Monday, 14 November 2011


Back to the drawing board/sketchbook, folks.  This rather unusual blog title means that I would like to talk about the use of the ERASER as a drawing tool.

An eraser is not just for removing mistakes.  An eraser can also be used for drawing purposes...for creating, rather than simply erasing. 

First, let's look at....


Today, there is a huge choice of "rubbers" or erasers, in our shops.  Before these items were available to artists, a piece of BREAD was often used, worked between the fingers into a stiff ball or lozenge, to remove chalk, charcoal or pencil marks.  It was, and still is, surprisingly effective!  It does, however, create lots of crumbs!

Rubber itself proved to be more effective still, plastic came along shortly after,  and now we can choose all sorts of different kinds of rubber, vinyl and plastic erasers, in block, stick, pencil and even battery-operated form like this one here:

Soft plastic or vinyl erasers, like the white ones shown below are the most effective at removing graphite marks, but although they do a very good job, care is needed since they can, with over-use,  damage the surface of the paper  - although not as much as a hard, gum rubber which can even impress graphite INTO the surface of the paper, and these impressed marks are almost impossible to remove. Rubber, plastic and vinyl erasers will all leave little scraps of themselves on the surface, which need to be blown away.  If you try to brush them away, you may well brush off parts of your drawing or smudge the drawing.......NOT fun.   

For charcoal, pastel pencil or conte, a kneaded, or putty eraser, which is soft and pliable and feels something like Blu-tack,  is the safest option;

This kind of eraser is not so good for removing very large areas of charcoal since it will soften and deform in use (you really need to brush most of the charcoal off gently, perhaps with a soft brush,  before attacking with any kind of eraser). You can tear off small pieces of a kneadable eraser for removing tiny areas, even dabbing or dotting with a corner fashioned into a point will lift the charcoal like magic. If the kneaded eraser becomes hard, or dirty, which it will over time, it can be manipulated gently in a warm hand, kneading the eraser with your fingers to close clean areas over dirty ones until you achieve a surface clean enough to use again.  A kneaded eraser can be shaped into a ball, a wedge, a point - anything you might require. It will not leave crumbs, it simply lifts marks by absorbing the charcoal particles.  Eventually it will become too dirty to use, and will need to be replaced.   If very dirty, it will actually leave marks...or make marks, if that appeals to you!   And if your drawing is irritating you, for a change of pace you can always resort to making funny animal models out of a kneaded eraser........


There may be times when you do not want to painstakingly work around light shapes, since this can be fiddly and can stop the "flow" of an image.  You may want to create a highlight, or a very fine light line.   There may also be times when you want to soften or break up the image you have created, with erased areas, quite deliberately, for a particular effect.   Picking out an eraser line, or area, from a charcoal shape, is easier to achieve than one might imagine.  Take a look at this simple example.  Charcoal was spread across a sheet of ivory pastel paper.  The charcoal hits the "high points" in the paper, which is why it looks slightly textured.  The top half was rubbed in with fingers, achieving a more solid, but somewhat misty effect.

Then the white shapes were "lifted" out with an eraser.  So simple, so quick.  Do try it for yourself, if you have never done so before.

Now take a look at my ballet drawings here.  I wanted just to hint at movement.  So, I used the eraser to break up the charcoal or conte work.  The broken line in places seems to subtly suggest a sense of movement .

English National Ballet student, at practice.  Brown conte pencil

Here is another one:  Look carefully at the upper part of the arm of the figure, see how the lines have been broken up, which helps to give the impression of slight movement.  Same thing applies to the lines which surround the body.

"Ever Graceful".   Charcoal and conte on paper.

For the picture at the beginning of this blog, I used a plastic eraser to lift out the light shapes of the smaller branches of the trees in the woodland sketch, and for some of the distant trees.

In my next blog post, a kind of "part two",  I will introduce you to some of the charcoal work of a symbolist painter, Odilon Redon, who produced some very extraordinary works using this  technique -he would use an eraser, and a "stump", as part of his arsenal of tools, to quite remarkable effect.   


  1. Fantastic, and very good information! This is something I sometimes forget to do -- use the eraser as a drawing tool. I plan on doing a great deal of sketching during the next few months. I want to get back to my "drawing" roots and see how it affects my paintings. I appreciate your lessons here on the blog. Thank you, Jackie!

  2. By the way, I meant to say how beautiful that first sketch is. Trees! My favorite subject.

  3. Couldn't agree more with this post! Most people I know have the perception that erasing is somewhat "cheating" but I think erasing is part of creating =)

  4. thanks for the comments, folks! most appreciated.

  5. great tutorial! I love erasers! I've drawn many backgrounds and whiskers with them!

  6. I'm loving everything about your blog! Beautiful artwork, and great advice!

  7. Your drawings are very soft and delicate. Beautiful and elegant works.

  8. wonderful technique and effect. yet another exciting thing for me to explore. beautiful dancers.

  9. I saw the first ballet drawing on Pinterest and love it! I would love something like that for my little girls nursery! Any chance you would sell one?


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