Sunday Mailbag- Wrapped Pencils?

January 10th, 2016 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I noticed at comic con you were drawing with a clutch (leadholder), but it had been modified with gauze and elastic bands. How do you do that, and why is it good practice?

A: You mean this?:


This is my “live caricature” pencil. I get a lot of weird looks when people see this thing all wrapped up, but the reason for it is simple and makes perfect sense. But before the “why”, here’s the “what”:

Underneath all that wrapping is a standard “clutch” type mechanical leadholder, specifically the Caran Dasche Fixpencil 3. It holds a 3mm lead rather than the standard 2mm most leadholders have, which is important to get thicker, bolder lines when doing live caricature work.

Wrapped around it is something called “pre wrap” or “sports wrap”:


This is not a gauze or an “Ace” type elastic wrap or any kind of adhesive tape, but a simple, thin and light foam wrap usually 2.75 inches wide. Its main use is to wrap up an area like an ankle or wrist that is going to then be “taped” up to immobilize it after a sports injury. The foam allows for a padded layer under the tape that prevents chafing and irritation to the skin from the tape, and helps keep the area dry and comfortable.

So why the wrapping on the pencil?

When I draw live I press pretty hard with the pencil to get big, bold lines. That is much easier and more comfortable to do when the pencil I am using is not some skinny, hard, metal tube. The wrap gives the pencil some body and lets me get a firmer grip on it. The foam never gets slippery or slick, so I always have a solid, dry, non-slip grip no matter how sweaty of a day it is. Finally, when you speed-draw for 12 hours straight while pressing so hard your lead occasionally shatters on you, having a padded and cushioned pencil saves you from blisters and hand fatigue.

Wrapping it is simple. Pre wrap has no adhesive to it, it is a simple material in a roll. You start at the drawing end and start wrapping it until you get it to the thickness you like. Then you use a rubber band to secure the loose end of the wrap at the other end of the leadholder. During a busy summer season I might change the wrap once during the summer, but this stuff is pretty durable so I only change it if it’s looking particularly dirty.

Incidentally, while you can google “pre wrap” and find several online sources for it don’t buy it online. If you want to try this out just go to your local CVS or Walgreens or similar and you’ll find it in the area with ACE bandages and athletic tape for about $1.65 for a 30 foot roll. I’ve see prices up to $20 for the exact same thing online. It’s cheap stuff, comes in various colors, and one brand is the same as another.

Thanks to Jason “el Chatto” Chatfield 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. Sam Roper says:

    Tom, I’ve enjoyed following you. Wade Collins got me involved in Caricature Art. He passed on a Pencil to me!
    I totally agree with the wrapped pencil.
    I’ve actually found that tennis racket grip works really well…I am a hand sweater I guess. But it does really absorb and stay comfy.

  2. I tried drawing without the wrap one summer, though using the bigger, 6mm Cretacolor lead holder. Sure enough, after a few weeks, I got consistent sharp twinges of pain in my upper forearm. It stymied me for a while and when I finally opted to wrap the thing, the pain subsided almost instantly. I was amazed!

  3. Bill says:

    Tom, is it a 6B lead?

  4. "El Chatto" says:

    Thanks for the tip! I still have the 2mm lead but switching to 3mm CD Fixpencil from Blick. Hopefully stops my hand from falling off at the end of gigs.

  5. Mufeed says:

    Thanks Tom, nice tip :).


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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