A group of supplies that are commonly used for cast drawing.
Some claim that art can be created with just about anything. Whether that is true or not, having the proper supplies will make the task far easier. In this article I list the supplies needed for cast drawing and painting, as well as some recommendations for where you might purchase them.
Note that in all cases I list the recommended suppliers in alphabetical order.
A section of the Cast Hall at PAFA.
I am willing to state that all ateliers that come through R. H. Ives Gammell begin their students drawing plaster casts, in Sight-Size. It is also very likely that they will provide you with the casts from which they want you to draw. However, if you want your own cast you will do well by purchasing from one of the following suppliers. But before you do, read this article about the things you should know before buying one.
Various brands of drawing charcoal: Nitram, Winsor & Newton, Grumbacher.
Charcoal is the traditional medium currently used for cast drawing. It mostly replaced chalk in the late nineteenth-century. The nice thing about both mediums is that they allow the artist to draw linearly and in mass. Pencil, on the other hand, is primarily a linear medium.
The most highly recommended charcoal is the Nitram brand. You can find it at many online retailers, including Nitram themselves.
Many of the major art supply manufacturers produce charcoal as well. Winsor & Newton and Grumbacher are probably the most prolific. Both producers make willow and vine charcoal and many students and artists use them interchangeably. The difference between the two is that willow is blacker than vine, whereas vine is a dark gray. Both erase equally well and are fine for cast drawing.
Regardless of the brand, you will need quite a few of all hardnesses (soft, medium and hard).
You can purchase charcoal at all online and physical art supply stores, including many craft stores.
A selection of charcoal sharpening blocks.
Charcoal sticks used for cast drawing is best sharpened to a point. The sharpening process is sometimes disconcerting to the beginning student because a properly sharpened stick of charcoal can be one-third smaller than when in its original state. This seems like a lot of waste! Then again, that which is sanded away is not useful.
To sharpen a stick of charcoal you will need a sharpening block. This is a small, thin board upon which is glued a sheet (or sheets) of sandpaper. Many art stores sell these. If possible, avoid the ones which appear to be made from a cut off end of a house paint stirring stick. They are too thin to get a good, long taper on the charcoal stick. Also to be avoided are those which have sandpaper that does not go edge to edge on the board. The gap they leave can also affect the taper on the stick.
Hardware stores are also a good option for a sharpening block. 3M and other companies make sanding blocks for woodworkers that have grit on four of the six sides of the block. If you go this route, or elect to make your own, choose 150 or higher grit.
So how do you go about sharpening your charcoal with a sharpening block? See this video below.
There are dozens of paper options. When I was in the ateliers in Minnesota back in the 1980s, we used white Canson Ingres for cast drawings. In Florence in the early 1990s we used Fabriano Roma. Nowadays I have friends who use Strathmore. Despite all of the options, there is no perfect paper and the best choice often comes down to personal preference.
Canson Ingres is still available. Unfortunately, Ingres seems thinner now than I recall it being when I was a student. Still present as well are the slight grooves which run the length of the paper, spaced about one inch apart. These are the result of the manufacturing process and many machine-made papers have grooves, dents or dimples like this.
Fabirano Roma is, or was, a handmade paper. I cannot determine if it is still being produced. It, too, had a certain kind of pattern to its surface. If you can find some in white or off-white, it will likely be very expensive. Roma is also quite soft. As such, it is not the easiest paper to erase.
There is also Canson Mi-Teintes paper. We used this version of Canson’s paper, in gray and other colors, for techniques called aux deux crayons and trois crayons drawing.
Lately I have been experimenting with Stonehenge paper. So far I like it. Its surface pattern is quite even and is somewhat like that of a golf ball, though the dents are far more shallow. It is a heavier paper than Canson Ingres, so that is an advantage.
You can purchase charcoal paper at all online and physical art supply stores.
There are three types of erasers that are used for charcoal drawing: chamois, rubber, and kneaded (putty rubber). In the past, soft, stale bread was used.
A chamois eraser is a section of a soft leather cloth. Chamois has many uses, but as it relates to drawing you use it to gently erase larger sections of charcoal off of your drawing. One advantage of using chamois is that it leaves very little residue behind. When the chamois gets too soiled, you can wash it in warm water (no soap) and let it dry. It will dry fairly stiff so you will need to stretch it a bit to make it useful again. You will need one section of chamois, about 4″ x 6″ in size.
A rubber eraser is hard. One common brand that you might have seen is Pink Pearl. Rubber erasers are sometimes used to remove stubborn sections of charcoal that will not erase by other means. One issue with these kinds of erasers is that they leave behind shreds of themselves. You will need to remove those from the paper and that can be tricky. I tend to only use one when I have a line or tone that does not erase with the other options. You may or may not need a rubber eraser at all.
More commonly used is a kneaded eraser. These are made of a soft, rubbery material that you clean by kneading it between your fingers or hands. The great thing about kneaded erasers is that you can form them into a very fine point which allows you to erase very small, detailed areas of your drawing.
All art supply stores carry erasers.
Miscellaneous Drawing Supplies
- Drawing board
- Easel (to make your own, see The Basement Easel. Regardless of the model chosen, make sure that it can hold the drawing board in a perfectly vertical position.
- Still life stand (to make your own, see The Still Life Stand
- Shadow box (to make your own, see The Shadow Box
- Hand mirror
- Plumb line
- Mahl stick
- Artist’s tape
Commonly used oil painting brushes: a round bristle, a filbert bristle, and a filbert sable.
There are essentially three types of brushes that are useful to the oil painter: bristle, sable, and synthetic. The most commonly used is the hog bristle. This type of brush is great for laying-in and building up paint.
Next we have the sable. These brushes are expensive and good ones may be hard to find. Although some (myself included) use sables during many stages of painting, others simply use this type of brush for blending and finishing. The best and often the only useful kind of sable is Kolinsky.
Synthetic brushes are the third type of brush. Overall these have not impressed me, but in the end it comes down to what you are used to. If you find that synthetics work well for you, great.
Within those brush types are three main shapes: the round, the filbert (or cat’s tongue), and the flat. Schools of thought abound about which brush shape is the best. I prefer the round and filberts but never use flats. Other artists swear by flats. My students use what I do.
Fan blending brushes are also used by some. I used one once and found that I lacked control over exactly where the blending was occurring. Therefore, I do not use them.
Brushes also come in various sizes, denoted by a number. Usually, the lower the number the smaller the brush. Manufacturers tend to produce even numbered sizes beginning with a #00 on the small end, up to a #20 or so on the large end. These numbers really have nothing to do with the length of the handle although larger numbered brushes often have somewhat longer and thicker handles than smaller ones.
You will continually need new brushes and, as a beginning student who is buying new materials, brushes will be a good portion of your initial expenses. Early on in my studies it was suggested that I buy a new brush every time I go to the art store. This habit spreads out the cost of brushes over time and it is one that I still follow.
Whether you purchase one at a time or a bunch, make your life easier and buy the best brushes you can afford right from the start.
As with most art supplies, the major manufacturers produce their own, and in some cases you can get a good brush from them. Lately I have had good luck with Silver Brush Grand Prix, Utrecht’s Series 209 Pure Natural Chungking Hog Bristles, and Zecchi’s Kolinsky sables
Oftentimes, however, I have had more success with those manufacturers that specialize in brushes. Rosemary & Co Artists Brushes Ltd, out of West Yorkshire, England is a small company that produces great, handmade brushes.
Canvas, in the process of being mounted on stretchers.
Canvas and Supports
Finely woven, linen canvas with a ground layer of white lead oil priming is a traditional oil painting support. For those who are not inclined to prime their own, pre-primed linen will have to do. Due to the current climate regarding lead-based products this kind of pre-primed canvas will likely be difficult to find. Most of the pre-primed canvases currently available are a mixture of zinc and titanium white. But be careful. Zinc-based grounds and paints have come under scrutiny as they have a tendency to crack.
Cotton canvas is a student-grade option that I do not recommend. Nor do I recommend acrylic primed canvases, whether on linen or on cotton.
Canvas comes in different thicknesses and weaves. As a trained artist you might choose a thicker, heavier weave because you want to make use of its texture for your painting. However, as a student you should use finely woven canvas because it will be easier to paint on. This is sometimes called, portrait linen.
Among other options are primed panels, primed canvas mounted on a panel, and canvas paper. I do not recommend canvas paper but a well made panel is often a good choice.
For those who do not want to make their own canvas or panels, Natural Pigments, among others, has supports which are ready-made and are not primed with zinc.
Paint used for cast painting: Hand-mulled raw umber, Rublev lead white, Blue Ridge ivory black.
Most cast painting is done using a mixture of ivory black and raw umber for the darks, and lead white (or titanium) for the lights. Some ateliers do not allow the raw umber for the darks, but simply have their students use ivory black.
I prefer to mull my own paint (another topic for another article). If you do not, when choosing a paint avoid student-grade versions, as well as all forms of zinc white.
All the major manufactures make good paint. Some of the best are:
Miscellaneous Painting Supplies
In addition to the above (as well as to some of the drawing supplies), you will need:
- Cold pressed linseed oil
- Distilled/rectified turpentine, mineral spirits, OMS, or lavender spike oil
- Dammar or mastic retouch varnish
- Dammar or mastic final varnish
- Palette knife
- Palette cup(s)
- Silcoil or a short, wide-mouthed jar
- paper towels
Generally speaking, I tend to patronize the following suppliers more often than not. Each of them have an online presence and ship worldwide.