Sunday Mailbag

August 9th, 2009 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I thoroughly enjoy your blog and was wondering if you could shed some light on some of your favorite drawing tools (e.g. type of pencils, drawing software, etc.)?

A: I get this question every so often so once I year I do an updated answer. Here is 2009’s version:

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:

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 equivilent 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.


I like the mechanical leadholder type pencils like the Staedtler Mars Technico Lead Holders with F or HB leads. They are comfortable to hold and the lead pointers make keeping a sharp point easy, but it also has a thickness that the ultra thin mechanical pencils don’t have. Otherwise I have been known to just grab a handy No. 2 school pencil.

Pen Nibs-

I use mainly the Gillott 303 but occasionally 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:

Scribblers (UK)
John Neal Booksellers

There are others but these are under $1.00 US each. 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 NCN convention in the states, where you pay him for them and then buy him some beers in gratitude. I am still a few Guiness 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.


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 get a BIG bottle, 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-

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 CS3, and I suppose eventually I will upgrade but again I feel no need to rush to do so.

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 winter for a personal commission, which I didn’t bother to scan. Here’s a spot from a few years ago I used real paint to do:

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 the 6B leads. I also use a Create-a-Color 5.6mm leadholder with a 4B lead.

Blending Stomp-

Standard No. 8 stomp for shading


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.

Airbrush Paint-

Mostly Com-Art Opaque and Transparent paints by Medea.

Thanks to¬¨‚ĆTony Filetti 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. […] guy to ask. One right guy would be Tom Richmond, who does such splendid work for MAD Magazine. In this post, he tells of what he uses…and his whole blog is a trove of tips for those who wish to make […]

  2. Duane Hanson says:

    It’s always interesting to read what artists far more talented than I am use for materials. Decades ago I used to read articles like this looking for the “secret” that would make my work look as good as the artist discussing his materials. Now, many years later, I realize that the talents of wonderful artists like Tom Richmond aren’t dependent on the tools they use–but I still find the information fascinating.

  3. Jeff Zugale says:

    Hey Tom, thanks for the list. Just wanted to say I’ve recently upgraded to Photoshop (and the whole Design suite) CS4, and I think you’ll be pleased when you upgrade. It actually runs noticeably faster on my 2-year-old Mac than CS3 did, and most happily for me, they’ve finally introduced the “Rotate Page” ability which allows you to grab the image and spin it around to different angles without actually changing the pixel placement – something that Painter has had for over a decade, and one of the main reasons I use Painter for drawing and painting.

    Although I still prefer certain tools in Painter, I will be spending a lot more time in Photoshop for my commercial work, since the transform/manipulation tools like Perspective and Warp are so powerful and necessary for much of my illustrations. I’ve had to bounce back and forth from Painter to Photoshop, which slows me down dramatically. I won’t have to switch so often now, which is a relief.

    You may find that with the Rotate Page tool, inking and even penciling in Photoshop will be far more comfortable for you, though I know of course it’s very good to have paper originals to sell. For some quick commercial work you might want to try it. It’s even easier than rotating a Cintiq around.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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