10 Tools and Hacks All Artists Must Know About
Artists are always on the lookout for inspiration, new methods, opportunities to learn, and especially the latest materials and techniques to try out. One certainly isn’t required to have the newest, most expensive tools in order to create art, but there are 10 universal essentials that you’ll find to be extremely helpful and handy in your creative endeavors. These tips are really nothing fancy; they’re merely here for artists and beginners alike to absorb into already established routines. Maybe these ideas are things you haven’t happened to think of before, or solutions to existing problems you weren’t sure how to go about solving. Either way, these basic insider tips will help any artist in their quest to create, with more ease and confidence than ever before!
10. Good eraser
Drawing can be done with a myriad of tools, such as pencil, charcoal, graphite, chalk, pastel—the type of utensil is limitless, as long as it makes a mark. The eraser, however, is a slightly different story. It may seem obvious, but while any kind of pencil you prefer will certainly do, it’s important to invest in an eraser that can be very precise, gentle, and effective in removing unwanted marks. Don’t worry, the “good” kind of erasers for drawing are not only easy to find but inexpensive. Products like soft, white Staedtler brand erasers will help remove pencil from wide areas without damaging paper. Gray, kneaded erasers are ideal candidates for being precise as they can be molded to any shape, and gently lift the product from the paper, (as opposed to crudely rubbing it off.) They can also be kneaded until clean to use over and over again. (However, as mentioned, you don’t NEED to go out and buy these specifically. They are just recommended examples that are reputable and known to work well.) —As long as you find an eraser you’re confident in the ability of, and it can remove marks without tearing the paper, crumbling, smearing, or smudging, is what counts! Speaking of smudging…
9. Eraser brush
A very prevalent problem in drawing (and art in general) is gosh-darn smudging! It can make or break the integrity of an otherwise finely executed artwork. After erasing, it’s all too easy to brush away the dust with the side of your hand out of habit. However, this is where a lot of smearing and damage can occur. Apart from being cumbersome to have to try to fix, sometimes it can do irreversible cosmetic damage to your piece. The solution to this all too common problem is to use an eraser brush! There are soft-bristled, long brushes with handles especially and specifically made for artists to safely whisk away eraser dust, but a big, dry paintbrush works just as well! (Another hack is to stick a cap-style eraser on the end of your brush-away paintbrush, so you can erase and flip to quickly brush away the crumbs.) This will save your piece from smudging as well as save the side of your hand from getting covered in product, only to have it transfer and ruin another area of your artwork. Now that you know how to tame the removal of eraser bits, what do you do with them? Another useful tool is…
8. Small vacuum
This may seem a bit extra or not all necessary, but if you’re an artist who works (and erases) VERY often at the same desk or workspace, it is a total lifesaver! (Especially to the artists who are picky about the cleanliness of our working area!) Investing in a small, handheld, tabletop vacuum will aid so much in controlling the chaos that is tiny paper crumbs, mountains of eraser bits, and who knows what else. (Not only is it messy, but crumbs can make bumps under your paper, disrupting drawing big time.) A quick pass over your working surface will help in the long run, and make it so you don’t have to brush it all onto the floor (or your chair, or your lap,) making an even bigger mess in the meantime. Research and shop for handheld, desktop, mini, and/or USB powered vacuums to help reign in those microscopic messes. It may seem out of the box at first, but trust us, it will save you time cleaning, give you peace of mind, and a tidy surface for future projects.
7. Plastic surface
If you find your mess is more paint-related than pencil-and-eraser-related, having the right kind of surface will help tons. Paint and water marks can not only make a mess but damage your desk or working surface over time. It can also make your surface uneven, or there may be danger of old paint that isn’t completely dry or spilled water ruining a new piece, etc. An easy and simple hack for these potential problems is to prep your surface accordingly with a plastic surface for easy wipe-ups. If you’re unable to directly laminate your desk, you can also try affixing together plastic placemats, using a plastic tablecloth, or use packing tape to cover a large piece of cardboard. (This way you can also remove the plastic surface if you don’t need it at the time.) Now if anything drips or spills on your surface, all it takes is a cloth or paper towel to wipe it away and reveal a fresh, clean surface. No bumps of dried paint, no warped desktops from water damage, no problems!
6. Two containers for water
You heard me. Not one, but two containers of water. This isn’t just useful at home, but infinitely more useful when you’re out in the world painting, away from sinks. First off, it’s handy to have two small cups or jars of clean water next to your workspace at home. You can use one liberally and have a clean one for back up, so you’re not running to the sink every 10 minutes. (You could even use one for “cool” colors and one for “warm” colors so you don’t mix them and end up with super muddy water that could transfer to your work.) As for outside use, label two large containers (with lids) “clean” and “dirty.” Plastic or some other durable material is best so there’s no chance of breaking. Also be sure to have a small cup (such as a collapsible cup) to pour the clean water in, use regularly until it’s too dirty to use, and pour it into the dirty container. This way you’re always guaranteed a source of clean water and don’t have to pollute the ground by dumping dirty paint-water. The security and dependability of having closed containers, a source of water, and a safe place to store used water is reassuring to the artist on the move.
5. Access to references
As much as it is important to be able to develop your own style and draw from your imagination, references are an important starting point for every single artist. Access limitless resources such as books and the internet to provide the ultimate inspiration. The available options of poses and images to reference online specifically are almost endless. However, if you don’t have access to a computer, internet, or library, the next best reference is to be able to draw from life! Make sure you travel and see different subjects and scenes that you can view, copy, practice and develop into your own set of skills. Drawing with a reference to real life specifically is the best way for any artist to develop their practice. Even if you think it doesn’t look like your resource or doesn’t look good to you, how else will you know the dimensions, movement, and real-life proportions of what you’re attempting to convey? Make references, whether book, photo, internet, or real life, and permanent place in your artist tool belt!
4. More paper
Something we artists are lucky to have nowadays is an absolute excess of paper. Way, way back in older days, scrap paper wasn’t so common or easily obtained, thus early artists didn’t have the freedom to sketch, practice, throw away ideas and drawings, and use up paper to their heart’s desire. Now we not only have access to scrap paper, but thousands of different kinds of paper. Even though old masters had to deal with not always having a sketchbook on them, it’s still crucial to not be afraid to mess up a certain piece of paper or feel like you ever have to ration yourself. By having a healthy supply of paper and other surfaces of your choosing to create on, this will give you a sense of liberty to be able to experiment, to explore and make mistakes, and to practice, practice, practice! You can even make the switch to digital (or at least incorporate it) in order to exercise and experiment literally endlessly. As a budding(or even established) artist, you should never worry or be afraid to make a mark that might “waste” paper.
3. Swatch sheet
No matter what kind of artist or materials you use, swatching is a universal must-do! Swatching, sampling, and testing your tools, paints, and products are vital in learning how that certain supply works. Then, you can see first-hand what the exact color is, how it lays down on a certain surface, and how it feels to handle and use in your hand specifically. Yes, you probably already draw test squiggles with markers or paint colors while using, but we’re talking about a permanent swatch sheet. For example, a small paper with a square of every one of your colored pencils drawn on (perhaps in a gradient of lightest to darkest so you know the breadth of that color or utensil,) with the corresponding name or number of that color. Now–keep this reference sheet in with that set of colored pencils, so next time you’ll already have a general guide of how the colors look, without having to waste time, paper, and supplies in constantly making new swatch/sample sheets as you work. Now you can streamline productivity, having an already completed example sheet right on hand.
2. Flat storage
Once you’ve finished creating your projects, artworks, masterpieces, paintings, and more, it’s very important to take good care of these precious pieces that you so carefully spent your time and effort on. Creating or having access to a clean, dry, flat, protected place to safely store work is vital for any type of artist. Many options can work: a closet shelf, a file cabinet, a large, sturdy portfolio, or even a storage system you custom build yourself for your storage needs. In the future, you’ll appreciate having some sort of storage system. You’ll be able to save and look back on old art pieces and store newly completed ones. –If not for protection and integrity of the artwork, for organization alone. Find what works for your art and your space and give a real home to your art to save it from damage.
1. Round tubes or portfolio for transportation
Now that you have a place to horizontally, vertically, or otherwise flatly and safely store your art pieces, it’s equally important to protect and organize them in transit. Whether you’re out of the studio working, transporting your pieces to an art show or convention, or just moving, round, hard tubes are an ideal way of carrying and storing art, protected from the elements and damage. Rolling paper, rather than folding, assures that it can be eventually smoothed back to its original form without a single crease. If you have more “3D” art such as canvases or bulky sketchbooks, a large, sturdy portfolio with a handle should work for protection as well as being a super, duper easy way to carry your work. Over all, making art varies from person to person, concentration to concentration, taste to taste. A universal essential however is how to deal with any form of art once it’s been created!