The Pencilneck ® on Erasing

by Owen Garratt | More Artsy, Less Fartsy

O ne of the problems about being a pencil artist is that everyone thinks that they know what pencil is. And erasers and erasing. Pfhfhft..

They chewed on them in kindergarten, and they learned how to shade with the thing held sideways and so they think they’ve got the entire scope of the thing.

In much the same vein, they tend to think along the lines of “pencil smencil; if you make a mistake, you just erase it”.

Yeah, right.

In the broadest sense, erasers and erasing is a lot like wiping mustard off of a shirt: you get most of it off, but the rest of it rubs right in. They can try it themselves; draw a smiley face on and try to get the paper perfectly clean again.


Now a lot depends on the nature of the pencil you’ve drawn with and/or how the graphite was applied, but after many years of grief, false starts, lamentations and doing that dance where you grab two handfuls of your hair and pull, I’ve developed a rule:


The Pencilneck’s ® Soapbox Rule # 331

Don’t trust erasers. Keep the paper clean.

I’ve learned not to rely on erasing. It’s like the safety on a gun: it’s the last resort; it’s not there to make up for unsafe handling. You still need to make sure the gun is always pointed in a safe direction.

Don’t assume that you’ll be able to stroll back and scrub out any little boo-boos you’ve let happen. Sooner or later, you’ll end up with a smudey mess.

Erasers make great texturing tools and I use them all the time, but as far as fixing screw ups?

Well, sometimes you get really lucky, but not usually, and the way The Universe works, if it’s something important, that’ll be the time it doesn’t work.

Ask me how I know…


The Pencilneck’s ® Top Tips for Using Erasers


  • Use them primarily for texturing, not erasing.
  • Since you’re not going to listen to that advice, at least use the right eraser for the right job.
  • You need 2 main types: kneadable and white vinyl


Erasers and Erasing

The kneadable include Blu-tack by Bostick – which was originally created as a type of poster putty, and kneaded rubber erasers, which is what I use most.

They’re terrific for lifting areas of tone or for cleaning light smudges. They’re very easy on the paper and they’re terrific for “cutting in” softer edges and textures.

White vinyl erasers are available everywhere. I prefer Staedtler, but I’ve never tried a bad one from any other brand. 

They’re nice because they can be trimmed to a sharp edge if you need to cut in or clean up a heavier line. They’re stiffer than the kneaded ones, so if you need to scrub (but please don’t), you can get quite a bit of pressure on it if you’re using a good heavy paper.

Gum erasers have their place too, I suppose. They’re closer to vinyl in terms of use, but they crumble easily and seem to make more of those bits that get everywhere.


Never mind the picture at the top: pink erasers are much too tough on the paper, and don’t work very well!


Plan ahead!

Contrary to popular myth, an intricate pencil drawing is NOT the time or the place to be winging it or to indulge in ‘creativity’! The time for creativity is in the planning or the art, not necessarily the execution of it.

Scores of artists will read that and begin sucking air through clenched teeth has they clutch their chests, but it’s true.

Yes, of course most drawings have places and room for improv etc., but my point is that 25 hours into a drawing is the wrong time to decide that the tree would look better on the other side.

99% of the time you won’t be able to remove it satisfactorily.

You should’ve thought it through better.


Do sound underdrawings.

Use a nice light sketch with a softish pencil and make sure that you’ve got everything where you want it.

DON’T use a lighter/harder pencil for outline work because it tends to indent the paper and is actually harder to remove, even though it’s a lighter initial shade.

A little contraryish, but a softer/ darker pencil applied with a very light hand is quite a bit easier to remove.

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Owen on Memories

"The events in my life - marriage, fatherhood, laughter with worthwhile people, bereavements, good songs, bad choices, onslaughts of challenges and occasional triumphs are all reflected in the drawings I create.

The artwork may have nothing to do with the event, but every drawing is charged with the emotions of the time.

It's like hearing that certain song come on the radio and BOOM - you're right back in high school with a broken heart...

I don't see the subjects of my drawings, really. I'm pulled back into what was happening in my life at the time I was drawing it. It demonstrates how life and art are inextricably linked."



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Windy Point by Owen Garratt