Sunday Mailbag

December 19th, 2010 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Thanks for your blog and especially the tutorials. I refer to your blog weekly for inspiration and tips. While you mention your preferences for inking and drawing surfaces, I was wondering what types of pencil leads, holders, and paper you use for the “sketch of the week”?

A: Thanks for the kind words about the blog. I’m very glad you enjoy it.

As for the materials I use for the “Sketch o’the Week”- while I do occasionally experiment with things like inks, washes, etc., 95% of the sketches I post for SOTW are done in a basic Strathmore (or similar) sketchbook with a number 2 lead pencil… you know, the kind with the eraser on the end. I use all sorts of different kinds but my favorites are the unpainted, smooth type from OfficeMax. They are cheap and the leads have a nice feel to them. Plus, the have a white rubber eraser on the end as opposed to the “pink pearl” type which often gets hard and streaks pink color on the paper. Of course, they need sharpening all the time but I have an electric sharpener close at hand and feed it regularly. I also like the Mirado Black Warrior 2 HB pencils (Office Depot), also cheap but I hate the erasers on those.

For example, right now I am drawing in a Strathmore 400 series premium recycled 11″ x 14″ pad with 60lb weight paper and I am mostly drawing with the OfficeMax specials. Not sexy, I know, but they work.

Actually I really need to break out of that routine and use some different materials for SOTW. I’ll try to do that in the new year. Thanks for the inspiration!

Thanks to Eileen McCoy 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. Mark says:

    Hi Tom. Thanks for this post. Always fascinated to know how artists work. Do you think you’ll ever make a YouTube video of a sketch in progress? Or better yet, a how to caricature dvd?

  2. Bill says:


    Try using a conte crayon on newsprint. It’s a very freeing drawing experience.

  3. Frank Plein says:

    I recently did a few dozen illustrations with dark pencil (3b upwards) and 3 shades of grey Copic markers. The markers slightly dissolve the lead (graphitte), it makes great gradation and almonst does away with the need to ink. It has become one of my favorite sketching techniques.


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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