Sunday Mailbag

August 5th, 2007 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: What kind of pencil does your company use, I got a picture drawn in St. Louis, and I like the clean strokes on my caricatures?

A: I get asked about not only the pencil but all our materials a lot, so here is the breakdown of everything we use to draw and paint live, airbrush caricatures at the theme parks:

I use two different kinds of pencils. Both are “clutch” type leadholders, meaning that they have a claw-like end that grasps the lead. The main one is the Caran D’Ache Fixpencil 3, which is a 3mm leadholder. Most leadholders are 2mm, and the thicker lead is a must for bold lines. Unfortunately they discontinued that pencil years ago, and there is no decent 3mm leadholder to replace it in the US (I am hording my last few). I use a 6B 3mm lead in it which is still, bizarrely, made by Caran D’ache. The other pencil is a Creatacolor 5mm leadholder, which I use with either 4B or 6B leads for big, thick lines in the hair, outside of the face, body, etc. There are a few different body types for that pencil, but all work well.

We also wrap our pencils in something called pre-wrap, or sports wrap. It’s the foam wrap you use for wrapping an ankle of similar prior to takling it up in athletics. You can get it at most drugstores. It’s great for cushioning your hand and wicking moisture away from it when drawing. Prevents callouses and blisters as well.

We use a No. 8 blending stomp for shading, and sand one end down to make it a bigger surface area. It helps to soak the stomp in water for a hour or so and allow it to dry for a few days in the sun to loosen up the binding glue and make it softer.

The airbrush we use is either an Iwata HP-SBS (eclipse) or an Iwata HP-SB Plus. Both are good all purpose brushes with a side feed for easy bottle exchange. The latter is a little finer but also more temperamental. I recommend the HP-SBS for beginners.

We use a set of 13 side-feed airbrush bottles, each with a different color. Iwata makes their own side feed bottles which are usable but not ideal. I have custom hardware specially made by a precision machinist and make my own 1 oz. bottles for my operations. No, I won’t sell any to anyone who does not work with us.

Obviously you need an airsource, so a compressor or tank is necessary. There are a lot of choices depending on if you need it to be silent, have a power source, etc. At the parks it’s noisy already and we have sound boxes or separate rooms from which we run air hoses, so a sturdy tool compressor from Home Depot works great for just a couple of hundred dollars. In the malls we need quiet, and we have a permanent power source so I use silent compressors. Jun-Air is by far the best but they are immensely expensive. If you have no power and need silence, a compressed air tank is the way to go. I’ve never used one but a good airbrush retailer can set you up. Coast Airbrush or Bear Air are a good places on-line to find supplies.

For paint we use Media Com-Art paints, both opaque and transparent colors. They are water based and non-toxic. There is a wide selection of colors, but our palette includes Iron Yellow, Burnt Sienna, Toludene Red, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Black, Lime Green, Hansa Yellow, Transparent Ultramarine Blue, Transparent Violet and Transparent Royal Blue.

Finally for paper we use a 67lb vellum bristol in bright white, 12 x 16 inches. We specially order than and have it cut to that size. Paper Plus carries similar stock and there are a lot of those about.

Thanks to TL 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!


  1. GregW says:

    O.k. is it just me? I used to airbrush daily, and frequently used Com-Art. If I used it at night I would not sleep all night! Toss, turn, kick legs etc. I’m certain there is some kind of stimulant in it.

    Anyhow, I always enjoy reading your blog as I’m sure many do. Thanks Tom!


  2. Tom says:

    I painted caricatures with Com-Art paints for 20 years without a mask and all it ever did to me was give me very colorful boogers.


Sketch o’the Week- Julie Newmar! #batman #batman66 #catwoman #julienewmar

Workshops Ad

Dracula ad

Doctor Who Ad

Superman Ad

%d bloggers like this: