10 Awesome Drawing Tools That They Never Gave You In School

by Zephos on January 25, 2011

With the holidays now a distant memory, it’s time for the academically enrolled aspiring artist to be reacquainted with their tried and true tool of torture, the wooden #2 pencil with its pitifully pink eraser at the top! Do the memories of working with such substandard supplemental school supplies make you twitch whenever considering what to use on your next illustration? If so, I’ve got the cure for you! – 10 Awesome Drawing Tools They Never Gave You In School!


#1: LeadholderLeadholder

Among pencil pushers, there are two decisive camps, the wood encase pencil sharpening traditionalist bastards and the button clicking affront to nature that are the mechanical pencil wielders of post Industrial Revolution disaster to come. Wooden pencils can be sharpened with a knife for custom line width allowing for expressive drawing and mechanical pencils having a consistent feed mechanism and uniform width with every inch of interchangeable lead refills making them practical for precision drawing… but… what if you could have a single tool with the advantages of BOTH! Have you ever wondered why they never bothered to make a mechanical pencil that uses ginourmas sticks of lead? It’s because they did, it’s called a leadholder, and its closest thing you’ll ever get to superior “ancient technology” outside of a cliché filled RPG.

Leadholders are a funny story; the earliest incarnation of the technology that used graphite is known to date at all the way back to 1567, almost as old as the discovery of graphite as a common drawing substance itself and actually predated encased pencils. Leadholders reportedly reached the peak of their popularity around the 1950′s, however, since then, the line of devices has massively declined in popularity to the point where very few people outside of art and drafting circles would know about them and are rarely found outside of art stores in this day and age.

Leadholders not only have the expression quality of traditional pencils, but also the convenience and ease of refill as a mechanical pencil. With Lead Pointer sharpeners, they are easy to uniformly sharpen to a point as well as use sandpaper for more custom tuning. Additionally, unlike most mechanical pencils that use a push mechanism, most leadholders use a clutch release system, so you can have as long a lead as you want in an instant. It is not entirely clear why such a versatile superior tool has declined in popularity over the years, but it’s definitely worth giving one a whirl should you come across one in your local art store. I personally use a leadholder for all my rough sketches, three of them with different lead types in fact! For more information, please visit www.leadholder.com. It’s ancient technology!

#2: Pencil ExtenderPencil Extender

Are you using a leadholder yet? If not then it’s all good, because if you were, this entry would be a lot less useful. Leadholders and Mechanical pencils with their metal or plastic bodies don’t get chopped to pieces when you sharpen them, wooden pencils on the other hand do and when the length of your pencil is less than the height of your hand, your drawing tends to go downhill real fast. That means it’s time for a new pencil, but what a waste, wouldn’t it be great if you could use that last remaining bit of pencil goodness just begging for sweet death?  That’s where the pencil extender comes in!

The pencil extender is exactly what it sounds like, a pencil like rod that you stick the withering husk of your previous pencil into for another round of torment – it’s just like beating a dead horse, but with significantly more practical results! In addition to standard wooden pencils, there are also other expendable pencil shaped drawing implements, specifically of the “Too expensive to waste” variety that a pencil extender will easily pay for itself on by extending their usability, such as graphite sticks and color erase pencils. Remember folks, if it still exists, use a pencil extender until it doesn’t!

#3: Mini PencilMini Pencil

This one is more of a gimmick than actually useful, but it’s cute which in my book of ethics trumps everything else. Mini Pencils don’t actually have a recognizable formal name, they could be called “Micro Pencils”, “Tiny Pencils”, “Really Adorable Petite Pencils” and still pretty much describe what they are, yet it is a surprisingly rare item. However, for all of the drawing tools I’ve ever used, the Mini Pencil has been the one to receive the most attention by onlookers, perhaps due to the sight of using a ridiculously small pencil to draw with. To that extent, the mini pencil has one huge benefit; it’s really, really, small and portable like. Most will fit in your pocket, in your wallet, floating in mid air due to being too small to be affected by gravity, etc.

Mini pencils are light weight and effect the way you draw in general and is good training for arm and elbow control, especially if you’re a wrist oriented artist which I personally tend to be. Negative effects are that since your wrist tends to be closer to the drawing area of the paper, you will smudge more if you rest your wrist down frequently, but it’s cute, so I’ll call that a charming fault rather than you know, a fundamental flaw. A fundamental flaw unless that is, you intend to use the next tool on the list.

#4: Paper StumpPaper Stump

Speaking of smudging, here’s a tool that’s entire existence revolves around it. A more frugal artist might be happy with a paper tissue or even their fingers to spread the graphite happiness around, but for sheer smudging awesomeness, few can compare to the wonders of the paper stump. Being essentially a roll of super tightly bound paper in a pencil like shape of varying sizes, the paper stump excels at realistic graphite renderings and in the hands of a master can produce magic.

There is a sister of sorts to the paper stump called the Tortillon, not to be confused with the Tortilla or Tortellini, both which are considerably more edible. The Tortillon and the paper stump are very similar but produce different textures and generally have a different shape. Art stores tend to sell both at a considerable price given their actual material cost, so some artists opt to make their own out of rolled paper. Personally, I’m more of a clean and simple line art kind of guy, so in practice, I don’t use a paper stump much if at all, however, if you aim to create realistic renderings, in graphite or other medium adept at smudging, please give paper stumps a try!

#5: Kneaded EraserKneaded Eraser

Along with the paper stump, the kneaded eraser is an absolute must have tool for person working in realistic graphite renderings! Made strangely more known to anime viewers thanks to Yuno-chan’s incident with one in Hidamari Sketch where she accidentally forgot her vinyl eraser for a test and was forced to use a kneaded erase, the kneaded eraser can be described as play-dough that erases stuff. Features include being moulded into a gigantic ball and thrown to stick on the ceiling. Features actually relevant to drawing are it allows for a softer, more flexible erasing edge useful for less abrasively removing graphite and with more control than a standard vinyl eraser.

You know those annoying eraser bits that get everywhere with vinyl erasers?  Kneaded erasers don’t have that problem, they simply absorb graphite and self clean when you massage them a lot, seriously. I’ve worked with kneaded erasers on total charcoal disasters where the eraser did an amazing job of cleaning itself after some vigorous squishing, although I wouldn’t say that they last forever though, you’ll probably want to replace one of those when it shares more in common with your black carpet than with a ball of clay. The weakness of kneaded erasers is the flip side of its strength, because it is softer and more flexible, it’s not particularly ideal for very focused erasing, specifically line art, for that you would be better off using a standard vinyl eraser or the next following tool!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

william j dochartaigh February 19, 2015 at 1:13 pm

I was converting from Mechanic to engineer and step 1 was Drafting and Design Technology, this was in the early 80′s, AutoCAD in it’s infancy, though i took a generic CAD class and a Computer Programming course. Ancient times.
except for the CAD class, all drafting was done via analog methods – pencils, pens, templates or basics like a compass.
the shortcuts, or gadgets, like the 10 awesome drawing tools, were not accepotable for classroom, though how you arrived at a finished drawing at home was up to you. I found many awesome tools in the local art supply house, many shortcuts to draw, draught or draft the necessary shapes, to acheive accurate lettering, proper line weight.
I’m glad I got into the drafting before CAD was prevalant and practically eliminated pencil/pen draughting! it was a stand alone profession, and artform that required practice, apprenticeship and many design engineers were serious prima donnas who picked and chose who was allowed to draft for them.
i enjoyed this article very much, brought back fond memories of a faded profession…

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