It never ceases to amaze me how I (and probably others too) need just the right tools to get the art job done. Not in a “Right tool for the right job and so you don’t drive screws with a hammer” carpentry kind of way but in a “I need a certain kind, brand, or style of pencil in order to create what I want” kind of way.

I can draw with any kind of pencil at hand but it took me years to discover that I draw best with a soft 4B or 6B pencil. I used plenty of different pencils back in my art school years, including soft ones, but out of school I used a lot of harder leads that were common among the illustrators and cartoonists that were my peers. Why not? They were the ones everyone else used. And I never had any particular affinity for the softer leads in my school days anyway. Soft leaded pencils can be messy and hard to work with. Especially for the beginner that I was. Now I use them every day and hardly ever touch a hard leaded pencil.

The subject of the importance of tools was raised in my mind this week because I began work on a new one panel comic strip called “Message Tee”. The idea is just a drawing of a person in a T-Shirt with a message on it and I wanted to draw some people in T-Shirts. Simple enough stuff but I had a hard time getting it done. Mostly because of paper.

Paper is another interesting tool. There are lots of different kinds. Generally I like paper that’s a little thick. Two ply bristol or 140 lb watercolor paper (300 lb if I’m painting on it) are my usual choices. Sometimes I use smooth paper and sometimes I like a little tooth to it. Paper can be tricky but normally I know what suits me. Most often I use paper in sheets but sometimes I like to work in a book.

That’s another artist’s tool. The sketchbook. It took me a long time to find a sketchbook I really like. All through art school and maybe for ten years afterwards I used a black hard bound sketchbook. Lots of my friends used them and they were always pretty cool. They were durable and easy to carry. I still like those sketchbooks as objects. I just don’t like them as sketchbooks anymore. I don’t think I ever really did.

It turns out that a spiral bound sketchbook suits me much better. It’s uglier and less rugged but has other advantages. The spiral bound book lays flatter and stays in place better that a hard bound one. I was always struggling to keep the hard bound book out of my way as I drew. My left (non-drawing) arm was often twisted at an odd angle just to keep the book open. And a hard bound book takes up twice as much space as a spiral bound one as you’re drawing. It needed a lot of room.

The twice as much space of the hard bound book, i.e. the back of the previous page as you draw on the next one, also messed with my sense of composition without me realizing it. I only discovered that when I switched to the spiral bound one where the pages fold underneath one and other. There was no longer a giant white space above or to the side of the drawing I was working on and I got a greater sense of clarity as I composed. I never realized I was lacking that clarity in the hard bound sketchbook.

So there I was this week looking to draw some characters standing around in T-shirts. I started in a small 5×7 inch book but that turned out to be too small to be comfortable. Then I switched to sheets of paper and photo referenced the people but that turned out too dull. After that I tried a small hard bound sketch book that I had lying around but that was too small and too annoying. Eventually I got one drawing done using a piece of 8.5×11 inch printer paper. Not a paper I usually draw on but sometimes it can get me going.

All this took place over a few days. There was lots of frustration and false starts. Finally after the one drawing on printer paper I went out and got a pad of 9×12 inch drawing paper. I had never used a sketchbook that particular size before. It was spiral bound pad because I wanted to draw in a book. Don’t ask me why because I don’t know but sometimes only a sketchbook will do.

Once I got the book I was off and running. I made four drawings in pretty short order and another four the next day. After half a week of getting nowhere on the project it was pretty amazing getting somewhere all because of having they type of paper/sketchbook that suited me for that project. Why was that the right tool for the right job? I don’t know. But that’s why I’m always trying out new tools, mediums, and subject matter. Who knows what might suit me next that I know nothing about? Gotta keep searching.