Tips & Techniques

ERASING with BLU-TACK - part 1

Erasing is an art in itself and successful erasing is never easy.  Just for the moment leave aside your hard rubbers, soft art erasers and kneadable putty rubbers while I introduce you to my favourite ERASER.....
Erasing with Putty?
How to use Blu-Tack as a pencil eraser This is not a putty rubber as you know it... Be prepared to have your technical illusions shattered - my preferred eraser (almost my only eraser) is not an eraser at all... but it is a tool of unsurpassed excellence! We know it here in the UK as "Blu-Tack" - the non-sticky putty that is used for fixing posters to walls. Yes, that's right, this stuff is God's own gift to graphite artists - and probably works as well with charcoal and pastel. Years ago I bought a batch of kneadable erasers (aka: putty rubbers) that broke up in use and, in desperation, I grabbed a piece of Blu-Tack — I've used virtually nothing else since. This "eraser" is so versatile that I still haven't exhausted its range of uses! But beware - there are similar products, generically known as "Wall Putties", but only Blu-Tack possesses exactly the qualities we need.

The Eraser in use:
Blu-Tack possesses two qualities not found in kneadable erasers - an enhanced ability to be readily formed into any shape and an all-important inherent tackiness. And one surprising difference - it's tendency to become softer and slightly stickier when held in the hand for any length of time. This causes it to remove more graphite more cleanly and with the lightest of touches. I suggest you keep a ball in your free hand as you work, and another ball of this magic putty on your drawing board. You'll have one ball for general use and the second, cooler and stiffer ball, for very delicate erasing.

An Eraser is not a Rubber:
Hard rubbers rub, they do little more than force graphite deeper into the paper.  "Art erasers" and putty types remove graphite more softly but, as they still require a dragging or tapping movement to achieve results, a degree of graphite "staining" usually results. But Blu-Tack, as a result of its sticky nature, removes every grain of graphite without any detrimental movement. It's a graphite magnet! A quick downward touch embeds the grains for immediate and clean lifting, and causes no harm to the tooth of your paper.

Cleaning the Eraser:
In time, as the Blu-Tack eraser takes in more and more graphite, it will cease to be fully efficient. However most of the graphite is merely embedded in its surface and just requires dilution by distributing it throughout the eraser. Taking the ball of putty in one hand, simply pull off small pieces or stretch it out into a long length - now roll the whole thing up again and knead it back into a ball. This eraser is a miser's dream... it will last for months - probably years!

Lightening tone:
Never again will you feel afraid of over-darkening an area of your drawing. The day has arrived when you can load an area with as much graphite as you want because you now have the means to remove it if you need to. Detail of 'Early Morn at Witton Marsh'nbsp;© Mike Sibley 1999 The following technique can be applied to any area of tone that you require to be a little (or a lot) lighter. This is where traditional erasers are useless and kneadable erasers may let you down - neither can cleanly remove half a layer of graphite without disturbing the remainder beneath. This Eraser can! Roll the Blu-Tack into a cylinder with as smooth a face as possible (try rolling it on your drawing board). Now gently roll the cylinder over the area to be lightened and repeat as required. With a little practice and perseverance you will soon become proficient and will be able to lower a complete area from in-your-face to ghostly!... and without affecting the detail! For small areas just pull out a finger, flatten its lower face to form a curved flat, and then rock that in turn on your drawing. Or you can very gently stroke the finger over the graphite to adjust its tonal strength. This technique allows total control over the subtlety of, for example, a misty scene - draw it with ease using a greater strength and a wider range of contrasts than is required then use your eraser to progressively "fade" as required.

Complete Erasure:
Try this out for yourself and follow the steps I took below:
  1. Take a piece of your usual drawing paper (I prefer Mellotex or Conqueror Diamond White card) and generously apply a saturated coating of 6B or similar to a small area. A harder grade will do but it has to be one that you know a regular eraser will smear and not remove.
  2. Roll a cylinder of your Blu-Tack eraser over the area. This will remove all the surface graphite.
  3. Continue rolling until the eraser (which you might need to clean at some stage)...
  4. has removed as much graphite as it possibly can. The graphite is removed in ever decreasing amounts so persevere. Don't worry that the coated eraser may deposit graphite back onto your paper - it just doesn't happen!
  5. Remember when I said the eraser "removes every grain of graphite...and embeds the grains for immediate and clean lifting"? Well, that's in an ideal world — the very act of drawing will have pushed some graphite a little too far into the paper for the putty to reach so now (and only now) reach for your soft art eraser and rub out the final remnants. But be aware, from this point on you might be causing damage to the paper's tooth.
Erasing 6B pencil back to white
Continue to Part 2
"The Blu-Tack is better than I even thought it would be...I'm still amazed at how that light touch will pick up the graphite. It's great!!!!"
Toby Levin, USA
Don't blend graphite with your fingers - don't touch the paper surface at all!  Natural grease from your skin will indelibly alter any touched area and affect the way that graphite adheres to it.  This is particularly noticeable (and distracting) if the area is within an expanse of flat or graduated tone - more graphite will adhere to the greasy area and always appear darker.

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