to do your work? And I’m always more than happy to share that information, partially because it’s a pleasure to delve into that sort of thing and share it with someone else who’s excited about pens, pencils, paper, and the other outmoded things that comprise my daily business. But another big reason I like sharing is because those sorts of answers were awfully hard to come by when I was starting off. The internet was just getting its legs, but finding something as esoteric as what nib so-and-so used to get this line in issue number one fifty seven of Astonishing Nobody’s-Heard-of-It was still a chore, if not solidly impossible. So it’s nice to be able to get that information out there. I wish people did it more often. And I’m really glad to see sites and features popping up where creative people share this kind of knowledge.
So in that spirit, here’s a lot of what I use to make comics. I’m sure I’ll accidentally leave some things out, and there’s a possibility that some of these links may not lead to the intended destination, so feel free to ask questions in the comments or send me an e-mail. I’ll do my best to respond. And I should note (though I hope it goes without saying), that these are just the tools I use currently. I experiment with new pens, brushes, papers, inks, nibs, etc. all the time. I’m always finding new things to help speed things up, refine the process, get a line I couldn’t have gotten before. So feel free to use these as a starter or supplement, but always get out there and get weird with things. I mean, what’s more fun than grabbing some new kinds of crayons and scrawling all over the place? Maybe heroin. I’ve never tried heroin.
For paper, I use a few kinds and sizes, though the main type is Strathmore 500 series, vellum finish (which has a bit of a tooth to it). I’ve been doing a lot of originals larger these days, so I order 20 x 30” sheets and cut them into two 15 x 20” sheets. For quite a while, I was using the 14 x 17” pads, which is more economical if your originals will fit on that size sheet. I still use those, but many of my originals now are around 18 x 24”. Probably I’m just trying to get ahead of my quickly approaching old age/poor eye sight.
I mainly draw in non-photo blue pencil. This initially came out of a utilitarian desire to not erase, but I’ve fallen in love with the aesthetic of it. Verithin is the only brand of non-photo wooden pencil I’ve found that’s light enough for my tastes.
Once the drawing is fairly refined, I switch to mechanical pencils for fine detail. This step was a major shift in my process and came on stubbornly. I used to be obsessed (though perhaps I wasn’t all that conscious of the obsession) with doing the whole drawing with the same tool. But the Verithin, while a great pencil, is very waxy in its consistency and very difficult to keep at sharp point. So doing details in mechanical pencil saves a LOT of time. For the fine detail I use an Alvin Draftmatic 0.3, typically with 2H lead in it, and I use an Alvin Draftmatic 0.5 with the Uni-ball Soft Blue Lead. That soft blue lead is amazing. It fades relatively quickly if you leave a piece of art exposed to bright sun light for a few days (which I tend to do, as I tend to pencil in batches, then in ink in batches), but it’s the only mechanical pencil lead I’ve found that can come close to the Verithin’s lightness.
One of my favorite pencils in the world, the one I coveted above all others when I worked in an art supply store in college, is the Rotring 800 Drafting Pencil. Holy shit. This thing is built like industrial equipment from the 1950s. Is it expensive? God yes. It’s insane. But when you pick it up, you understand why it’s pricey. BECAUSE THEY MELTED DOWN A TANK TO BUILD IT. But despite my undying love for the 800, it’s a bit rich for my blood. So I use itsless expensive cousin, the 600. They melted down a less expensive tank to build that model, but it’s still really great.
One more pencil note: If I’m penciling something that I’m not going to ink and I want the penciled lines to act more like a bold ink line, I use the Palomino Blackwing. I avoided this pencil for quite a while because it had an annoying amount of hipster hype about it. Something about technology or fashion people recommending a pencil rubs me the wrong way. But give this one to the hipsters: it’s a damn nice pencil. All of the Comedy Bang! Bang! animation frames were first penciled in non-photo blue, then traced with the Blackwing (and inked by stalwart artists Jim Rugg and Eric Reynolds).
For lettering, I first rule out lines using an Ames lettering guide (typically set to around 4). When I teach classes in comics, this is the one piece of equipment that leaves students scratching their heads. But poke around on youtube and I’m sure you can find a demo that makes its use clear. Once you’ve tried it a few times, it’s second nature.
After ruling the lines, I then pre-letter (just to figure out how the lines will fall in the balloon) using the non-photo blue pencil. Then I ink the lettering using aCopic 0.7. (Lately I’ve been working on a comic in my sketchbook (Fehlender Geist, which has made some appearances on The Daily Forlorn) with a Copic 0.5.) I love these pens. They’re a bit on the pricey side, but they flow incredibly well, they’re made of durable metal that feels great, and they’re refillable. And the nibs are replaceable. I like not throwing out entire pens.
Incidentally, that site I just linked to, Jet Pens, is where I get most of my pens these days. It’s been a life saver, game changer, and whatever other over-used expression you’d like to pop in. While you’re at the site, I also highly recommend the Kuretake brush pen, which I use for signing/brush sketches when I’m out of the studio.
I just switched in the last year to lettering using the Copic. I used to use theRotring Art pen. I used the “Lettering M” for regular letters, the “Lettering B” for bold. I used those pens with the piston-fill convertor, so I could use my preferred ink (detailed below).
I typically use a Winsor&Newton Series 7 brush. I use a number 1 for fine detail and a number 2 for larger lines (like on a cover or something along that level of largeness).
For ink, I use Dr. Ph. Martin’s Tech Ink, Black. This stuff is phenomenal but a little hard to find. I always go with the 1 oz. bottles, since the larger bottle starts settling and changing on you before you have time to use the whole thing, and tends to be more of a pain in the ass than it’s worth, savings-wise. Then again, my line art is pretty spare, so if you have tons of filled in areas on your art, maybe call and see if they sell it by the Big Gulp. I just don’t use much ink.
For correcting inking, I use Daler-Rowney Pro White. You have to stir it occasionally and add water from time to time depedning on your climate/humidity, but I love this stuff. I brush it on with a number 0 brush.
For corrections in my sketchbook, I use the Pentel Presto, though I can’t say it’s the best. It may unfortunately BE the best out there, but I really hope not. If anyone has a thinner correction pen recommendation, I’m all ears. I just picked up the Uni Whitia, but I can’t really recommend it over the Presto. So that area of the work flow a bit more of a work in progress than others…
WHAT ELSE, WHAT ELSE…
Oh, erasers. I erase with a Staedtler Mars Plastic for general areas and a Tuff Stuff for smaller detail. I occasionally use the Sakura electric eraser, but only on very particular tiny areas of drawings. Using I just reach for the Tuff Stuff. Because, hey, it’s tuff stuff.
My desk is an old Mayline drafting table. It’s very heavy and has an electric lift (there’s a button you push on the side to make it go up and down. I acquired this through Craigslist around four years ago and it’s been one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. And one of the best features is the lift: I mainly work standing up (after reading the ten millionth article about how bad for you sitting down all day is), but when I’m too tired to do that, I can just roll up my chair (a Steelcase Leap that I got through eBay) and sit down. Easy.
Hopefully some of that was helpful. Again, this is just the equipment I use. And it’s just what I’m using currently. Plenty of these were added to the rotation in the last year or two, and I’m sure other things will be retired and make room for new additions in the near future. But these all, at the very least, have my recommendation for making some marks on paper that resemble bearded cats or sad forty-somethings. Take that for what you will.