Painting & drawing blog


Drawing erasers and paint

If you’ve ever experienced that awful moment when you realise that you’ve got a dark mark or a smudge on hour drawing after working on if for hours – here’s what to do about it!

It’s not unusual to accidentally get a dark spot on your paper and it can occur from to a number of causes. Sometimes it happens when a pencil slips out of my fingers as I’m removing it from the paper and if the lead hits a pencil as it falls, it can make a mark that’s really hard to erase. At other times a little bit of graphite dust gets rubbed into the paper and makes a dark smudge. Grease spots that have somehow migrated to your paper – maybe from the natural oils in your skin – can cause horrible dark marks when they pick up dust from the pencil lead.

This is how I get rid of unwanted marks…….

→ Start with some tissue

If there’s any grease in this mark, I first want to try to blot it up so I press gently against it with a tissue to try to absorb it.

→ Then a kneadable eraser

Next I get to work with my erasers. First I use my kneadable ‘putty’ eraser, which isn’t a very powerful eraser because it’s very soft, but its gentleness makes it ideal for removing any excess graphite from the spot. Unlike hard rubber or plastic erasers a putty eraser won’t smear, and you can lift the graphite off before it can spread and make a worse mark. I’ll mould the eraser to a point and press it against the spot.

A mouldable eraser doesn’t rub away and shed little crumbs of rubber but instead the graphite clings to it and lifts off the paper, so after I’ve had a first go at the mark I’ll pinch off this graphite-covered bit of eraser, re-mould it, and press it against the mark again. I repeat this a few times. Once I’m confident I’ve got any loose graphite off, I’ll drag the eraser hard across the mark to see the residual mark will come away.

→ Next a plastic eraser

Assuming the mark is still present, it’s now time for some harder erasing. Using a hard plastic eraser (you could use a natural rubber one too, but plastic erasers probably going to be more effective) I’ll gently rub back and forth several times.

→ Bring the big guns out: the battery powered eraser

If the spot is still there, I’ll next resort to my battery erasers. These are really powerful erasers that can remove extremely dark marks! Be sure to follow steps 1 and 2 first before trying the electric eraser just to make sure that any loose graphite dust is gone, so that the eraser won’t spread graphite around further as it rotates around.

Most art store battery erasers use 5mm diameter eraser inserts, which is ideal. I also have a Korean-made battery eraser with a 2.5mm attachment which is fantastic for drawing highlights, but won’t have the strength to erase a dark mark.

Hold the eraser firmly against the mark and press the ‘on’ switch for a couple of seconds at a time. Don’t go on erasing too long on the same spot because eventually you may damage the paper surface.

→ Try to scalpel it off…

In nearly all cases this process should have dealt with even an obstinate mark. However if your stubborn mark is a greasy then you may have difficulty in rubbing it off with any number of erasers. Once or twice I’ve had to resort to actually slicing it off the paper surface, which is something I don’t recommend unless you’ve had some experience with a scalpel. You’ll need a very sharp and slim scalpel rather than a craft knife, such as a Swann-Morton scalpel, and you’ll need a fresh blade.

Very carefully slide the knife just under the surface of the paper and gently scrape the mark off. I’ve done this on heavyweight cartridge (drawing) paper as well as thicker watercolour paper but it’s a trick that probably wouldn’t work with thinner paper – anything under 200gsm – because you’d likely just cut straight through your sheet.

→ Or cover it with some Chinese White

If you don’t want to risk attempting to scrape a mark off with a scalpel another trick I’ve used successfully in the past is to apply the tiniest dab of Chinese White watercolour paint or some white gouache, painting carefully with the smallest brush you have. This likely won’t cover it completely (you obviously don’t want to end up with a thick blob of paint so don’t apply it too thickly as this will look worse than the mark you started with) but it will tone it down and hopefully deflect the eye from it. This works best if the mark is somewhere within your actual drawing, and less well if it’s in the middle of the blank paper that surrounds the pencil work.

→ If all else fails, add a background

And finally my very last tip: if you have drawn something like a portrait and have a stubborn mark still visible on an area of blank paper, consider adding a bit of background to your drawing! A bit of softly hatched background shading in a very light pencil can be enough to cover a mark and can even enhance your drawing.

And lastly, avoid it happening in the first place!

Of course prevention is always better than cure! This post has suggestions on how to protect your paper from graphite dust and other damage while you are drawing.









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