Drawing Accessories

(Excerpts from ART HARDWARE: The Definitive Guide to Artists’ Materials, by Steven Saitzyk © 1987)

Most drawing accessories do at least one of three things. They blend, erase, or protect all or part of a drawing. The first drawing accessory was a finger. The finger, however, is only good for smudging and rubbing out areas of moderate size. The earliest replacements were small bits of rolled leather, later followed by rolled paper, called a tortillon. Over the centuries many tools have developed, from duck wings to vinyl erasers.

Pencil Extenders

At one time pencil extenders were considered frivolous, somewhat like cigarette holders. When artists’ pencils passed the fifty cent mark, racing toward a dollar, however, many artists reconsidered. And it is not unusual for people who use colored pencils to have between a hundred and a hundred and fifty assorted pencils. If you use colored pencils frequently and find yourself throwing away one-third to one-half of your investment just because you can’t get a grip on it, you could save a great deal with the aid of a pencil extender. Pencil extenders, which attach in much the same way as a cigarette holder does to a cigarette, also provide better balance and alleviate hand fatigue.


Before the modern eraser, people used fresh bread. The inside of a slice of bread was simply rolled up into a usable shape. In the mid-eighteenth century, natural rubber began to replace bread. Today, virtually all erasers are made from plastic.

An ideal eraser is one that removes the graphite, charcoal, and other drawing media without smudging or disrupting the surface of the ground. Although there is no ideal all-purpose eraser, there are several kinds of erasers that are ideal in particular situations.

Gum Erasers, which are made from a rubberlike compound and a dry cleaner, are one such example. This type of eraser is excellent for general clean-up of pencil drawings. I have found that some testing must be done when this eraser is to be used with colored papers and colored boards because, in rare instances, the surface color is affected by the soap present in the eraser and a bleached or discolored area may result with its use.

Soft Vinyl Plastic Erasers are excellent for graphite pencil and all drawing papers. Their nonsmudging and nonabrasive qualities, combined with an ability to lift the graphite off the working surface, have made this eraser especially popular.

Pink Rubber Erasers are classic and the most common erasers used today. This eraser is not as effective with graphite as a vinyl eraser. Pink erasers are much better for colored pencils. They are slightly more abrasive and must be used with some caution on nondurable working surfaces.

Kneaded Erasers are most effective with charcoal and soft pastels. As charcoal or pastel dust build up on the eraser’s surface, it can be kneaded to produce a fresh working surface. This type of eraser can also be plied into various shapes and used as a drawing tool to make highlights on charcoal, pastel, and pencil drawings.

Ink Erasers are available in two types-those that are abrasive and the kind that are chemically imbued and nonabrasive. Most of us are familiar with the oldfashioned abrasive ink eraser that removes ink by, more often than not, sanding it away along with the surface. Unless the surface is extremely durable, the results are often less than desirable. A recent improvement on the ink eraser is the chemically imbibed eraser, a conventional vinyl eraser combined with a chemical that reacts with ink to remove it from the working surface. The major improvement is the nonabrasiveness of such erasers.

Dry Cleaning Powders and Pads consist of crumpled vinyl eraser that is sprinkled over the surface and rubbed or rolled around over it before beginning the drawing. This cleans the surface of skin oils, which may have collected during handling, as well as dirt and smudges. Having a clean surface is particularly important when working with wet media, which can bead up on a dirty, nonabsorbent surface.

Tools For Blending

Stomps, tortillons, chamois, and duck wings are tools often used for blending dry drawing materials. The names “stomp” and “stump” are used interchangeably. Some manufacturers attempt to use both names to distinguish different styles of cigar-shaped, compressed paper cylinders; however, there is no generally accepted distinction between these terms. The name “stump” is older than stomp, yet the name “stomp” refers specifically to cigar-shaped compressed paper cylinders, while stump has more than twenty other meanings. Stomps have a diameter ranging from ‘/s to ”/2 inch, are approximately 5 inches long, and are pointed at one or both ends. A tortillon is made of rolled paper and has only one point, which is usually smaller and more tapered than that of a stomp. Both stomps and tortillons are used for delicate blending in areas where a finger is too large.

Duck-wing blenders and chamois (rectangular suede or leather) pieces are used for removing charcoal from a surface or for blending larger areas than fingers can accomplish.

Fixatives & Final Protective Sprays

Fixatives are “workable,” which means they only gently fix the drawing material to the surface so the drawing can be reworked or added to. This feature is particularly good when working with dry drawing materials. Not only is a fixative helpful in keeping the dusty quality at a minimum, but, without its assistance, it is difficult to apply subsequent layers of material and not disturb layers underneath. The major drawback of fixatives is that they darken the appearance of pastel drawings. This can be minimized by using a fixative more frequently and more lightly, rather than less frequently and more heavily.

The mouth atomizer, an ancient tool for spraying liquids by mouth, has been replaced by commercial spray cans and airbrushes. An airbrush is used to apply homemade fixatives, for which many older, excellent formulas can be found. It is the commercial spray fixatives in a can, however, that are used by most artists because of their convenience and effectiveness. Most of these fixatives are made from an acrylic resin dissolved in an organic solvent, such as lacquer thinner. There are two types of spray fixatives-regular, which is scented, and odorless. The odorless is newer to the marketplace, and I feel it is not an improvement. The purpose of the annoying scent is to warn you that there is something in the air that is not good to breathe. The odorless fixative tends to give a false sense of security. Proper ventilation, and in some cases personal protection, should be used with all such sprays.

When applying fixative, the paper should be placed flat on a table and sprayed lightly, holding the can about 12 inches from the surface. If it is held too close, the spray will pool and the results will appear blotchy; if the can is held too far away the spray will tend to dry in route and will not be as effective and will result in a chalky appearance. It is best to apply two to three very light coats rather than one heavy coat. The spray should begin off the edge of the paper and end off the edge of the paper in a consistent parallel motion from one edge to the other. Creativity at this point is not appropriate.

A final protective spray is basically a heavier version of a fixative. It is designed to fix the drawing material permanently to itself and to the drawing surface. It is impossible to store or to handle unprotected soft pastel and charcoal drawings without disturbing, if not permanently damaging, them. Even protecting them through framing is best accomplished after a protective spray has been used.

A protective spray is most effective when used in combination with a fixative. Frequent, light applications of a fixative will mean less protective spray is needed in the end. This will also result in less darkening of the drawing. Protective sprays are not 100 percent effective in totally fixing dry drawing materials. In fact, to do so would severely affect the appearance of the artwork. Consequently, some care still has to be exercised in handling, presentation, and storge of such artwork.

Final protective sprays are available in gloss or matte finish. Since soft pastels and charcoal produce a matte appearance, it would seem that the choice of spray should be matte. This is not the case. Soft pastel and charcoal are very absorbent, and a gloss spray, when used lightly, will appear matte over these materials. The purpose of using a gloss spray whenever possible is that it dries with a clear film, while a matte spray dulls the appearance of the drawing as well as producing a matte look. This would not be the case, however, with oil pastels, paint sticks, and heavily applied graphite. A gloss spray will leave a shine on these materials. A matte spray will not leave a shine, yet some caution must still be used because the spray will tend to dull the appearance. Whatever the choice, drawing materials with a high wax content, such as oil pastels and colored pencils, should be sprayed with at least a workable fixative to prevent the wax from developing a chalky surface appearance over time.

Always test a spray before using it on your original or final work.


Of the many types of tapes, four are the most relevant to the production of artwork. For the sake of discussion, and because two of the four tapes are produced only by 3M, products made by 3M are used as examples.

Masking Tape is primarily an industrial tape that is easily adapted for the artist’s use. Masking tape is produced in several weights and tack (stickiness). The lighter the weight, the more easily the tape will tear during application and removal. Lightweight tapes can tear too easily and make removal a laborious process. Because the heavier weights cost significantly more money and several rolls are often needed, most retail stores are cost conscious and carry only the lighter weights. Technical information about these tapes is rarely available; therefore, it is best to make your own crude test of the tape. A tape of adequate weight should peel off the roll without tearing, and when applied to a glass surface it should also release without tearing.

Masking tape, in general, is considered a high-tack, or very sticky, tape and cannot be used on paper or board without damaging the surface during removal. It is best used on a hard, durable surface. When using masking tape to mask off an area that is to be painted, a crisply painted edge can be obtained by burnishing down the edge of the tape before painting. When masking for acrylic paints, it is helpful to apply a thin coat of polymer medium along the burnished edge of the tape. This will provide extra protection from paint creeping under the edge during painting.

Masking tape ages poorly and is not meant to be a permanent part of the artwork. After several years the adhesive weakens, crystallizes, stains, and releases from the working surface. In fact, virtually all pressure-sensitive tapes are unsafe to be used as part of permanent artwork.

Drafting Tape (No. 230 by 3M) greatly resembles masking tape in appearance. The primary difference is that it has a lower tack, which is designed not to disturb the surfaces of most papers when it is removed. Yet it is strong enough to hold the paper in place. The harder the surface of the paper, the better this tape will perform.

Artists’ White Tape (No. 285 by 3M), is a low-tack, flat, white tape designed as a paper tape, primarily manufactured for the graphic arts industry. The top surface is designed to accept writing. When this tape is applied to a paper surface, it exhibits a lower tack than drafting tape. On a slick, nonporous surface, however, it exhibits a higher tack than drafting tape. The major flaw with this product is that if it is applied to a nonporous, glasslike surface and left for several days, removal often results in some of the adhesive separating from the tape and remaining attached to the surface.

In recent conversations with 3M it was explained that further development of the tape would be too costly and that they plan to discontinue this product. Instead, 3M will develop for this market a less costly and less versatile tape called Post-it Cover-up Tape #651.

Removable Transparent Tape (No. 811, formally 281 by 3M) is a new tape, which in appearance resembles Magic Tape by 3M. It is primarily designed for the graphic arts. Dry transfer lettering, for example, can be applied to the top surface of the tape; then whole words, sentences, or designs can be easily be lifted and transferred to another position. The advantage of being able to see through the tape is that it allows exact positioning. Since widths up to 3 inches are available, this tape can be ideal as an airbrush frisket (a low-tack transparent film that is used for airbrush masking). A new “improved” version released in 1985 is not as good quality as the prototype No. 281. I have had some complaints about it not performing as well as a frisket since some paint tends to creep under the edge of the tape. For the fine artist, this tape is excellent for assisting in producing working models or mock-ups, or for use in temporary labeling of delicate working surfaces.