Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tips & Tricks #7: The Other Side Of The Pencil - Choosing The Right Eraser For The Job

Before we became artists we probably didn't give much thought to the lowly eraser. It was just a handy pink knob on the hind end of the pencil that was there to get us out of a jam when we screwed something up. But did you know that there's much more to the art of erasing than that? If you go to the eraser section of the pencil aisle at BINDERS, you'll see a greater variety of erasing devices than you may have ever realized existed, and each one has it's own function and area of expertise. Let's take a look at some of the most popular types and find out what they can be used for.

White Vinyl
One of the most ubiquitous erasers to be found in any artist's kit is the white vinyl eraser, such as the one made by Staedtler. As the name implies, this eraser is a small, rectangular block of white vinyl, which removes graphite and charcoal quite effectively. Of all the erasers, this one is probably the strongest, allowing you to eliminate unwanted marks almost completely and more quickly than with any of the others. Plus, because the vinyl is relatively stiff, you can be fairly precise with it.

The main thing to be aware of with a white vinyl eraser is that the graphite or charcoal will be picked up by the vinyl and held on the surface of the eraser, so the next time you put it down on a piece of paper, the previously erased material will be deposited there. That’s usually NOT what you're going to want on your artwork! So have a piece of scratch paper standing nearby that you can use to rub the layer of graphite of charcoal on after you have just erased something. With that in mind, the white vinyl eraser is the best all-around choice for an eraser and if you can only have one, this would be it!

Art Gum
The Art Gum eraser is made of a dry, crumbly type of rubber that will grab graphite or charcoal and then break apart into little bits, taking the graphite/charcoal particles with it. What this tends to result in is a big mess on your paper, so it helps to have a brush handy to dust off your drawing surface every now and then. The really great thing about an Art Gum eraser is that it's very light on the paper and it will do the least damage to the paper's surface. Maintaining the integrity of the paper surface will not be much of a consideration with graphite or charcoal drawings, but it can make a huge difference for watercolor painting and drafting.

When creating a preparatory sketch for a watercolor painting, you will want to use an Art Gum eraser to remove any unwanted pencil marks. Any other eraser will rough up the surface to a degree that washes will look grainy - not the effect you are probably going for! Likewise, with drafting vellum, the smooth surface is very sensitive and can easily be disturbed by a rough eraser, resulting in a lack of sharpness on the ink lines that will eventually be drawn over it.

The most unusual eraser type is the kneaded eraser, which starts out looking like a gray rectangle of rubbery clay. True to its name, the kneaded eraser can be worked with the hands to a soft consistency and then shaped like a piece of clay. This is by far the best eraser to use for charcoal, because the material grabs hold of the charcoal particles and then you can "knead" the eraser, compressing the charcoal into the eraser so firmly that it can't escape. This makes it superior to the white vinyl because you don't have to take the time to wipe off the charcoal on a separate piece of paper every time, so you can remain in the flow of your drawing and just knead the eraser every once in a while.

This works for graphite as well, though the kneaded eraser lacks the power of the white vinyl and won't be as effective at completely removing pencil marks. Another wonderful use for the kneaded eraser is that you can mold it to any shape that you need: points, curves, or whatever shape you may find useful. This is certainly a feature that makes the kneaded eraser totally different from any of the other and a whole lot of fun too!

Pink Pearl
The venerable "Pink Pearl" eraser is the one that will be most immediately familiar to everyone, since it is made from the same pink rubber that you'll find on top of that pencil you used in grade school. The best thing one can say about the Pink Pearl is that there's comfort in using something you already know everything about. It’s also reasonably effective on graphite, though it's more or less useless on charcoal or anything else.

On the other hand, it's probably the least effective of all the erasers and there are a number of things you should watch out for when using one. The Pink Pearl tends to act a bit like a combination of a white vinyl eraser and an Art Gum eraser, so when you erase with it you'll find that it sometimes picks up the graphite and holds it on the surface of the rubber, and sometimes bits of rubber will crumble off, carrying the graphite with them. So you'll need to use the same precautions that you would with both the white vinyl and the Art Gum: keep an eye on the eraser itself to make sure you don't smear graphite on the paper, plus make sure you brush off any crumbs that come off while erasing.

The rubber surface of the Pink Pearl is rough and will treat the paper harshly, so it's not a good choice for watercolor papers of drafting vellum. Another unfortunate side-effect is the tendency for the Pink Pearl to leave a streak of, well, pink in its wake. Make sure you go easy with it and take your time, the harder you rub the more likely you are to leave that pink trail behind that may not really work in your composition. Once it's on there, that pink color is almost impossible to get rid of! So grab a Pink Pearl if you need something you can relate to right away and if you're not too worried about special techniques.

Hopefully these explanations of the different types of erasers will get you to the next level in your drawing practice. Remember that sometimes the lines you remove are just as important as the ones you keep!

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  1. We've been using the Staedtler eraser for a few years now, and it is quite different from the others.

  2. one of those things I've always wondered about but was too lazy to investigate..thanks for sharing!

  3. I have always used the pink pearl eraser. I hate the way that it always seems to break in half when I am using it though. I mean, I'm not expecting it to be a vinyl wall decal (which are practically indestructible), but I would like it to stay in one piece! I might just have to try the vinyl eraser mentioned first off. Is it available in most stores?