I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately (mostly on Instagram) about what kind of materials I use, and because I could go on and on all day about art supplies (art nerd alert!), I thought I’d write a post about it here so I can go into a little more detail. Here are the basics and some of the unexpected tools that I can’t live without!
1. Ink pens. Metallic ink is a huge part of my work. A lot of my work is exclusively metallic ink, and more recently I’ve been incorporating water-based paint in the mix. Most of the metallic ink I use is gel pens (yes, those cheap craft-tool pens you can get at the craft store!). There are a couple of brands I use exclusively: Uni-Ball Gel Impact and Y&C Yasutomo Gel Xtreme. Not all gel pens are the same (and believe me, I’ve tried them all!) but these two brands have high-quality ink and don’t skip, and their fine points allow me a lot of precision and control to make all the tiny details in my work (which would be a lot harder to do with a brush!). I also use these because I know the ink is archival (meaning it is acid-free and won’t deteriorate the paper over time) and lightfast (meaning it won’t fade over time), which is extremely important to me. Anyone who owns my work can be assured that, if cared for properly, it will stand the test of time.
2. Paint. I use Holbein Acryla Gouache, an opaque acrylic gouache that dries matte. Once dry, it does not reactive with water, which is great for layering. Holbein is a Japanese company that makes very high-quality art materials. I’ve been a fan of their products since college when I used to use their oil paints.
3. Paint Markers. As I’ve expanded my work beyond just a single-color metallic ink, I’ve been using gold and silver paint markers. I use only archival ink pens (not oil-based, which would deteriorate the paper over time) such as Sakura Pen-Touch (another Japanese product!). These inks are super shiny and are similar to an enamel paint.
4. Mechanical Pencils. I discovered the joy of drawing with mechanical pencils just a few years ago. I used to always use fine art pencils in varying degrees of hardness. But because I mainly use pencils for sketching ideas or for laying down outlines to paint over, the fine point of a mechanical pencil allows my line to stay pretty consistent. And, they never need sharpening!
5. Rulers, stencils, and other drafting tools. A lot of my work uses symmetry and geometry, so I rely on rulers a lot to keep things precise. However, I’m an artist, not an engineer, so there is always some imperfections and wonkiness in my work, because it’s all done by hand. I use clear plastic rulers so I can see through them to make sure things are lining up properly within the piece. I also use stencils on occasion for certain shapes like circles, ovals and arches. For larger circles I use a good old-fashioned compass.
6. Brushes. I admit to using somewhat cheap paint brushes, as I find I need to replace them often because of damage. I use such tiny brushes that if they sit in my paint cup for too long, the bristles bend. I’ve tried this contraption but I find it too difficult to deal with while I’m working, and the handles of my brushes are often too small to fit in the grooves that are supposed to suspend them in the water. Synthetic watercolor brushes are my go-to, and I’m constantly on a quest to find the tiniest brush I can possibly buy!
7. Other random must-have tools. Some of the weird and unexpected studio tools I rely on are not necessarily art supplies at all. I’ve discovered that wearing a camping head-lamp while I’m working (especially at night) is a huge help while working with reflective metallic ink in similar shades of gold. I’m sure I look like a big dork, but if it saves my eyesight, who cares? I also use sheets of glassine as a buffer between my hand and the paper while I’m working, to protect the paper from any oils in my skin and to prevent smudging of wet ink. Glassine is a translucent acid-free paper that is usually used for protecting the surface of artworks when stacked or for shipping.
8. Tech Tools. When I started out as an artist in college and after in the 1990s, I never imagined a computer or other technical tools would ever be such an integral part of my work! (Around that time, more and more artists were experimenting with using technology in their work, and I always thought that was ‘cheating’!) Although all my work is done exclusively by hand (with the exception of those stencils I mention above!), I do use some tech tools in planning out my pieces. I start out by scanning my hand-drawn sketches into Photoshop, where I can easily play around with different compositions and scales. This is a huge timesaver and allows me to really push my ideas and experiment. I use my Wacom tablet to do any additional drawing in the digital sketch. Once I am satisfied with a composition, I can print it out and trace it onto watercolor paper using my light box. It’s then ready for paint and metallic ink!
9. Where do I get this stuff? Because I now live in a somewhat-rural state, I do a lot of my art supply shopping online (c’mon, New Hampshire, get some good art supply stores!!):
- -Blick Art Materials is one of the largest art suppliers out there, and although I try to shop small and local whenever possible, I can’t always. Blick has just about everything you’d ever need, and (because they’re so huge) good prices.
-If you’re a pen nerd like me, you’ll love Jet Pens, an online retailer devoted to writing instruments of all kinds (plus fun stuff like cute Japanese stationery and washi tape). They have a great blog and often do guides to different types of tools so you can compare and contrast products. I’ve discovered some great stuff right on this site!
-A smaller chain that I like is Artist & Craftsman Supply. They have some brick and mortar locations near me, but each one is about an hour drive, so I tend to do that only when I need a big re-stock. In addition to having a great selection, this is a really fun store to shop in because they have all kinds of fun extra things that you didn’t know you needed, like toys and nice stationery and housewares.