Sunday Mailbag

September 24th, 2006 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: What materials do you use to do your live caricatures?

A: I don’t do a lot of live caricature anymore, but when I do I’m still using the same basic materials I have for the last 20 plus years.

Paper: I buy large quantities of paper for the theme park operations, so I use a special paper that is difficult to get in an art store. It’s an bristol vellum, bright white, 12 x 16 inches and 67 lb weight. That’s a good, heavyweight paper without being a cardstock. It is smoother on one side than the other, so I can use the rough side if it’s humid outside, or the smooth on a nice, dry day. paper you get from an office supply store??ᬨ‚Ć is usually too thin and waxy, or too thick (cardstock). Every decent size city has a paper mill distributor or paper company that will sell small quantities if you are willing to pick it up and pay C.O.D. Look up these companies in the yellow pages and inquire about paper types they carry. Each are usually associated with a particular mill like Nekoosa, Georgia Pacific or similar. They will usually send you samples on request. I specifically use a Georgia Pacific, 67# vel.bristol white, which I buy in 26 x 40 sheets and have cut to 12 x 16 (4 sheets per large sheet).

Pencil: Yes, I use a pencil rather than a marker. That is mostly due to using the airbrush for color. When you use a marker, the heavy back of the lines forces you to really lay down a lot of paint to get any values to come out, which is a lot of work. The pencil blends well with the airbrush and creates a softer painted look rather than a stark line with color.

I use two different pencils. The small one is a Caran D’ache Fixpencil 3, which is a mechanical leadholder that takes a 3mm lead. I use a 4B or 6B lead, depending on the weather (softer lead for wetter conditions). Caran D’ache doesn’t make the Fixpencil 3 anymore, but you can still find them in art stores. They still make the leads, but only a 3B or a 6B. The 4B is a special lead Fasen Arts had made years ago. I use the Fixpencil 3 for most of the drawing. The other pencil I use is a Cretacolor leadholder, which has a big 5.6mm lead. Affectionately called a “fatty”, this is the pencil I use for the thickest lines of the drawing, like the outside of the face, the hair and much of the body. I use a 4B lead in it.

One other thing I do with the pencils is wrap them. Drawing for 12 hours straight can really mess with your hand, and holding a skinny, hard pencil doesn’t make it easier. I wrap the pencils with a soft foam wrap called “pre-wrap” or “sports wrap”. This is the wrap athletes use to wrap their ankles or wrists prior to taping them up. It’s a roll of thin, foam wrap that has no adhesive on it. I wrap it around the pencil until it’s well cushioned and much thicker. This makes it better to grip, softer and easier to hold. A rubber band holds the foam wrap in place. You can get the foam wrap in most drugstores and sports equipment stores, and it’s fairly cheap stuff.

Blending Stomp: I use this to add shading and quick values to the drawing. I use a big #8, and sand the ends off a bit so they are more round. I also will soak a new one in water for 20 minutes or so and let it dry out for a few days, which loosens the stomp and makes it softer.

Airbrush: I like the Iwata HP-SB plus, but the HP-SBS is also a viable live caricature brush. The SB is a smaller, more detail orientated brush and can easily be used for studio illustration as well as live caricature. The problem with the Iwatas is that there is no well-made bottle for the side feed brushes. Iwata has one but it’s not very well designed. I took the initiative and had custom bottle hardware made based on the old Paasche bottle design, and combined with a nalgene plastic bottle and a short length of poly tubing, I make my own custom bottles.

Paint: I use mostly Media Com-Art paints, either opaque or transparent. They are a water based acrylic and I add water to many of them so they are pretty thin and will not clog the brush. I mix several colors for flesh tones, flesh shadow and other specific tones. I never use white paint, however. That’s a bad thing to put thorough your brush and will cause clogging problems. The colors I use are opaque Iron Yellow, Toludene Red, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Black, Ultramarine Blue, Lime Green, Hansa Yellow and transparent Violet and Royal Blue.

Basically I’ve been using those same materials since 1985. They work very well and I like the final look they achieve. You can get most of them either online or at a local art supply store.


  1. Trevour says:

    Always wondered what kind of paper that was! I guess I use the same materials for live caricature, since my instruction came from Mr. Hungaski… I LOVE using that Cretacolor leadholder.

    I first learned on the Eclipse airbrush, but finally bought myself an HP-SB Plus several months back. Still getting used to it!

  2. awesomeair says:

    I was wondering if you’d ever post a step by step of your live caricature technique. What you look for, to get a likeness, and what your thinking is to make it look cartoony as opposed to realistic.

  3. Treece says:

    What a great idea for pre-wrap! Can we quote you on our pre-wrap site?

  4. Tom says:

    Sure… Go for it.


I’m in LA doing back to back Caricature workshops. Here’s the class illustration of workshop no. 1. Visit for all the details and to see where others are scheduled in 2018!

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