Sunday Mailbag- What do you use for…?

October 12th, 2014 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Hello! I am a great fan of your caricatures. I have read your book again and again. Please advise me where I can buy the same adjustable easel you use. Also which prismacolor art sticks for flesh tones for all races and where t buy. YOUR BOOK IS VERY INSPIRING, in the next edition please include materials and tools in much more depth.

A: I get a lot of these types of emails. I understand the curiosity but it’s a bit misguided. The tools and materials one uses are incidental have minimal impact on the work one produces. It’s the thinking and, above all, the hours and hours of work one puts in to develop their eye and their skills that makes for a good caricature. A caricature is drawn by your head, not your hand. That’s true of any good drawing. The tools you use are whatever you find works for you, and usually that’s whatever you have to work with and become accustomed to.

Still, people insist on knowing what materials an artist likes to use. Nothing wrong with that as long as they understand there is nothing magic about the materials. Therefor, I presnt my annual “what kind of¬¨‚Ć _____ do you use?” post (any links are just one possible source for purchase, do some web searching and you are bound to find the same things elsewhere and possibly cheaper):

In the Studio

For doing my publication work I use a lot of different tools and materials. While most of what I do these days is digital I do occasionally, when the job calls for it, pull out the old paints and such. Here are the tools I like to use in the studio:


Honestly I usually use whatever I end up grabbing from my eight or so coffee cup/jars full of drawing utensils near my board. For years I used a clutch-type leadholder like the¬¨‚ĆStaedtler Mars Technico Lead Holder and would fluctuate between H, HB or F 2mm leads depending mostly on what felt right that day. I got very tired of using the lead pointer to sharpen it all the time (and more than half the time having the lead snap off in the sharpener, causing me to have to pry it out and sharpen all over again). So I switched to the¬¨‚Ćmechanical pencils with the tiny .05 mm leads that feed from inside. These don’t need sharpening and as they don’t have any thickness to their edges the line quality is not something I need to be concerned about, which makes it ideal for concept sketches as I don’t waste time with the niceties of the line. I use HB mostly but sometimes H or 2B. I also like using regular old #2 wood pencils (which are 2B). Almost all of my “Sketch o’the Week” drawings are done with those.

I have taken to doing a lot of my rough concept sketches digitally these days for various reasons, so see my digital “materials” list for details there. Here’s the rest:

Paper and boards-

Paper for roughs- I generally just use my live caricature paper for my rough sketches and layouts, which is a 67lb vellum bristol. The equivalent would be a Strathmore sketchbook heavyweight paper that comes in pads.

Boards for finals- Strathmore 400 or 500 series bristol, usually vellum finish but lately I’ve been using the smoother stuff sometimes… mainly when I know I’ll be doing my “colored line” style of digital finals. I like a smoother line for that. If it’s a real painting I’ll use a piece of illustration board with a kid (rough) surface as it won’t buckle when I apply a lot of washes. BTW, Strathmore has had it’s problems in the last few years with quality, but it seems they have figured out the issues, so it remains my board of choice.

Pen Nibs-

I usehe Gillott 303 and the classic Hunt 102 crow quill. The Gillotts are tough to find in the US. You have to order them from overseas, and that’s expensive. But, if you have to have them, try: John Neal Booksellers. There are others but these are the cheapest I’ve found online. If you look elsewhere, usually the good nibs are found listed under “Copperplate” among calligraphy supplies. These suppliers have lots of cool nibs like Brause and such, so if you are looking for something that “feels right” buy some singles and try out a few. You can get pen holders here as well.

You could try my method of getting Gillott nibs: beg a friend and colleague who lives in Great Britain to order 1,000 nibs at his local art store and bring them with him to the ISCA convention in the states, where you pay him for them and then buy him some beers in gratitude. I am still a few Guinness shy of total compensation. Thanks, Steve!

Pen Holders-

There are lots of different kinds, but I found one I really love called the Universal Pen Holder. It’s just a clear plastic rod with a soft plastic sleeve around the end to hold the nib. The soft sleeve also acts as a cushioned finger grip. Simple but great. You can get them at John Neal on this page.


I use a red sable #1 and #2, and a #6 for big areas. Winsor & Newton Series 7?s set the standard but they are expensive. If you take care of them they will last a reasonable length of time, but ink destroys them much faster than watercolors do. You can find these brushes at virtually any art store. Unfortunately real red sable is becoming impossible to get in this country thanks to an import ban by the US Fish and Wildlife Department, who have nothing better to do. So, good luck finding a Series 7 these days.


For the dip pen I use Pelikan Drawing Ink A. It used to be hard to find this ink but now they are more readily available.  If you want to order online try:


For the brush I like Dr. Ph.Martin’s Black Star HICARB or Tech 14W Black, which are both much more dense that the Pelikan and make for better brush work.

Digital Color: Software

I use PhotoShop for all my digital color work. I know a lot of people swear by Painter, but as I can accomplish everything I want to in PhotoShop I do not see a compelling reason to switch. Currently I am using CS6, which i may use forever since I abhor Adobe’s new “cloud” concept where you perpetually pay for use.

I mentioned earlier doing pencil sketches in PhotoShop now. I have found some great tools presents for this that I highly recommend from artist Ray Frenden. He has several different “sets” for things like inking and sketching in PhotoShop for sale at $4.99, but they only work in PhotoShop CS5 or CS6. I especially like the set of pencil tools. You can visit his online store here.

Digital Color: Hardware

My current computer is a 27″ iMac. I used to have a more expensive Mac Pro but honestly the memory and processor speed of more “standard” computers are so strong now that they can easily handle imaging tasks… even big images. I recently did a 29? x 40? movie poster illustration, 300 dpi and CMYK and with multiple layers that weighed in at a whopping 360 MB, and my iMac didn’t even break a sweat. These days unless you are doing 3D modeling or video rendering work, you can use computers right off the rack at Best Buy or the Apple Store for most any illustration.

I use the Wacom¬¨‚Ć24HD widescreen Cintiq as my graphics tablet. It’s a monster and works well for my purposes. It’s ridiculously expensive and a few other competing products are now becoming viable like the Huion GT-190, so if Wacom is out of your price range look at some alternatives.

Real Paints!

When I do get out the real paints I basically work in a combination of acrylics and watercolors with both a brush and some airbrush touches. I have no preference as to the manufacturers of such materials, and have a hodge-podge of tubes of various types. The last time I did a real painting was last year when I was commissioned to this for Weird Al Yankovic’s birthday:

Clicky to embiggen…

Live Caricatures


I learned to work in pencil so I stick with that. My pencil of choice is a Caran D’ache FixPencil 3 using thier 6B leads, although I also have a special 4B lead that works with this pencil. I also use a Create-a-Color 5.6mm leadholder with a 4B lead.

Blending Stump

Standard No. 8 stump for shading. I soak the new stomp in tap water for about 10 minutes, then put it on a paper towel and place it in a sunny window for about 3 days until it’s fully dried out. This has the effect of loosening the glue that binds the stump and making it much softer. Then I sand off one of the ends to a much rounder shape, so I have a fine end and a wide end. I know… that’s a lot of work for a $1.65 tool, but it’s much more useable after that process.


I use the Iwata HP-SB Plus for live caricature work with a 13 bottle palette. I also use this same brush in the studio. I have metal bottle hardware custom made, as the plastic horrors available for general purchase are garbage. In fact I make the entire bottle assembly myself (Please don’t write me asking to buy a set… I don’t sell them except to artists who work with us in our caricature concessions).

Airbrush Paint

Mostly Com-Art Opaque and Transparent paints by Medea.


I use several different ones in our various parks, all are just standard drawing tables that you can get at any art supplu store. I do have new tops made out of plywood with a paper holder built on the back, and make it as small as the base allows for space reasons.

Thanks to Stajadin for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!



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