Erasing With BLU-TACK
by M J Sibley (U.K.)
Erasing is an art in itself and successful erasing is never easy. Just for the moment leave aside your hard rubbers, soft art erasers and kneadable putty rubbers while I introduce you to my favourite ERASER.....
Erasing with Putty?
This is not a putty rubber as you know it... Be prepared to have your technical illusions shattered - my preferred eraser (almost my only eraser) is not an eraser at all... but it is a tool of unsurpassed excellence! We know it here in the UK as "Blu-Tack" - the non-sticky putty that is used for fixing posters to walls. Yes, that's right, this stuff is God's own gift to graphite artists - and probably works as well with charcoal and pastel. Years ago I bought a batch of putty rubbers (kneaded erasers) that broke up in use and, in desperation, I grabbed a piece of Blu-Tack — I've used virtually nothing else since. This "eraser" is so versatile that I still haven't exhausted its range of uses! But beware - there are similar products, generically known as "Wall Putties", but only Blu-Tack possesses the qualities we need.
The Eraser in use: Blu-Tack possesses two qualities not found in Putty Rubbers - an enhanced ability to be readily formed into any shape and an all-important inherent tackiness. And one undesirable but not insurmountable property - it's tendency to become soft and sticky when held in the hand for any length of time. This is easily overcome by employing two balls of the magic putty so that one is always cool and available for immediate use.
An Eraser is not a Rubber: Hard rubbers rub, they do little more than force graphite deep into the paper. "Art erasers" and putty types remove graphite more softly but, as they still require a dragging movement to achieve results, a degree of graphite "staining" usually results. But Blu-Tack, as a result of its sticky nature, removes every grain of graphite without any detrimental movement. It's a graphite magnet! A quick downward touch embeds the grains for immediate and clean lifting.
Cleaning the Eraser: In time, as the Blu-Tack eraser takes in more and more graphite, it will cease to be as efficient. However most of the graphite is merely embedded in its surface and just requires dilution by distributing it throughout the eraser. Taking the ball of putty in one hand, simply pull off small pieces or stretch it out into a long length - now roll the whole thing up again and knead it back into a ball. This eraser is a miser's dream... it will last for months!
Lightening tone: Never again will you feel afraid of over-darkening an area of your drawing. The day has arrived when you can load an area with as much graphite as you want because you now have the means to remove it if you need to. The following technique can be applied to any area of tone that you require to be a little (or a lot) lighter. This is where rubbers are useless and normal erasers will let you down - neither can remove half a layer of graphite without disturbing the remainder beneath. This Eraser can! Roll the putty into a cylinder with as smooth a face as possible (try rolling it on your drawing board). Now gently roll the cylinder over the area to be lightened and repeat as required. With a little practice you will soon become proficient and will be able to lower a complete area from in-your-face to ghostly!... and without affecting the detail! For small areas just rock your eraser on your drawing board to form a curved flat then rock that in turn on your drawing. This technique allows total control over the subtlety of, for example, a misty scene - draw it with ease using a greater strength and a wider range of contrasts than is required then use your eraser to progressively "fade" as required.
Complete Erasure: Try this out for yourself and follow the steps I took below:
- Take a piece of your usual drawing paper (I prefer Ivorex card) and generously apply a saturated coating of 6B or similar to a small area. A harder grade will do but it has to be one that you know a regular eraser will smear and not remove.
- Roll a cylinder of your Blu-Tack eraser over the area. This will remove all the surface graphite.
- Continue rolling until the eraser (which you might need to clean at some stage)...
- has removed as much graphite as it possibly can. The graphite is removed in ever decreasing amounts so persevere. Don't worry that the coated eraser may deposit graphite back onto your paper - it just doesn't happen!
- Remember when I said the eraser "removes every grain of graphite...and embeds the grains for immediate and clean lifting"? Well, that's in an ideal world — the very act of drawing will have pushed some graphite a little too far into the paper for the putty to reach so now (and only now) reach for your soft art eraser and rub out the final remnants.
Spot and Shape Erasing
Remember that I said Blu-Tack "is not a putty rubber as you know it" and that, as a result of its sticky nature, it removes every grain of graphite? Blu-Tack is indeed a graphite magnet! All that is required during any of the following examples is a quick downward touch to embed the graphite grains for immediate and clean lifting. You can also try rocking movements or even twisting but try to avoid any form of dragging. Dragging (lightly!) is a technique worth exploring but for now accept that a smudge is the most likely result.
Spot Erasing with Blu-Tack: Blu-Tack is extremely useful in this respect as it can get into places that other erasers find impossible. This is particularly true of the final cleaning of highlights and re-establishing the correct tone of small areas of importance that have become muddied during the drawing process. To spot erase simply take a piece of Blu-Tack and pull a section out into a point then gently touch the point onto the spot that requires cleaning (or lightening or removing) and lift up. This will bring a certain amount of graphite with it. To continue cleaning, pull a new point and re-apply until the desired cleanliness is achieved. If you are lightening an area, try using the same partially graphite-loaded point, which will now pick up a lesser amount each time you apply it.
The following example (fig.1) shows the results of spot cleaning by Blu-Tack - the eye has had the all-important highlight returned to the necessary white. This is important as that single highlight often dictates the total range of tonal contrast throughout the drawing. In fig.2 and fig.3 the water at the base of the eye has also been brightened - areas so narrow (the images are 30% larger than life-size) that no conventional eraser could have succeeded - not even a kneaded eraser, which does not possess the inherent non-staining tackiness of Blu-Tack.
Blu-Tack was also used in all three cases to continually adjust the form and tone of each iris until the desired effect was obtained. The putty is so gentle in its removal of graphite that incredibly subtle changes can be made again and again without damage to the surface.
Spot erasing was used here to improve the nostril highlight. Also that on top of the nose, where the detail has been subtly lightened to blend into the highlight - using a very light touch, Blu-Tack is able to remove and fade just a proportion of the graphite, leaving the detail intact in a way that no other eraser can imitate.
Spot Erasing using conventional erasers: I have found only one tool that will do this successfully — apart from the point of a scalpel, which can be used as a last resort! The requirement is for a soft eraser that can be reduced to as near a sharp point as possible and here the Staedtler fits the description. Of the two versions shown I use the top one — although this is now unavailable the 528-55 refills for the 528-50 below will fit the old (and more comfortable and precise) holder.
The eraser core is capable of being formed to a very fine point using a conventional pencil sharpener and, with care, can be used to erase very small areas — but this does need a mechanical rubbing motion which requires space so, unlike Blu-Tack, this eraser cannot be used in very restricted places.
Shape Erasing: This is part of the much wider subject of "negative" drawing, which I intend to cover at a later date. The basics, of course, simply involve removing already applied graphite to "draw" light or white shapes within it. Blu-Tack shines at this - the merest touch leaving a clear sharp-edged impression of a shape easily pre-formed in the putty. It is exceptional at suggesting background foliage, hairs in areas of deep shadow, anywhere that a suggestion is to be preferred over sharp focus. And for making additions at a late stage - having, for example, completed a section of foliage against a dark background you may decide that the section possesses some imbalance — a touch or two of pre-formed Blu-Tack will quickly add mid-ground foliage to redress the balance. A more determined touch or series of touches can even take 6B almost back to white if further foreground foliage is desired.
The intention here was to hide the rabbit in the undergrowth to the point where it was not immediately noticeable. Changes will have to be made for the intention to succeed.
A little more highlighted interest is required around the rabbit to distract the viewer's eye. Here I have cut shapes into the 2B-drawn depths with Blu-Tack - the eraser point having been roughly formed into leaf shapes between my finger-tips.
The leaves have been defined and drawn but still more distraction is required. The rabbit is still too conveniently framed. New brambles are cut in with Blu-Tack - pinched into a short knife edge then repeatedly applied along the required length.
The narrow, erased lines have been defined, shaped into twigs and textured. I'm happy with this — I don't want the rabbit so well hidden that it's never found!
Below is the final result in situ. The sample was taken from my Border Terrier study "Overlooked!".
M J Sibley (U.K.) | www.sibleyfineart.com
A timely tip from Brian McFann:
"I have benefited from your tip about Blu-Tack. You might warn people that if they let the Blu-Tack get too near the kneaded eraser (which I think you call a putty rubber), the two will join and it will be impossible to separate them." Thanks Brian!
Toby Levin, USA
“The Blu-Tack is better than I even thought it would be...I'm still amazed at how that light touch will pick up the graphite. It's great!!!!”
Don't blend graphite with your fingers - don't touch the paper surface at all! Natural grease from your skin will indelibly alter any touched area and affect the way that graphite adheres to it. This is particularly noticeable (and distracting) if the area is within an expanse of flat or graduated tone - more graphite will adhere to the greasy area and always appear darker.
All text content and images copyright © 2002-2003 M J Sibley Dip.A.D.