Fundamentals 002:Training to draw straight lines using “wheels”

In this post I would like to share an experimental approach for training to draw straight lines. [Edit 19/06/2020: To avoid any misunderstandings, please note that the use of this assembly (wheels on pencil) can be seen as a part of warming up exercises and the idea is purely experimental. Please do not expect a discussion on ruler vs wheel assembly vs freehand drawing. If you have a curious and an open mind and prefer lengthy/detailed blog posts, then this post is for you. If not please stick to using a ruler or please look elsewhere for help. Thank you for your understanding.]

In my previous post on drawing straight lines, I compiled a list of useful advice from various artists on youtube. I began with a rather ambitious plan of drawing 1000 straight lines a day, which unfortunately I was unable to do so. I was busy with making paints and learning to paint in watercolours. It sort of took over. I am comfortable drawing long straight lines exceeding 15 cm horizontally and diagonally, and short vertical/perpendicular lines (10 cm in length) freehand. However, I struggle with drawing vertical long lines (exceeding 10 cm, target is at least 20 cm) freehand without the use of a straight edge. I also want a way of keeping myself motivated and making the warmup line drawing exercises fun.

Today, I returned to practising drawing straight lines, and I came across a youtube video advertising a pen which has wheels on it, to assist drawing straight lines and circles. There were a few shortcomings with this Straight pen by Lainova/ Jetraider first, the wheels are a permanent fixture with the pen, so it’s fine as long as one wants to draw using a ball point, and secondly, it’s not available in the EU. The reviews on this pen were mostly positive but some of the reviewers pointed out that drawing long straight lines were not easy. However, this pen inspired me to experiment and I am very excited to share my idea and experience so far.

First, I would like to clarify that I do not have any intention of copying the patented Jetraider Straight Pen, this DIY setup is inspired by it and shared here for educational and training purposes. This set up also differs from the commercial “Straight pen”: 1. the wheels are larger, 2. The angle between the wheels and the writing instrument is different, 3. The wheel attachment is not a permanent fixture of the pen/pencil, technically any writing instrument can be placed using some putty rubber or bluetac. 4. Unlike the commercial straight pen, this attachment can’t be used to create circles or circular shapes.

Using parts from Lego Mindstorm/Technik, including the wheels (or in one case I used the gear cogs) I created a simple cradle/attachment shown in Figure 1. I made two different attachment with different wheel diameters.

I attached Faber Castell 2B and 6B clutch pencils in the Lego attachments using some putty adhesive (Figure 2). The advantage of using the putty adhesive is that the pencils are only temporarily fixed to the wheel attachment, and should I wish I can use a variety of mark-making instruments such as fountain pens, technical pens, graphite pencils, charcoal pencils. I will experiment with my synthetic e-sumi brushes in the future.

Figure 1: Wheel attachment for writing instruments made using Lego parts. Please note that the apparent patterns is a result of drawing lines over an uneven surface rather than the marks made by the wheel.
Figure 2: Faber Castell Clutch pencils 2B and 6B attached to the wheel assembly. Please note that the apparent patterns is a result of drawing lines over an uneven surface rather than the marks made by the wheel.

Straight lines in different angles can be drawn with little effort. The wheel attachment with the larger wheels is more comfortable and I was able to draw long straight lines.

Figure 3: Vertical straight lines drawn with 6B clutch pencil on wheels. A4 printer paper 160gsm

Figure 4: Lines drawn mostly with “pencils on wheels” in various directions. Printer paper 90 gsm.

After a few pages of drawing straight lines with these wheel attachments, I now feel that Drawing is like cycling on paper. I view the “wheel attachment” like stabiliser wheels when learning to ride a bicycle. With some practise with my “pencils on wheels” I have felt an improvement with drawing long (over 10 cm) vertical straight lines (this is what I struggled with most). I can feel a change in how I use my shoulder and arm when drawing straight lines freehand (without any rulers or wheels).

This is also great for shading, and my hand and arm doesn’t hurt as much. I used 160 gsm printer paper to practise. Of course, this is great for doing rough studies, as the wheels would I think abrade the paper. But I think it has some great potential for outdoor sketching and conceptual drawings perhaps.

I will try and share a weekly update on this experiment and if/how these “pencils/pens on wheels” improve my ability to draw long lines in various directions.

DIY Vegan watercolour paints: An experimental approach

In the past few months, I have been experimenting with making my own watercolour paints and have been very happy with them. They perform as well as the commercial brands, and in some cases I feel more tuned with the paints I made myself. Here is a selection of my homemade vegan paints, shown below in Figure 1.

Figure 1: A selection of my homemade vegan watercolour paints using fine-artist grade pigments from Kremer Pigmente or Sennelier (Indigo (left), raw umber, burnt sienna, French Ultramarine & Alizarin Crimson (right))

I suspect that the majority of people would not consider beginning to learn watercolour painting by first making their own watercolour paints. In fact, many books and tutors don’t think its necessary to understand materials; what matters, they say, is that you know how to paint and draw. Even as a beginner, I strongly disagree. In April 2020, on a watercolour painting forum I was told that there is absolutely no reason to make paints at home, and without even having seen my paints in action (I was in the process of uploading my images) some people said that my paints were inferior to their beloved – and expensive – commercial paints of whichever brand!!

As a Chemist/scientist, I cannot separate the study of materials from learning to draw and paint. They are very much connected. Historically, many students began with learning to mill the pigment, then combining the pigment with a binder, and only after several years of experience were they given active instruction in painting.

There are many advantages for experimenting with paint-making as a process of learning to paint:

  1. Opportunity to understand pigment and watercolour paint behaviour. I feel this would help me define and develop my own style, and I see it as an integral part of learning to draw and paint.
  2. Even commercial artist grade paints contain some form of fillers and preservatives and, yes, while they may contain higher pigment levels than student grade paints the level of pigment in even in most artist grade paints possibly on average does not exceed 35%. Please visit the Handprint website for a detailed discussion. I am afraid that, although most watercolour paint manufacturers are sincere, the marketing and misinformation which can spread on art forums and books can be misleading. The big advantage of making your own paints are that you can ensure higher levels of pigments, no additional fillers or extenders. However, for me as a vegan the biggest advantage for making watercolour paints, is that I am fairly certain they are vegan-friendly! Making and using my own paints also means that I am able to “tweak” my paints with experience. Paint manufacturers may alter their paint formulations at any time without any pre-warning to improve the performance, replace a pigment type or alter the carrier to lower/maintain manufacturing costs. With my watercolour paints, I can ensure that I maintain the quality of the paints in the long run.
  3. Most commonly used watercolour paints (based on earth pigments like ochres siennas etc, French Ultramarine, Prussian Blue, some organic based pigments) can be made significantly cheaper at home. I will discuss this in detail further.

I would like to share my experiments without going into too much detail, as a deluge of detail might take the fun out of paint making. Here are some useful tips to begin with:

  1. SAFETY FIRST!! Pigments can be hazardous to health, even some benign earth pigments can affect your health due to their small particle sizes which can enter your body through respiration. Some pigments maybe dangerous such as cadmium or cobalt based pigments. Always wear a dust mask (FFP2 minimum), and work in an open and well-ventilated area. Always wear gloves (I use nitrile gloves) when working with pigments, paint mixing and transferring the prepared paint into containers. I also use the gloves for cleaning the equipment and work area. A work overall or a lab coat is also helpful.
  2. If you use fine-artist pigments they are already finely milled. Please consult the manufacturer and ask them for the particle size distribution range, if this information is not available on technical and or safety data sheets. In my opinion, the action of “grinding” pigment by hand using the glass muller and the glass plate is NOT going to make a signicant impact on the pigment size. The idea of mixing the pigment with the binder is to: (i) de-clump and disaggregate pigment clusters and to mobilise them, and (ii) coat and blend the pigment particles with the binder.
  3. There is no need to invest in an expensive glass muller and a glass slab (see the reason listed above). An inexpensive ceramic or glass pestel and mortar is sufficient for preparing these paints. Here is an image of my pestel mortar I use to make my watercolour paints, see Figure 2. I also find it a lot easier to clean compared to mixing the paint on a glass slab.
  4. For vegan-friendly paints, I use a gum arabic solution, QoR synthetic Ox gall (improves the flow and dispersion), glycerine and clove oil to prepare my binder. Its relatively simple, I used the recipe for the binder on the I used vegetable glycerine in the binder. I also added about 1% QoR synthetic ox gall and a few drops of the binder.
  5. If its possible buy gum arabic in powder form, as it is easy to dissolve. I spotted an inexpensive 1L bottle of gum arabic solution (pre-made) on I achieved similar results using this pre-made gum arabic solution and my homemade gum arabic solution. I can easily dissolve powdered gum arabic in the pre-made gum arabic solution by gently heating it using a hair dryer or a heater. This pre-made gum arabic solution is really easy to work with and it’s also relatively inexpensive.
  6. You can use pre-made commercial binders , but they are unlikely to be vegan-friendly. The advantage of making the binder at home is that I can alter the binder composition very easily to suit different pigments and to keep a more experimental approach.
  7. Don’t expect all pigments to play nicely. Make a record as you go along and experiment with increasing and decreasing certain ingredients in your binder.
  8. Begin with inexpensive earth pigments such as Burnt Sienna or Burnt Umber first, then move to Raw sienna, Raw umber, Ochres. The reason for starting out with Ochres, Siennas and Umbers is that they are relatively benign (compared to cadmium or cobalt pigments) and this allowed me to work out a practical and safe procedure. For example, after mixing the paint I figured that I needed a spatula or some pallet knife to help transfer the paint into containers, what the best type of container was, etc. French ultramarine, Lemon yellow, Pyrrol Scarlet were also relatively easy.
  9. Prussian blue was one of the hardest pigments to work with. So be prepared to change how you mix the paint. Perhaps adding the dispersant (QoR synthetic ox gall) and a few drops of water before adding the binder might help.
  10. For most pigments I have listed here I would say they worked pretty well. For each paint, the average time of mixing the pigment with the binder took roughly 5-10 minutes. You can increase the blending time, but I was happy with what I got. I didn’t particularly see a big impact of lengthy “mixing” or “mulling” time, contrary to the instructional videos circulating online. However, that’s my experience.
  11. I would recommend using an air-tight pallet to store the paints. I am currently using small jam jars and then found some inexpensive plastic lotion containers about 10 mL each (shown in Figure 3).
  12. I prefer using the paints as paste (shown above in Figure 1). Don’t be deterred if the paints look dry after a few weeks, I use a tip of a clean palette knife to take small bits of prepared paints and they combine with water very rapidly. You can always add a drop of binder and water to reconstitute the paints (you can even transfer them into the pestel and mortar and sort of “freshen” them up by adding a few drops of the binder or any one of the ingredients you used to make the binder). However, there is absolutely nothing to worry about if the paints do dry out. I am reluctant to state how much humeactant to use in the paints, as I expect it would depend on the pigment quality, pigment type, climate/weather conditions, storage containers, etc. Commercial paints would use high levels of humeactant and additives to keep the paints in “fresh” looking form. As a chemist, I don’t see a problem if the homemade paints dry a bit, from my experience over the last six months I haven’t seen any changes when using fresh paint or slightly dried paints.
  13. Feel free to tweak the paints after they are made, even after months.
Figure 2: Lemon Yellow pigment being mixed with the binder in a small glass pestel and mortar. The yellow paste is pretty uniform after 2 minutes of mixing using the pestel.
Figure 3: Homemade vegan watercolour paints stored in 10mL plastic containers. I use a small (clean and dry) spatula to take a small amount of paint when required for painting. I don’t use a wet brush, as it can encourage microbial growth.

The cost of making watercolour paints:

As I mentioned above, the pre-made inexpensive gum arabic solution worked as well as the homemade gum arabic solution. The only ingredients listed in the technical data sheet for Hueber Gum Arabic solution are gum arabic and water. If you want to concentrate the gum arabic concentration you can leave the gum arabic solution in a separate open container without a lid on, use a breathable mesh or a cheesecloth to allow some water to evaporate for 2-3 days. Alternatively, the approach I opted for was adding additional powdered gum arabic into the gum arabic solution, it dissolves rapidly with the application of gentle heat using a hair dryer or holding it in front of a heater.

Other ingredients for the watercolour binder were:

  • Vegetable Glycerine (1 L for 6 euros from Amazon Germany)
  • Golden QoR synthetic Ox gall (59 mL for about 9 euros)
  • Clove oil 100% pure (25 mL for 6 euros)

You can also use vegan-friendly alternatives to honey: maple syrup or agave. I opted to leave this out.

I hope you agree that the ingredients for making the binder are relatively inexpensive. The most expensive part of the watercolour paint is of course.. the pigment. Here is a list of different pigments I purchased to give you an idea of the costs.

  • French Ultramarine Kremer Pigments (4.28 euro for 100 g). Kremer pigments have a wide range of french ultramarines to choose from (ultramarine dark, ultramarine reddish, ultramarine greenish). I also have French Ultramarine from Gerstaeker and Sennelier (similarly priced if not slightly cheaper).
  • Prussian Blue Kremer Pigments (4 euros for 100 g)
  • Alizarin Crimson, Kremer Pigments (14.76 euros for 100g)
  • Cadmium Yellow No. 6, Kremer Pigments (11.90 euros for 100 g)
  • Cadmium Red middle No. 2, Kremer Pigments (16 euros for 100 g)
  • Raw Sienna Badia, Kremer pigments (3.69 euros for 100g)
  • Burnt Umber dark brown, Kremer pigments (3.69 euros for 100 g)
  • Indigo synthetic, Kremer pigments (5.95 euros for 100 g)
  • Raw Umber, Kremer pigments (3.81 euros for 100 g)
  • Cadmium Red light no. 1, Kremer Pigments (16.01 euros for 100 g)
  • Gold Ochre DD, Kremer Pigments (3.81 euros for 100 g)
  • Burnt Sienna French, Kremer Pigments (3.81 euros for 100g)
  • Green Earth Verona, Kremer Pigments (3.81 euros for 100 g)
  • Wassergrün (watergreen), Apatina (3.80 euros for 100 g)
  • Cadmium Yellow light, Apatina (9.50 for 100g)
  • Pyrrol Red, Gerstaeker (13.10 euro for 200g)
  • Lemon Yellow, Sennelier (12.90 euro for 100g)

As you can see the pigment prices vary considerably. Cobalt Blue from Sennelier costs about 50 euros for 100 g while from Kremer pigments it costs about 13 euros per 100 g (it’s not on the list, as I’ve not bought even the cheaper one yet). Generally speaking, earth pigments such as ochres, siennas and umbers are inexpensive and safer than many pigments. They are a good place to start with. I am not comfortable with using cadmium pigments due to their impact on the environment. My long term goal is to use them while learning how to paint (various books and online courses suggest them) and then to compare them with less toxic paints, for example Gold Ochre here could be an interesting option.

Here are two paintings I made using my homemade vegan watercolour paints. I painted these back in Feb 2020, as part of understanding basic transparent washes following Peter Woolley’s watercolour lessons (Narvik Fjord lesson by Peter Woolley is available on youtube). My painting inspired by Narvik Fjord demo by Peter Woolley is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Painting inspired by Narvik Fjord lesson by Peter Woolley. I used my homemade watercolour paints: French Ultramarine, Cadmium Yellow middle, Pyrrol Red and Burnt Umber. A transparent wash using cadmium yellow followed cadmium red and finally French ultramarine were applied using the wet-in-wet technique. After the background washes were dry, I painted the mountain shapes with French ultramarine (without pre-sketching) using my vegan synthetic Chinese brushes. Other vegan-friendly materials used: Fabriano Artistico Rough 300 gsm A4 size cut from a roll (100% cotton, starch-sized, vegan status confirmed by Fabriano); Billy Showell ‘s synthetic hair mop brush and Blue Heron’s synthetic hair Chinese brushes.

This painting of Derwent Valley (inspired by Peter Woolley’s watercolour lesson) was produced in Feb 2020 (shown in Figure 5). I used my homemade watercolour paints: French ultramarine, Cadmium Yellow middle, Cadmium Red middle and Burnt umber. I used similar techniques used for making the Narvik Fjord painting. The paints are very easy to control and I am happy with the results.

Figure 5: Derwent Valley view (inspired by Peter Woolley’s watercolour lesson on Transparent washes). I used my homemade watercolour paints: French Ultramarine, Cadmium Yellow middle, Cadmium Red middle and Burnt Umber. A transparent wash using cadmium yellow followed cadmium red and finally French ultramarine were applied using the wet-in-wet technique. After the background washes were dry, I painted the shape of the valley and land features (without pre-sketching) with French ultramarine (with or without burnt umber)using my vegan synthetic Chinese brushes (purchased from Blue Heron). Other vegan-friendly materials used: Fabriano Artistico Rough 300 gsm A4 size cut from a roll (100% cotton, starch-sized, vegan status confirmed by Fabriano); Billy Showell ‘s synthetic hair mop brush and Blue Heron’s synthetic hair Chinese brushes.

I will share more watercolour paintings and drawings here to see these paints in action and compare them with some vegan-friendly commerical options, such as Cotman, Van Gogh, Kuretake, Rembrandt and Daniel Smith paints.

Winsor & Newton, Kuretake, Kremer pigments and Schmincke have given me permission to share my experimental studies on the painted surfaces using my IR-spectrometer etc., which I will share soon in the future.

There will be more detailed and on-going discussion on watercolour painting using my own paints alongside commercial paints. Thankyou for reading this post and for considering using cruelty-free art materials.

Vegan & Economical Drawing & Painting Surfaces: Part 2: Why buying Paper Rolls is a good option?

When I began my journey to draw and paint, I chose the least expensive but vegan-friendly art-materials to the best of my knowledge. The economy factor was based on how much I spent in one go rather than how long will it last, quality etc. As I draw and paint on a daily basis (or at least 5 days a week), I found that it was cheaper to buy bulk materials from the art and stationary stores. An advantage of buying large quantities of paper (in the form of paper roll) allowed me to purchase more expensive and better quality paper at an affordable price. The quality of the paper surface not only has a huge impact on the drawing and paintings, but learning  to draw and paint on medium-high quality materials is helpful. I hope this post will be useful for anyone drawing and painting on a regular basis (daily to a few times a week). I endeavour to use cruelty-free art materials where possible.

A vast majority of art instruction books, tutors, and people sharing their advice on watercolour paper suggest using Arches Cold Press Paper (sized with gelatine) or Winsor & Newton’s Saunders paper (again sized with gelatine). However, these are really not an option for people like myself, who wish to use cruelty-free art material. Cellulose paper sized with starch is certainly inexpensive but most art books and tutors advise that we should begin with cotton based paper.  However, cotton paper is rather expensive. As a student (self-learning with books and online videos), I had to balance requirements (ethical stance, properties and behaviour of the paper), quality and price.

I use different types of paper for various drawing and painting tasks, shown in Figure 1. I have split this blog post in various sections, in each section I will share the type of paper I use. All prices quoted are in euros and based on the current rates (2019-2020).


Figure 1: Paper used for various drawing and painting tasks.

Each drawing paper type has its unique attributes: texture, thickness, grip, tone, sizing, etc. I have a range of drawing papers for learning to draw. In Table 1, I compare the properties and prices. Purchasing paper in a roll format is generally cheaper than buying them as pads (typical savings can be in the region of 50%). Fabriano Artistico Paper is very expensive in the form of glued blocks and pads, typically 1 A4 sheet (or equivalent determined from the surface area of the sheets in a glued block) can cost 75 cents to 1 euro per sheet. However, purchasing the same paper in the form of a roll makes it affordable for me in the long run, as you can see I paid 43-47 cents per A4 sheet and have a large amount of sheets to keep me going!! If I paint and draw at least 4 days per week, the rolls can last me about 10 months to a year.

Paper gsm Surface Cotton Format Number of A4 sheets Price


Price per A4 sheet
Printer Paper


80 smooth 0 500 A4 sheets 500 5.00 1 cent
Printer Paper


160 smooth 0 250 A4 sheets 250 7.00 2.8 cents
Fabriano Recycled Paper Roll 200 Med-rough 0 1.5m x 10m Roll 238 20.00* 8 cents
Fabriano Accademia 200 Fine-med 0 1.5m x 10m Roll 238 23.00 9.7 cents

Technical drawing paper

40 Smooth 0 0.33m x 50m 262 8.00 3.05


Hahnemühle Bamboo Mixed Media 265 Soft with texture 10 1.25m

x 10m

198 66* 33 cents
Fabriano Artistico Cold Press (fine) 300 Fine texture 100 1.4m x10m 222 95* 43 cents
Fabriano Artistico Cold Press (smooth) 300 Smooth med 100 1.4m x10m 222 95* 43 cents
Fabriano Artistico Cold Press (Rough) 300 Rough 100 1.4m x10m 222 105* 47.25 cents
Fabriano Artistico Hot Press (extra white) 300 Satin smooth 100 1.4m x10m 222 105* (2019) 47.25 cents
Fabriano Tela Oil Paper 300 Canvas texture and smooth Not sure 1.5m x10m 238 63* 27 cents

Table 1: Vegan friendly economical but good quality paper (Prices marked in * were prices I paid on special offers or seasonal sales.)

Printer paper (160 gsm) is very good for drawing and somewhat similar to Bristol board. I have a few pads of Bristol boards from Fabriano (block of 20 A4 sheets for 2.65 euros on sale, equivalent of 13.25 cents per A4 sheet). Printer paper is obviously a lot cheaper and gives similar performance.

Fabriano Artistico Paper (100% cotton) is sized internally and externally with starch and as there are different varieties of surfaces (rough, fine/cold press, smooth/cold press). I also purchased a roll of Moulin du Roy hot press roll from the Amazon Warehouse in Germany for 85 euros (thats about 38.3 cents per A4 sheet). Personally I preferred the surface on Fabriano Artistico Hot Press paper, it is excellent for graphite and coloured pencils as well as botanical/detailed watercolour.

Bamboo Mixed Media Paper (10% rag, 90% bamboo recycled paper) is worth considering for watercolours and inks. I enjoy painting on this paper. Although I purchase the paper in the form of a roll, I later discovered that purchasing the paper in the form of sheets (70 x 100 cm) was even cheaper. So if you are purchasing the paper, look at the formats available and calculate before purchasing one.

The beauty of Tela Oil Paper is that it has a canvas feel and is designed to work with oil paints. Purchasing vegan-friendly canvas from art shops is very difficult, as the prime ingredient is a glue derived from rabbits. Fabriano confirmed that the Tela Oil Paper is vegan-friendly, and I cut it different sizes and it has a canvas like feel to it. The Tela Paper is ready primed (no need to apply gesso), and I use it straight away with oil and acrylic paints. Also beware that gesso for oil painting is unlikely to be vegan-friendly and cruelty free unless you buy it from specific shops or make it using a cellulose based ingredients at home. I find the Tela Paper to be convenient and very economical, I highly recommend trying a small pad or a sheet out first. There are two sides both I think are usable, the top side has a canvas like feel to it and the other side is smooth. I use the top side for painting with oils and acrylics and the reverse side is fine for oil pastels (vegan friendly ones from Faber Castell or acrylic paintings). Storing the finished paintings is also easy.

I have one other pointer about the rolls. Working with the rolls requires some pre-planning this, cutting the paper and flattening it. Considering the savings made, this is a minor inconvenience.

In the next blog post, I will discuss how mounting the watercolour paper on the glass surface using a thin layer of water can be used (compared to the stapling method discussed previously) to minimise paper waste. I will also show how I flatten the paper on demand using an iron (as I dont have a lot of space to flatten the paper for days in advance.)

Vegan-friendly & Economical Drawing surfaces: Part 1 non-paper methods

I would like to share some information for anyone who draws and paints on a regular basis. As a student learning to draw and paint, I am using about 5-6 A4 sheets per day in various tasks such as: warm up exercises (line, circles practise), sketching (fast under 15 minutes), drawing (ranging from 30 minutes to over 3 hours), watercolour painting (fast impressionist sketches to more detailed paintings), acrylic painting and oil painting. I also use pastels and large chunks of charcoal.

In Part 1 here, I will focus on reusable resources and methods which I am currently using to practise drawing and sketching. These typically involve an erasable ink some surface as well digital devices such as an IPad. My focus is also on using vegan-friendly materials where possible.

Resource 1: Whiteboard with whiteboard markers

Whiteboard with vegan-friendly whiteboard markers produced by Faber Castell. The ink can be refilled using Faber Castell refill ink bottles which can be purchased on Amazon or in some stationary shops. In the future, I will experiment filling the whiteboard marker pens with Faber Castell Fountain Pen Ink (vegan-friendly).  I also purchased some Rocketbook beacons ( these are silicon orange triangles, and I use the Rocketbook app to capture the image. See Figure 1 (whiteboard with Rocketbook beacons) and here is the pdf link of the image captured and processed by the Rocketbook app: RB 2020-02-17 09.02.35

Figure 1: Photo of the whiteboard equipped with the Rocketbook beacons (orange triangles made up of silicon).

I also painted my own orange triangles with some orange acrylic paint mixed (Royal Talens, listed as vegan) with matt acrylic medium from Liquitex (vegan-friendly) on Fabriano Tela oil paper (vegan-friendly, discussed below). The DIY triangles work as well as the Rocketbook beacons. I have 2 whiteboards one is about 90 x 60 cm with a stand and I have fixed the official rocketbook beacons, the other is an A3 whiteboard with diy orange triangles.  I like the whiteboards as they allow me to practise drawing long lines and countless circles without worrying about using too many resources. It is also useful for thumbnail sketching and taking notes during the drawing/painting process as well as for R&D on art materials.

Price:  The cost for using using this method depends on your skills to spot a bargain. Sometimes you can get the whiteboards for free in various local listings. Faber Castell white board marker pens (vegan-friendly) come in a set or can be purchased individually on Amazon or local stationary shops. DIY Rocketbook Beacons can be constructed easily at home. The Rocketbook app (android/ios) is free to use.

Uses: 1. Practising lines, circles, boxes; 2. Perspective drawing exercises, 3. Thumbnail sketching; 4. Pen and Ink style drawings with non-permanent markers by Faber Castell.

Resource 2: Ipad Pro 12.9″ with an Apple Pencil

The IPad Pro is certainly the most expensive resource for practising to draw and paint, but it is also a brilliant digital drawing tool. If you can draw on the slippery surface of the ipad, drawing on paper feels a lot easier. I tried Paperlike coating for about 4 months but I didn’t like it much. I like drawing on the glass surface.

Obviously this is the most expensive resource. I purchased mine second hand for a very reasonable price listed on local listing (considerably cheaper than Ebay).  It is a second generation IPad Pro 12.9 inch (2017), and it included a brand new unopened apple pencil. Private listings (local shop windows, and dedicated local listings online) can be generally considerably cheaper than Ebay. I did purchase Ipad 2018 model with an apple pencil, but I ended up selling it and switched to my Ipad Pro 2017. I found the screen on the Ipad 2018 too small and the Ipad pro is like a laptop (with a smart cover) which I also use for typing up my notes, language learning and working on fiction projects (Scrivener plus Word). I use procreate, Artrage and Autodesk Sketchbook apps to draw and sketch. My favourite app is definitely Procreate, and I have enrolled on some Udemy courses which go deeper into the settings. I try to use the simplest paint brushes in the software (pen or pencil tools) for sketching, which then allows me to transition to paper more easily.

I like the Apple Smart Cover for typing on but its not really ergonomic to draw on (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Ipad Pro 12.9 inch (2017) connected to an Apple Smart Cover.

I considered various stands for the ipad and I opted for a laptop cooler. The stand is made of sturdy metal and its compact (see Figure 3). I like this so much that I purchased another one to prop my drawing and painting boards. I can adjust the steepness of the stand by selecting different angles (20° to 45°). The stand does not take much space and it comes with a storage case which has ample room for the Apple Pencil.

Figure 3: Ipad Pro 12.9″ (2017) on a laptop cooler stand.


Resource 3: Thick paper enclosed in a document wallet

In a clear A4 document wallet I placed an A4 sheet (160 gsm printer paper) and a thin plywood board. I use different tonal papers for practising to draw and paint. I also coloured the A4 sheet with 4 orange triangle using a marker pen, and these act as beacons for the rocketbook app. I use my fountain pen filled with some Graf von Faber (Faber Castell archival ink, vegan-friendly) to draw and sketch on the document wallet. The ink dries within 5 seconds and it does not smudge. I also tried Faber Castell Black ink for fountain pens (cost 6 euros for a bottle) but it was too runny and there were lots of ink blobs.  The sketch dries rapidly and with the Graf van Faber Carbon Black ink the lines don’t smudge, shown in Figure 4. I also made some small orange triangles and capture the image using Rocketapp. This is a great method for practising pen and ink style drawings and for tonal thumbnail sketches. I use a wet tissue paper to remove the ink sketch and reuse the document wallet over and over again.

Figure 4: Pen and Ink test on A4 document wallet with Graf von Faber Carbon Black ink (vegan-friendly). The drawing board can be reused after erasing the sketch and ink marks using a piece of tissue or rag wetted with water.

I am also able to use Non-permanent Fine tip marker pens (Faber Castell brand are certainly vegan-friendly and refillable) instead of the fountain pens. This certainly gives me clearer and well-defined lines, as shown in Figure 5. The ink dries within a few seconds and they don’t smudge. The board is again reusable after cleaning with a piece of damp kitchen towel. I am also able to capture the image using the Rocketbook app but the app ignores the cream background. The image nevertheless is clear (here is the link to the pdf image): plastic_coated board

Figure 5: Pen and ink drawing test on a document wallet with Non-permanent Fine Tip marker from Faber Castell.

Variations: I also use grey or cream coloured thick printer paper or card instead of using white paper. Make sure to use the normal camera app instead of the rocketbook app for capturing the image.


In Part 2 (next blog post), I will present a list of paper surface which are vegan friendly and I will discuss their economical and sustainability aspects.

Fundamentals001: Drawing straight lines without a ruler, a survey and grounds for experimental study.

Drawing straight lines freehand without using rulers or straight edges as a guide is a useful skill for furthering drawing and sketching skills. Lines obtained with a ruler or another straightedge can appear very harsh and sometimes end up discouraging line movement in the final works.

My aim this month is to focus my energies on improving my skills to draw straight lines which look organic, fluid and somewhat linear. There are a number of drawing books available, and skimming through some available via Scribd (e-book subscription service) there are only a few books that stress the need for mastering the straight line. I have listened to and read both sides of the argument, and I believe that drawing a straight (-ish) line could help me improve my drawing skills.

Youtube is an excellent free resource for learning to draw and paint. I watched a number of youtube videos and took copious notes over a few days. Then I selected the most relevant ones and noted down the key points. I have critically analysed the information and synthesised key points.

Section 1: Mindset

Guideline Source
Clear your mind and focus your intention on drawing a line. (15)
Make Decisive movements when drawing. (2), (9), (14)
Using the “dot to dot” technique focus your eye on the endpoint (target). (3), (13), (14), (15), (17)

Section 2: Stance and grounding

I have to consider how to hold the pencil and what is the best way to use my arm to draw straight lines.

Guideline Source
Different opinions on whether to fix the paper or not:

Don’t fix the paper to the table, as turning the paper would make it easy to get a comfortable angle. (applies while drawing sitting down).

Draw lines in any direction without turning the paper to master this technique.


(1), (6)


(2), (3)

Don’t clench or grip the pencil hard. Allow it rest in your hand. (1)
Both Tripod and Overhand grips can be used. It seems like it’s a personal preference. 1-17
Keep your hands still and keep the pencil still in your hand. (16),
Placement of Hand (different views)

Keep your hand in the air when drawing the lines this will eliminate smudging.

Place the heel of the hand on the paper use the sensation as a guide to draw vertical lines.

Place the non-drawing hand on the edge of the board along the vertical axis and use that as a guide to draw vertical lines.

(2), (10), (14)




Use the entire arm when drawing lines. (1), (2), (5), (6), (15),(16)
Use your biceps and triceps. (1)
Different opinions on the role of shoulder and wrist:

Lock your elbow and wrist and draw with your shoulder as a pivot using your whole arm.

Only lock your wrist when drawing.

Lock your wrist and use your elbow as a pivot to draw short lines.

Lock your wrist and elbow and using the shoulder as a pivot draw long lines.

For vertical lines only bend your elbow and keep your forearm straight.

For horizontal lines, stretch and bend at the shoulder




(6), (7), (8), (15)







Focusing one’s eye

When using the “dot to dot” technique focus your eye on the endpoint (target).

When drawing the lines don’t keep your eye on the tip of the pencil which will result in wobbly eyes.

(3), (13), (14), (15), (17)



Section 3: Drawing the line

Guideline Source
Use the “dot to dot” technique for drawing straight lines. *(see below) (1), (2), (3), (4), (6), (9), (13), (14)
Apply the “ghosting” technique which means go over the target line a couple of times in the air, before drawing lines. (2)
Using the “dot to dot” technique focus your eye on the endpoint (target). (3), (13), (14), (15), (17)
Using the “dot to dot” technique don’t draw the line pressing directly on the starting dot. He used an analogy of an aeroplane landing and taking off. Begin by touching down on the paper and then towards the end lift the pencil off. (4), (9)
“Ready, Aim, Fire” in conjunction with the “dot to dot” technique.

Ready: Hand, wrist and elbow should be off the paper. This will reduce the friction.

Aim; Keep your aim on the target. Where to start and finish. Keep the aim on the target

Fire: Quick and confident. Put the pen on the paper and make the lines.

Keep the pressure and speed as uniform as possible. (1), (10)

Section 4: Practise and experiment

Guideline Source
Draw short lines at first, then increase the length of the lines with continual practice. (2), (7)
Practise drawing different line weights. (4), (7)
Fill up A4 pages with lines to cover the page with cross hatching (very long lines spanning the A4 pages). Try not to turn the paper to master drawing lines at varying angles. (2)
Encourages the use of drawing tablets with a stylus to practise straight lines. (7)


Future Work

I will be drawing 1000 lines per day for the next 4 weeks to master drawing straight lines. I will show my progress and experimentation on a weekly basis. There will also be a post about non-paper methods of practising drawing and sketching next.


  1. How to draw straight line freehand, Art Lessons Online, created 7th Oct 2017, accessed 8th Dec 2019 (
  2. How to Draw a Straight Line Freehand (Without a Ruler) – Tips and Hacks (Fine-Art-Tips, created 27th Nov 2018, accessed 8th December 2019) (
  3. How to draw a straight line – freehand! – Architecture Daily Sketches (Themordin, created 5th Dec 2017, accessed 8th Dec 2019) (
  4. How to draw better lines _ Its important (Art of Wei, created 24th Sep 2015; accessed on the 9th December 2019) (
  5. How to draw a straight line without a ruler part 1 (Easyjammer, created on 14th Sep 2011, accessed on the 9th December 2019) (
  6. Drawing Tutorial – Freehand Lines & Circles (Joshua Hendry, created 29 Mar 2011, accessed on the 9th December 2019)(
  7. How to Draw Straight Clean Lines Freehand – Beginner friendly (TheSketchAcademy, created 03 Sep 2019, accessed on the 9th December 2019) (
  8. ‘The secret to drawing a straight line without a ruler’ – Craig Houghton (by Sktchy, created 19 Sep 2018, accessed on 9th December 2019) (
  9. Sketching Basics 1: All About Lines (Reid Schlegel, created 01 Jun 2017, accessed on 9th December 2019) (
  10. How to draw straight lines Freehand (HTD TV, 13 Jul 2017, accessed on the 9the December 2019) (
  11. Draw a Straight Line (Grant Fuller, created 26 December 2011, accessed on 09 Dec 2019) (
  12. Line drawing practice. Hard Mode: Vertical, freehand, slow (Turbinskiy, 30 Jan 2019, accessed on 09 Dec 2019)(
  13. How to Draw Lines Like an Architect | Architecture Lessons | #1 (JM Architecture, created on 02 Jan 2019, accessed 09 Dec 2019) (
  14. Joining points method for improving how to draw straight lines (David Lenon, created 18 Apr 2014, accessed on 09 Dec 2019) (
  15. LESSON 1 – Sketching Straight Lines (Blake Williford, created on 13 Nov 2014, accessed on 09 Dec 2019) (
  16. How to Draw a Straight Line (Jeffery Sama, created 25 August 2012, accessed on 09 Dec 2019)(
  17. Howto: Intro to Technical Sketching – Straight Lines (Steven Combs, created 16 Mar 2007, accessed on 09 Dec 2019)(

Graphite 002: Study of graphite on Fabriano Accademia Drawing Paper (200 gsm)

In this study, I examine how various graphite pencils and graphite sticks build up on drawing paper (Fabriano Accademia 200 gsm) using a simple usb microscope (magnified images) and a Near Infrared Spectrometer. Graphite 002 study is focused on Faber Castell 9000 series and graphite sticks. Future posts will cover other brands.

2.0   Materials & Methods

2.1   Materials

Graphite Pencils: Faber Castell 9000 set (2H to 8B, vegan-friendly)

Graphite sticks: Faber Castell Graphite Jumbo (2B)

Clutch Pencil: Faber Castell TK9400 (2B)

Paper: Fabriano Accademia Paper (200 gsm, vegan-friendly). The paper was fixed to a wooden board (30 x 42 cm, A3 size) as discussed my previous post in Mounting paper using staples.

Miscellaneous: A lid from Vöslauer Mineral Water bottle with an inner diameter of 3.1 cm was used to draw circles on the paper. A sheet of generic printer paper was used during the shading of the circles to avoid transferring any graphite from the test area to the surround paper surface. A tissue roll for blending the graphite layer prior to taking measurements with my Near-IR spectrometer. A Lab Stand with a clamp was used to hold the USB microscope or the LinkSquare Spectrometer. A mechanical pencil sharpener (Fig. 2b) was used to sharpen the pencils. An IPad Pro (12.9 inch, 2017 model) or an IPhone 5SE was used to take photos of the paper surface before and after shading.

2.2   Instruments & Software

Instruments: A generic no-brand USB microscope connected to an iMac, Infrared Thermometer (Broadcare GM320, purchased from Amazon), Linksquare Near Infrared spectrometer (Stratio Inc., website:

Software: USB microscope images were captured using PhotoBooth (MacOS native app), LSCollector (Stratio Inc., version 1.0.2) was used to collect the data from LinkSquare Spectrometer.

2.3   Methods

Step 1: Preparation of Work Area

I purchased a roll of Fabriano Accademia Paper (1.4 m x 10 m) from a local Art supplies store in Vienna, Austria. A large sheet was cut from the paper roll and using the method previously outlined (link here) I fixed the paper to a wooden board using staples.  I allowed the paper to dry for at least 9 hours prior to drawing or shading.  I rotated the board several times during the initial first hour to reduce one side becoming more hydrated and to stop any water pooling on the edges. The paper was allowed to dry at 25°C (room temperature regulated throughout this study). I checked the temperature using the hand held infrared thermometer at random times, and it remained constant. The resultant paper surface felt completely smooth and dry, shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Fabriano Accademia Paper mounted on wooden board. The board on the lefthand side was used for this study.

Step 2: Shading circles

Using the lid (inner diameter of 3.1 cm), from my mineral bottle water (Vöslauer 1L) as a template, I drew circles on the paper surface using various graphite pencils and sticks listed in the Materials section (see Figure 2a). I applied diagonal shading in the circles using a “perceived” (see my discussion in Graphite Study 001) uniform pressure. Overall, the circles appear uniformly shaded (Figure 2b).

Figure 2a: Shaded circles on Fabriano Accademia paper (RHS) alongside pencils and graphite sticks (LHS).

Figure 2b: Shaded circles on Fabriano Accademia paper 200 gsm using various graphite pencils and sticks.  (Please note in this post I will discuss Faber Castell graphite pencils and sticks, and future posts will discuss other brands later)

Step 3: Examining the paper surface using a generic USB microscope

The USB microscope was clamped on a Lab Stand to keep the height and setting consistent throughout this experiment. The magnification was set at least 20x (unfortunately I lost the printed calibration card, but that’s my minimum setting on the usb microscope). I will redo this experiment in the future with a calibration ruler. I connected the USB microscope to my iMac and used the in-built PhotoBooth app to capture the images. I chose an area within the circle with homogenous shading.  For blending I used a fresh piece of tissue each time and very lightly rubbed the area with it. I captured images before and after blend the circle.

Step 4: Acquisition of Visible and Near-IR spectra

Prior to taking the measurements with the spectrometer I blended the circles using a piece of tissue paper as described previously in Step 3.

I clamped the LinkSquare Near-IR spectrometer in a Lab Stand. The distance between the spectrometer and paper was approximately 0.75 cm. I used the test cards which came with the instrument and collected the data. I will use this data as my standard calibration data and note any variations in future experiments. The spectrometer was connected to my iMac running LScollector (Stratio Inc., version 1.0.2) and the data was collected. Both LED + Bulb were selected. Absorbance or intensities are measured as a function wavelength (range from 400-1000 nm). So far I have not processed the data but I will only show selected spectra collected without fixing the baseline. I have exported the raw data exported into Excel but I will come to this part in another blog post.

3.0    Results & Discussion

The circles appear darker with softer pencils (3B onwards) for Lyra, Brand Y (permission pending) and Faber Castell graphite implements as shown in Figure 2b. Looking closely at the shaded circles (Faber Castell 9000, graphite stick) using a generic handheld microscope (method detailed in Section 2.3, Step B) shows how graphite adheres to the paper. The images are shown below in Figure 3-14.

Figure 3: Faber Castell 9000 pencil grade 2H: Shaded circle unblended (LHS), 30x magnification (RHS) unblended (top), blended (bottom)

Figure 4: Faber Castell 9000 pencil grade H: Shaded circle unblended (LHS), 30x magnification (RHS) unblended (top), blended (bottom)

Figure 5: Faber Castell 9000 pencil grade F: Shaded circle unblended (LHS), 30x magnification (RHS) unblended (top), blended (bottom)


Figure 6: Faber Castell 9000 pencil grade HB: Shaded circle unblended (LHS), 30x magnification (RHS) unblended (top), blended (bottom)

Figure 7: Faber Castell 9000 pencil grade B: Shaded circle unblended (LHS), 30x magnification (RHS) unblended (top), blended (bottom)

Figure 8: Faber Castell 9000 pencil grade 2B: Shaded circle unblended (LHS), 30x magnification (RHS) unblended (top), blended (bottom)

Figure 9: Faber Castell 9000 pencil grade 3B: Shaded circle unblended (LHS), 30x magnification (RHS) unblended (top), blended (bottom)

Figure 10: Faber Castell 9000 pencil grade 4B: Shaded circle unblended (LHS), 30x magnification (RHS) unblended (top), blended (bottom)

Figure 11: Faber Castell 9000 pencil grade 5B: Shaded circle unblended (LHS), 30x magnification (RHS) unblended (top), blended (bottom)

Figure 12: Faber Castell 9000 pencil grade 6B: Shaded circle unblended (LHS), 30x magnification (RHS) unblended (top), blended (bottom)

Figure 13: Faber Castell 9000 pencil grade 7B: Shaded circle unblended (LHS), 30x magnification (RHS) unblended (top), blended (bottom)

Figure 14: Faber Castell 9000 pencil grade 8B: Shaded circle unblended (LHS), 30x magnification (RHS) unblended (top), blended (bottom)

These results (Figure 3-5) show that shading with harder pencils (grades 2H, H & F) yields a more uniform layer both blended and unblended. I can also see that the particles or graphite clusters on paper appear to be smaller. It is possible that the smaller graphite particles enter the smaller valleys and dips in the paper giving a more homogenous-looking layer. As the pencil grade becomes softer it is clear the graphite particles or clusters become larger. When I blended the shaded circles there was a fair amount of graphite on the tissue paper which shows on the blended circles. For softer pencils (4B-8B) the effect of blending is more pronounced as shown in Figure 10-14, the large graphite clusters are broken down and spread across the surface of the paper. It is notable that shading with softer pencils shows a fair amount of white paper before blending.

Figure 15a: Intensities of light plotted against wavelength (400-1000 nm) of selected Faber Castell pencils. The illumination source was the bulb (setting in the spectrometer). Pink (2H), Green (HB), Dark Blue (5B) & Yellow (8B)

Figure 15b: Intensities of light plotted against wavelength (400-1000 nm) of selected Faber Castell pencils. The illumination source was the LED (setting in the spectrometer). Pink (2H), Green (HB), Dark Blue (5B) & Yellow (8B)

Figure 15 (a-b): Preliminary results from the LinkSquare Spectrometer. The data from this will be processed in Excel at a later date.

The results from the spectrometer show that with both sources of illumination (LED and Bulb, these light sources cover different ranges of the wavelength spectrum) the intensities of the shaded circles sharply drop as a function of the softness of pencil (more graphite or larger graphite particles). This confirms the visual images seen under the usb microscope (Figure 3-14). The x-axis in the Figure 15 is unfortunately not linear, but I will process this at a later date. But for this discussion it doesn’t really matter too much as these are comparative or relative results. What is interesting is that in Figure 15b, where the illumination source was a bulb (encased in the spectrometer) the difference in the intensities between 2H and HB is very large.  I will investigate this point in the future.

Here are the results comparing various 2B graphite implements: Faber Castell 9000 2B (previously shown in Figure 8) vs Faber Castell Jumbo Graphite crayon or stick (2B) vs Faber Castell TK9400 clutch pencil (2B).

Figure 16a: Faber Castell 9000 pencil grade 2B: Shaded circle unblended (LHS), 30x magnification (RHS) unblended  (same as Figure 8)

Figure 16b: Faber Castell Jumbo Graphite 2B: Shaded circle unblended (LHS), 30x magnification (RHS) unblended  (same as Figure 8)

Figure 16c: Faber Castell TK9400 (clutch pencil) 2B: Shaded circle unblended (LHS), 30x magnification (RHS) unblended

The magnified images of the various 2B pencils and graphite crayon in Figure 16a-c, show that although there are subtle differences in the shaded circles (LHS in Figures) the content of the graphite particles seems fairly similar. I thought that there would be some difference as the circle shaded with the graphite stick seems slightly darker.

Here are the spectra of various 2B graphite implements (produced by Faber Castell) on Fabriano Accademia drawing paper (200 gsm), shown in Figure 17.

Figure 17a: Intensities vs wavelength for various 2B pencils (Faber Castell 9000 2B (black line), Faber Castell Jumbo Graphite 2B (green) & Faber Castell TK9400 2B (red).  The illumination source within the spectrometer was LED. 

Figure 17b: Intensities vs wavelength for various 2B pencils (Faber Castell 9000 2B (black line), Faber Castell Jumbo Graphite 2B (green) & Faber Castell TK9400 2B (red).  The illumination source within the spectrometer was LED. 

The spectrometer was able to pick up the minor difference in shading between the 2B pencils. Slightly lower intensities were measured for the graphite stick 2B as it is visually apparent from the shaded circles (compare LHS images in Figure 16b vs Figure 16a and Figure 16c.).

4.0   Future Work

I will be undertaking a more detailed analysis of the spectra measured using LinkSquare for the Faber Castell 9000 and other graphite implements. I already have the studies for Lyra pencils and another brand (lets call it Y as the company would like to see my studies first before granting me permission to publish them on my website). I will also undertake similar work in the future on other drawing papers I have.

5.0   Permissions & Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Fabriano (E-mail correspondence with Giuseppe Prezioso, Marketing Fabriano, Italy) and Faber Castell (E-mail correspondence with Herr. Holger Unfried, Product Manager, A. W. Faber Castell Vertrieb GmbH) for their permission to show my studies.  Stratio Inc. clarified that I retain ownership of the data collected from the spectrometer. I have already signed an NDA with Stratio Inc. which has allowed me access to some information which I require for processing my data in Excel. Although for this post, only raw data is shown. Please note that I purchased all the art materials and I am not sponsored by any company or university.

Mounting Watercolour paper on board with staples (no masking tape)

A popular method for fixing watercolour paper to a board or work surface is by using masking tape or gummed brown paper tape. The paper may or not may not be stretched prior to mounting to a board/surface. Washi tape also seems to be an option suggested by various artists on Youtube. I tried both methods and I was really not impressed by the Washi tape. The paper keeps peeling off the surface, I tried both wooden (laminated and unlaminated) and formica desktop surface, and it was a nightmare working with the tape. I returned to using masking tape which is ok but I really hate throwing the masking tape away after a few uses. I purchased gummed Brown tape (Loxely brand, vegan-friendly, not tested on animals) and I had much better results. However, its difficult to take the brown tape off the board or work surface as well as the paper.

A few months ago, I watched a Drawing course video (Russian Academic Drawing Approach by Iliya Mirochnik on the New Masters Academy). The instructor demonstrated a traditional method for mounting drawing paper on board before drawing or painting on it. I found it really useful for mounting paper on board for coffee sumi ink work and I thought why not apply it for my watercolour paper preparation.

I will go through a detailed discussion on my vegan-friendly watercolour painting supplies in a separate post. I found some reasonably priced Fabriano Artistico watercolour paper rolls (1.4 m x 10 m, 100% cotton, 300 gsm, Vegan-friendly) online for Austrian and German customers on sale. I have Fabriano Artistico soft, Fabriano Artistico fine NOT and Fabriano Artistico Hot Press. I am learning to paint on Fabriano Artistico NOT surface, Hahnemühle Bamboo Mixed Media paper (1.25 x 10 m roll for 78 euros, 95% cellulose from bamboo, 265 gsm, vegan certified) and Canson Montval (A3 jumbo pad, 100 pages, 300 gsm, Cellulose).


Materials for Stapling the paper

Fabriano Artistico watercolour paper (cold press, 300 gsm), Art cradle (diy or wooden photo frame 30 cm x 30 cm), staple gun, staples, a pair of scissors, water in a reservoir for wetting the paper, a clean surface which is suitable for water spills, kitchen towels, jar for collecting used staples (after removing the paper from the frame), flat head screw driver or a blunt cutlery knife, a pair of pliers

Materials for watercolour wash

Winsor Newton Cotman tube paints (Ultramarine, Cadmium Red Hue Deep imit.), da Vinci Spin 5080 synthetic flat brush 40, filtered water


  1. I cut watercolour paper from the roll and cut a rectangular piece which was roughly 1 inch larger than the wooden frame (on all four sides).
  2. I submerged the watercolour paper gently in the water and allowed about 2 minutes of contact. The paper seemed nice and flexible.
  3. I placed the rectangular watercolour paper piece on the work surface. Then I placed the wooden frame (or art cradle) on the paper as shown in Figure 1.

    Figure 1: wooden frame on watercolour paper (wetted)
  4. The paper was folded and fixed to the frame using a staple gun as shown in images below in Figure 2a-b.

    Figure 2a: Stapled paper on long sides

    Figure 2b: Stapled paper on all sides
  5. I also stapled the sides of the frame to ensure that the paper was stretched and secured to the board (Figure 3).

    staple_fig 3
    Figure 3: Stapling the sides of the paper.
  6. I allowed the mounted paper on the board to dry before applying the graduated washes.
  7. Staple were removed from the board after painting using a blunt flat cutlery knife and a pair of pliers.

Observations and thoughts

The watercolour paper remained taut and fixed when applying the graduated washes. I set the board at an angle of about 25° for working on the surface. It was a satisfying experience. Here is my first result, shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Graduated washes with W&N Cotman French Ultramarine and W&N Cotman Cadmium Red Hue Deep Imit on Fabriano Artistico Cold press paper stretched and stapled on a wooden frame.

These are the advantages of stapling watercolour paper to a wooden frame instead of using some adhesive tape :

  1. FEWER BACKRUNS:   I was able to control the paint washes and directed the overflow of paint on the edges of the frame, to avoid any backruns. I noticed that when the paper was mounted on the board with brown gummed paper or masking tape excess paint pools on the edges and result in backruns if not removed rapidly. So it seems easier to avoid backruns with the paper stapled to the wooden frame.
  2. LESS PAPER WASTED: After removing the staples, the paper used around the edges on the frame can be reused as testing pieces or for collage work in the future (Figure 5).

    Figure 5: Remnants of watercolour paper retrieved after removing the staples.
  3. NEATER WORK AREA: The lack of a visible border around the paper (no masking tape, washi tape, or brown gummed tape) was more inviting to work on. (Figure 6). Sometimes a frame can be useful but visualising a full piece of paper is a different experience. Of course a frame maybe needed if you are framing the finished painting or drawing.

    Figure 6: Neat work surface (no frame, no bezels)
  4. Neat edges on the finished pieces (Figure 7). The paper is simply taken off the board by removing the staples and cutting the edges neatly (well-defined creases on the paper make it easy to get a neat result.)

    Figure 7: Final piece after removing the staples and cutting the edges neatly with a pair of scissors.
  5. Used staples are collected in a jar (Figure 8) and then disposed along other with metal recycling waste, or these can be collected over the years and melt them down and make an armour.

    Figure 8: Used staples collected in a jar.

    No sticky mess with adhesives and wondering if the adhesive on the tape is vegan-friendly or not. Stapling is a good alternative to using adhesive tapes.

Graphite Study 001: Graphite pencils and force applied on paper (Faber Castell 9000 series on printer paper 80 gsm)

Generally, drawing instruction books and tutors recommend soft pencils (2B, 3B or 4B or even 6B) for sketching and drawing. Hard pencils which include 2H to HB are thought to “damage” the surface of the paper as a result of excessive force (or pressure) and or the hardness of the graphite pencil lead.

1.0    Objective

The aim of this experiment was to study the approximate force applied (which approximately correlates to pressure = force/area) on the surface of the paper when shading circles with Faber Castell 9000 graphite pencils. This study would allow me to explore the general statements on pressure application on paper during the drawing process. Please note due to the limitation of equipment, this experiment and the findings should be read as approximate or general findings rather than absolute statements.

2.0 .   Materials & Methods

2.1     Materials

Printer Paper (Papyur Rainbow 80 gsm, Fawn colour), Faber Castell 9000 series set (2H-8B), a mechanical pencil sharpener, a pair scissors, digital weighing scales (2 decimal place), purchased from Ebay for 2 euros, calibrated with reference weights), Masking tape, Lab stand (to hold camera/phone during the experiment, IPhone 5 SE (for capturing video footage), Blu Tack (for fixing the digital scales, lab stand), lab gloves, Infrared Thermometer (Broadcare GM320, purchased from Amazon)

2.2    Experimental Setup

I wore gloves to prevent any grease marks or contamination transferring onto the test paper pieces during the experiment.
I cut some rectangular pieces (4 cm x 4.5 cm) of drawing paper (Papyrus Rainbow 80 gsm paper Fawn colour) using a pair of scissors. Then I placed a lid from my Vöslauer mineral water bottle and drew a circle in the middle of the rectangular piece. The resulting circle has a diameter of 3.1 cm, then I fixed the test paper pieced on a small kitchen/jewellers digital weighing scale (2 decimal places) using very narrow strips of masking tape.
The digital scales were also fixed with some Blu Tack to the table top so that it didn’t move during the experiment. The IPhone was held in place with a clamp/lab stand and it was aligned to capture both the test piece fixed on the weighing scale and the display screen.
The Faber Castell 9000 series were brand new, and I sharpened them using my mechanical pencil prior to the experiment.

2.3   Running the experiment

I checked the surface temperature of the paper piece using my infrared thermometer, before and after shading.
I began capturing the video footage prior to shading the circle on the test piece. During the experiment, I was trying not to look at the digital display and I tried using my personal judgement to apply even pressure while shading the circle.
All test pieces were shaded in one sitting, to avoid changes in humidity or room temperature.

2.4  Data collection

The video captured from these experiments were played back at a slower speed and I transferred the data time vs weight in a spread sheet (Numbers on my Imac). I took an average of 3 readings.

3.0   Observations and Results:

The humidity and room temperature did not vary during the experiment. I plotted weight (gram) against time (second) for each experiment undertaken, and this is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 01: Weight (g) applied with a range of Faber Castell 9000 series while shading a circle on printer paper (80 gsm) as a function of time (second). (FC is an abbreviation for Faber Castell 9000 series)

During the experiment, I was fairly convinced that I was applying similar pressure while shading. But it is clear from the graph, that may be misleading. For all grades of pencils, weight increases as a function of time, this is perhaps due to the fact that the pencil is gradually moving towards me so this results in more force applied to the paper.
I will conduct another experiment in which I will shade the circle in the reverse direction to prove or disprove my hypothesis.

Interestingly, I applied less pressure onto the paper when I was shading with harder pencils. What was interesting however, was with the softer pencils 2B onwards where I was really struggling to apply less force on the paper with my pencils. With very soft pencils the pencil felt like it was floating on the paper but the graph shows that the force (ie, the weight) applied was about the same if not more.

4.0    Conclusions
Assuming that using my personal judgement (or perception) I applied the same weight (or force or pressure) while shading the circles with pencils with varying hardness. My findings so far are as follows:
Hard pencils may damage the paper because of the hardness of the pencil lead rather than the perception/feeling of applying higher force or pressure.
I perceived that I applied less force or pressure while shading with softer pencils, but the graph shows that I may have applied more force on to the paper. This perception is perhaps due to the fact that the graphite easily transfers onto the paper surface, the feeling is like melting butter on a piece of toast. This encouraged me to easily drag my pencil across the paper.
Drawing with softer pencils actually may indicate that higher pressure is applied on the paper surface compared to shading with harder pencils.

5.0   Future Work
I will repeat the experiment with different drawing papers, primarily Fabriano Artistico Hot Press.
I will also report my observations of these test pieces when I study them under my usb microscope and I will measure the intensities of the graphite laid on the test pieces using my IR spectrometer soon.

6.0   Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Faber Castell for their permission (E-mail correspondence with Herr. Holger Unfried, Product Manager, A. W. Faber Castell Vertrieb GmbH) to share my experimental work freely.

Vegan art materials for drawing and sketching: a survey and study of resources available in Europe.

1.0 Background:

This article is a part of a series of articles in which I shall share my experience as a vegan-scientist learning to sketch and draw. Some articles will present my personal scientific research undertaken on my own art supplies. This first article presents a survey of the drawing and sketching implements which I consider cruelty free and suitable for ethical vegans/vegetarians. I will not be listing any products that I have not purchased or used. There are a number of websites and blogs that list the materials, but do not necessarily discuss their author’s personal experiences using them.

I will be presenting my experience as a student of drawing, sketching and painting with an understanding of chemistry and material sciences and trying my best to employ cruelty-free art materials (clothing, food, transport, etc.). When a broad range of cruelty-free and animal-friendly options are presented to me, I would opt for the most sustainable option.

2.0 Summary of my experience of finding vegan art materials (2017-9)

2.1 Starting point in 2017

In 2017, I decided to learn to draw and paint. As an ethical vegan, I have explored art materials available in the shops. I began with three major websites and blogs as a starting point to identify cruelty-free art materials, shown below in Table 1

1. Art materials are a subsection and primarily focused on art products available in the UK.

2. Art materials are a subsection and focused mainly on art materials available in the US.

3. Dedicated blog on vegan art materials run by Anja Hoffman based in Germany and focuses on EU supplies.  

Table 1: A list of websites and blogs which hold information on art materials suitable for vegans.

Although these websites and personal databases are very helpful as a starting point, however, I found them a bit unclear to work with. At times some products were listed as vegan on their websites, and after contacting the manufacturer, I found contradictory information. The reasons for this may be due to:

  • changes in production methods (switching raw material suppliers, or manufacturing facilities)
  • the expertise of the company’s customer service providers (a salesperson vs a technical chemist).
  • changes in company policies or changes in company ownership or restructuring.

2.2 Role of communication with manufacturers

At times some manufacturers I contacted did not fully comprehend the idea of cruelty free products and considered sustainability and cruelty-free to be synonymous. The most horrifying experience I had was with a company called “The Works” based in the UK who in response to my enquiries on paper sizing and glues used for making the sketchbooks, responded that “of course, it is made of paper (ha ha ha) and so you can eat it if you want to!!… “ This I must point out was in response to my query regarding sizing used for the paper, and if the glues used in binding could be free of animal-based raw materials. Following further enquiries they just sent me a legal blurb about their company policies which is identical to the one sent to Vegan Womble. Suffice to say, the understanding and approach of cruelty-free as well as sustainability varies from one manufacturer to another. Later on I shall summarise the personal impressions I have of each of the companies I contacted in the pursuit for finding graphite pencils made without animal-based ingredients and paper.

2.3 Influence of vegan researchers on the compiled lists

Another factor that initially I had not considered was the varying approaches and attitudes of the people who researched and then compiled the vegan-friendly art materials detailed in Table 1. This important and seemingly apparent issue came to light after I contacted Vegan Womble regarding  some conflicting information that was listed on their website and that’s when I realised that I had to undertake my own research and enquiries. There were some conflicting informations which was down to factors given in Table 2 below.

  1. How detailed was the questionnaire sent to the manufacturer? How do individuals or groups who compiled the questions communicate these to people who actually consult these lists.
  2. The definition of veganism, how it is interpreted, and finally how far should it be implemented. This of course is a very personal and a subjective factor.

Table 2: Factors influencing the variations in the on-line vegan listings

So I gathered that the researcher behind Vegan Womble used the definition set by PETA and used a simple questionnaire with the intention of keeping things straightforward and to include as many art materials as possible.  Personally, I am not happy with PETA’s approach to fighting animal cruelty by  overlooking protestors throwing firecrackers towards horse riders without due consideration for the welfare of the horse, and other approaches that I find so unbearable that I can’t write it here. I also did not get the impression that in-depth technical enquiries were sent. I am relating this experience not as critique towards Vegan Womble who I think are doing a great job at providing information, but more as a critique of myself for not really thinking about the differing attitudes towards cruelty-free and sustainability aspects people may hold. As a result of blindly following the list I unwittingly had purchased some art materials which I was later upset to discover contained animal-based raw materials. This was also in part due to my own misjudgement with reading cleverly devised replies from some companies which were not clear and could be interpreted in a number of ways. In the end, it was not Vegan Womble’s fault but all down to my unrealistic assumptions. This experience highlighted that I may be able to read and interpret technical information but I really have a long way to go to actually understand company policies or legal information. It has been a humbling experience.

Anja Hoffman who runs has a very detailed questionnaire and more stringent criteria that I agree with. She made me aware that not only should I research technical information but also the company’s wider policies on raw materials  and final product tested on animals, how tightly do the manufacturers regulate raw material supplies and would they be willing to communicate the changes to the customer (ie, change in status such as cruelty-free, sustainability, animal testing etc.). I hold her approach and honesty in great esteem, and I also thank her for highlighting the areas I ignored.

2.4 Decision-making process

Some manufacturers were very helpful and I felt had a better understanding of veganism, cruelty free and sustainability. Before I relate my impressions of the companies, I want to make one thing very clear, sustainability and cruelty-free are not interchangeable. Some products may be cruelty free but may not be sustainable, and vice versa. I would also urge anyone purchasing and using the art materials mentioned here to consider the factors stated in Table 2 and to use their own judgement by asking the manufacturers directly.

3.0 Survey of my vegan drawing and sketching materials

3.1 Vegan-friendly paper for drawing and sketching

In Table 3, I list vegan-friendly and cruelty-free paper that I use for drawing and sketching. Other papers for watercolour, oil and acrylic painting will be explored in a future article. Please note that I purchased these products personally and I was not given free products to review as some youtube reviewers and other individuals have done. My objective is to learn to draw and paint using cruelty-free, vegan art materials, rather than to become a reviewer.

Manufacturer Personal impression Vegan friendly products

Very helpful and friendly. They now have some products that are labelled (by themselves) as being vegan-friendly. I am very pleased with their support.

1. Fabriano Recycled Paper (200 gsm, 1.5 x 10 m, purchased from on sale for 19 euros current price is 28 euros)

2. Fabriano Designo 4

(Purchased from despar in Bologna, Italy)

3. Fabriano Artistico (1.5 x 10 m rolls of “soft” and “fine” texture, purchased from on sale for 96 euros each)

4. Fabriano art journal A6 size.(purchased from a local art store in Vienna, Austria)


Very approachable and were proud to use novel paper processing which do not use animal-based ingredients. They are against animal testing and seem very genuine.

  1. Bamboo Mixed Media paper (265 gsm) 1.25 x 10 m roll for 65 euro on sale from
  2. Bamboo paper A4 sketchbook (purchased from a local art store)
  3. Hahnemühle Skizzenblock Skizze 190 (190 gsm, 6 euros from a local art store in Vienna, Austria)
  4. Hahnemühle Technical paper 40 gsm (50 m roll for 9 euro from
  5. Hahnemühle D&S sketchbooks (6 different ones purchased from a local art store)
Seawhite of Brighton Friendly and supportive. Eco Sketchbook (50 sheets, 130 gsm, cartridge paper, purchased for 6.38 euros from a local art store in Vienna)
Generic Printer Paper Printer paper (chamois or faun colour paper (one ream for 8 euros, 80 gsm)

Printer paper (chamois, faun 250 sheets for 8 euros, 160 gsm)

Printer paper (light grey, 160 gsm)

Best Point Helpful company and provided information needed.
  1. Best Point watercolour paper (unsized, 260 gsm)
  2. Best point sketchbook

(Purchased from Libro in Vienna)

Table 3: List of drawing and sketching paper used for studying sketching and drawing.

3.2 Vegan-friendly Graphite Pencils

“Not all Graphite Pencils are vegan-friendly!!”

Graphite pencils which are vegan-friendly were harder to find. Most art books and teaching resources lead us to believe that the softness of the graphite pencils is dependent on the relative concentration of graphite to clay, and that these are the only two components present in the pencil ‘lead’. So softer pencils such as 9B will have a higher proportion of graphite than a HB pencil. This simplified view is unfortunately misleading, as a combination of clay (earth mineral.. sounds “organic” and “earthy”, while actually they are mostly varieties of inorganic mixtures…) and graphite (a carbon allotrope, mined in the Lake District) which forms the heart and the essence of the graphite pencils encased in a wooden body makes the pencil seem like a product of the earth and benign.

Back in 2013, I purchased a set of Rembrandt graphite pencils produced by Lyra from an art shop in Graz. They are lovely. Later, I discovered woodless graphite pencils by Koh-i-Noor in 2017. I contacted both Koh-i-Noor and Lyra to ask if the pencils contained any animal based raw materials, and they stated they were animal free. However, after a few weeks of working with the Koh-i-Noor Progresso (woodless pencils) I felt a residue of oil or a fatty substance on my hands. Upon inspecting the surface of the paper using my usb-microscope I noticed the presence of fat globules. So I became rather worried. After searching on the internet, I stumbled across a comparable document sent to a customer enquiring about Caran d’ache graphite pencils, in which the manufacturer stated that due to the presence of tallow their graphite pencils cannot be considered vegan-friendly or cruelty-free. The reason for the addition of tallow (animal fat ) is to ease the graphite onto the paper surface. After these findings, I re-contacted Lyra and Koh-i-noor to reconfirm that the graphite pencil sets that I purchased were indeed free from animal-derived raw materials, such as tallow. Koh-i-noor finally told me that unfortunately the woodless graphite pencils actually contained tallow, and the concentration of tallow and the softness of the graphite pencil were directly proportional. Lyra on the other hand sent me a non-answer copied from their company policies but they honestly said they could not reveal either way. …  This was emotionally hard to take, as I felt that my trust in the companies seemed to be dwindling.

I contacted Faber Castell as their website states that except for 2 or 3 products (listed) all their products are devoid of animal-based raw materials. They were happy to confirm that did not use tallow or animal-based raw materials and tightly control and regulate the raw material supplies. I undertook my studies on the paper using my usb microscope and I did not notice large globules of fat even for a Jumbo graphite 9B crayon stick. I also contacted Anja Hofmann (mentioned previously) for her thoughts on whether the Faber Castell 9000 series can be considered vegan, and she said she was also satisfied they were, through her own discussion with Faber Castell.

I contacted Conte a Paris several times to enquire them about the Pierre Noire and Sanguine Pencils, however I have not received a reply. On various art forums, the impression I have is that Pierre Noire and Sanguine pencils are made from pressed ores or minerals and so are consider vegan-friendly. However, the same individuals also consider all graphite pencils as vegan-friendly as the graphite “lead” is composed of graphite and clay…. As these Conte pencils were a gift I will use them until they run out or hopefully I get a reply from the manufacturer confirming they are vegan.

For the drawings and sketches I primarily use Faber Castell products and Conte a Paris pencils too, as detailed in Table 4. I will use Lyra Rembrandt pencils for some studies as I still have them for comparative studies. I shall not replace them after they have been used up. I have already given my Koh-i-Noor pencils away.


Product and Place/Manner of Acquisition

Vegan status

Faber Castell

9000 Series (4H to 8B) purchased from a local seller for 5 euros (second hand, unopened).

Confirmed Vegan

Faber Castell

Jumbo Graphite Crayons (2B, 4B, 9B) purchased from Boesner, Vienna

Confirmed Vegan

Conte a Paris

Pierre Noire HB, 2B, 3B

No confirmation

Conte a Paris

Sanguine, Medici, Sanguine XVII, Sepia

No confirmation

Faber Castell

Polychromos pencil Indian Red, Black, Ultramarine Blue, etc… (purchased a set of 12 from Amazon for 10 euros, other pencils purchased individually for 1.54 euros in Gerstecker or Boesner in Vienna)

Confirmed Vegan

Faber Castell

Charcoal stick set (willow),

Confirmed Vegan

Faber Castell

Charcoal PITT pencils (set of 3 pencils), Boesner, Wien

Confirmed Vegan


Charcoal Pencil set (set of 4 pencils) a gift from a friend in the UK.

Confirmed Vegan

Faber Castell

PITT Pastel pencils (various colours), purchased individually from Mastnak Papier, Gerstecker and Boesner in Vienna.

Confirmed Vegan

Faber Castell

Castle series budget colour pencils (set of 48), purchased for 5 euros from Amazon warehouse.

Confirmed Vegan

Table 4: List of vegan-friendly drawing and sketching implements that I own and use.

3.0 Conclusion

Finding vegan-friendly and cruelty-free art materials for drawing and sketching was not as easy a task as it had initially seemed. Over this two year process, I understand that how we define and interpret veganism is very subjective and that it influences how we decide on what art materials to purchase and use. The vegan art material lists available online should be considered as a starting point but it is also as important to ascertain whether one (the end user) agrees with the ideologies and research approaches of the researchers (both individuals and groups) who compiled these lists. The approaches of manufacturers/ suppliers varied immensely with providing information. It is also important to regularly check the manufacturers’ websites to find any changes in the information and it is best to directly contact the manufacturer to confirm the vegan-friendly status of the products.

4.0 Future work

In the next article I will present an experimental (scientific) study of graphite pencils Faber Castell 9000 series on various papers (produced by Fabriano, Hahnemuhle, generic recycled printer paper, Bestpoint paper (local unsized paper)). 


In this blog, I would like to share my experiences in drawing and painting. I have a strong background in chemistry and my expertise lie in hydrocolloids, physical and analytical chemistry (PhD and postdoctoral projects). I left the field few years ago for various reasons. I am now studying drawing and painting on my own and with the help of online support tutors who provide me critique. As a scientist, it is difficult for me to separate the role of art materials (such as paper, paints, etc) from the drawing and painting experience itself. I don’t have access to high tech analytical equipment, but I have some inexpensive devices and passion.

I am also a vegan and personally I do my best to avoid art materials which contain animal-based raw materials or if the products have been tested on animals. I will share my experiences in commercial art materials which have been declared as suitable for vegans. Often I get asked “why should you care whether paints or pencils contain animal-based raw materials when you are not going to eat them?”. My answer is that I am trying my best not to hurt animals in any way I can. I am doing the best I can, it’s in no way perfect but what matters to me certainly, is that I am trying.

I will discuss my first hand experiences and thoughts on art materials (both commercially available as well as home-made/ DIY approaches) in a future post. My tutors consider this an interesting side-project, and urge me to concentrate on developing my technical drawing and painting skills primarily. At first, I was a bit disheartened as I worked rather hard to gather information and undertake initials studies. I think this maybe of interest to some people at least.

I believe that the spirit of the drawing and painting is linked to how we relate to the art materials. However, the general approach is it doesn’t matter how you make a drawing and painting the role of art materials is marginal. A skilled artist will make a masterpiece or close to it with inexpensive art materials, while an amateur will make a mess even with the most expensive and high quality materials. However, I think that my approach which seems “too intense” and “critical” is not wrong either. For example, Albrecht Dürer and J.W.M. Turner undertook ongoing research into art materials throughout their artistic career.

I am trying to make progress on both the nature of art-materials, and the drawing and painting process (interaction with art-materials). I am learning to draw and paint so I will share my attempts at drawing and painting.