A Cartoonist’s Tools

I think every cartoonist is sooner or later asked “what kind of pen do you use?”

My normal response is usually that there is no “right” or “best” pen. Each cartoonist finds, usually through years of trial and error, the correct tools for themselves. Some prefer pen and ink, some like the cheapest ballpoints. (And remember, even the best art needs good writing first.)

But I also remember starting out, getting answers like that, and wishing I’d gotten a different answer; or at least a place to start. And it’s in that spirit that I’m going to go through pretty much everything in my office and explain how and why I use it.

Just remember, your results may vary.


paper sketches

For sketching I use a 24 pound bright laser paper. Pretty much whatever is on sale. I could certainly go cheaper, but I like the way that combination feels to me.

For final art I use Borden & Riley bleedproof paper for pens. It’s economical, and it stands up well to marker saturation.

paper art

I try to fit as many cartoons on a single piece as I can and then cut them out for scanning. You end up with all sorts of oddball shapes, but since I’m creating for reproduction, I don’t much care.


I’m really picky about my pencils, and ForestChoice #2‘s are my hands down favorites. They work great, feel great, sharpen great, they’re just perfect! I buy the 144-count box.


If you like pencils like I like pencils, do yourself a favor and try these. They’re so good!!



I use a few different pens for the final art: a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist brush pen, and varying thicknesses of Pigma Micron pens. Both stand up well to my punishingly heavy hand, stay black, and dry quickly, which I have to have because I work really fast.



I’ve used Prismacolor cool greys for years and years, but lately I’ve been opting to use some virtual markers I created in Photoshop from scans of my Prismacolors on the Border & Riley paper. They’re not quite the organic feel of the real thing though, so I’m kind of on the fence here.



I preface this with the reminder that for probably half of my career I worked hunched over a coffee table in our living room. But when we moved to a larger house and I got an office I splurged on this Alvin drafting table. It’s nice to be able to work without sitting on the floor.



And while we’re talking about sitting, my Swopper stool was another I’ve-got-my-own-office  splurge. It takes a little getting used to, but my back continues to thank me.



I built my own taboret (I had to look up the word “taboret.” I was going to call it my drawer thingy) out of various Elfa pieces at the Container Store. Easy, sturdy, and cost effective.

Light Desk


The way I work is to do a messy sketch, and then ink over it on my light desk. For years I used a much bulkier one, which was sort of hard to work on with my table, so this newer thinner LightPad is a Godsend. I still have trouble making the back “sticky” enough to store it on my desk though.



Your standard sturdy Luxo combo. This thing is awesome and I adore it.



I’ve waxed poetic about my Mac before, and usually someone chimes in and tells me I’m paying for the name and I’m a jerk and all that. But when my last iMac had 2 weeks left in AppleCare, and the Genius Bar couldn’t figure out my problem, they gave me a brand new iMac and a new AppleCare to go with it. No questions asked.

Apple, you had me at hello.

BTW, I also run a MacBook, 2 iPads and an iPhone. Call me a fanboy, it all works.


I had my last Canon scanner for more than 10 years, and I loved it dearly, but this fall it finally scanned it’s last Andertoon. I replaced it with another CanoScan and the results are just as good in like 1 third of the time:


I also run this Fujitsu ScanSnap for auto scanning reams of paperwork, receipts, and cartoon cards. Love it!


Wacom Intuos 3


I still do so much work with actual ink on paper that I have yet to pony up for a Cintiq a new Intuos, or that Inkling thing. But when I need it, it’s a reliable workhorse. I couldn’t get along without it.

Photoshop CS5


I have some sort of bundle of CS5 stuff, most of which I rarely use. I’m also betting that I use only about 5% of what Photoshop is capable of, but there you go. I did do some playing around in Flash a while back, and occasionally I poke my head into Illustrator to change some line art into vector, but mostly it’s a lot of Photoshop layer coloring, resizing, etc…

So that’s it. That’s what I use to create my cartoons. Someone just starting out certainly doesn’t need all of this. Pen, paper, and a computer with a scanner is pretty much the minimum though.

There’s a whole separate set of tools for running the business, and probably another for running the site, but those are posts for another time.

(Just in case you’re curious, here’s a video showing how I draw my cartoons, and here’s a more in-depth look at my cartooning process.)

So, what tools do you use?

Goodbye Old Friend

I’m sad to say I’ve had to put down one of my oldest and most reliable of companions; my old pencil sharpener.

I’m a pencil nut. I love love LOVE really sharp pencils. And they have to be a very specific kind.

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Anyway, before I had a permanent workspace, I used to create my cartoons at the coffee table in our old house’s living room, which meant pretty much everything for cartooning had to be small and mobile. Hence my battery powered pencil sharpener.

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This thing was a workhorse and has been at my side for about as long as I’ve been cartooning professionally. But, sadly, something went kablooey the other day, and now I have to lay it to rest. Sniffle.

Goodbye old friend.

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On an up note, after some recent browsing at Staples I’ve adopted a new sharpener (same breeder, BTW) and my pencils are sharp once more. And, thanks to shelving my gypsy ways, this one can stay plugged in and in one place.

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I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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No. 2’s Are #1

I love pencils!

Before I was a full-time cartoonist, my inky cubicled coworkers would mock my Ticonderogan tendencies, but I continue to grip graphite to this day.

I love the feel of it rubbing against the paper. I love the hexagonical shape in my fingers. And I love the warm gray against the bright white surface.

My absolute favorite pencil? The American Natural. The smooth unfinished body and firm but yielding graphite has sketched untold thousands of my cartoons.

So, you can imagine my joy when Drawn! pointed out the relatively young Pencil Revolution! Go check it out, it’s fascinating.

Five Cartooning Tools That Don’t Get Any Respect

My paper, pencils and pens are probably the stars of my cartooning supplies. The laptop and scanner are right in there too, as is the graphics tablet I use for my color work.

But recently I found myself contemplating some of my less flashy tools. Steady workhorses that, while lacking the panache of a sexy brush pen, show up every day and quietly help me ink out a living.

So, here they are in no particular order…

#1 – Pencil Sharpener

Pencil Sharpener

Oh how I love this little guy. I’m a sharp pencil junkie. I keep it by me while I’m sketching to keep my #2’s nice and sharp. It runs on 4 AA’s and has the great little smoked plastic reservoir to catch the shavings.

I recently bought my wife one for her classroom after I noticed several blunt nubs populating her desk on a recent visit.

#2 – Radio


I keep this on during the day and alternate between NPR, a few local radio shows and the Today show (Yep! It even gets TV stations!)

It sounds great for what it is and is small enough to carry around pretty easily.

(I also have its tub dwelling cousin to listen to in the shower!)

#3 – Address Stamp and Ink

Stamp & Ink

OK, this is kind of a twofer, but these two rely so heavily on each other that I had to list them together.

The address stamp had pounded my name and address on the the backs of untold thousands of cartoons as they leave the nest to make their way in the world. And the bottle if ink is still mostly full, even though I’ve been using it for years!

#4 – Polar Bear Pants


Yes, you read that correctly — polar bear pants!

This is my favorite pair of pants in all the world. Its ferocious fuzzy flannel has been my lower half’s choice for many moons.

Here’s a close up of the pattern.

With summer coming they’ll be packed away for a time, but come fall I look forward to rekindling our leggy romance.

Me doing my Sears catalog pose.

#5 – Coffee Table

Coffee Table
That’s Gillespie on the upper right.

My wife, son, dog, two cats and I live in a small three-bedroom ranch in the ‘burbs. I have my small office, but there’s not room enough for a proper drawing table.

When I first starting cartooning I had no idea if it would go anywhere, so all of my cartoons were drawn at this coffee table, where they continue to be produced to this day.

I sit on the floor with my back resting on the sofa and my legs Indian-style beneath the table. Believe it or not it’s really quite comfortable!

We’re probably going to be moving into a slightly larger house next summer (have I mentioned my 21-month old is a giant?), and I look forward to setting up a larger office with a fine drawing table, but this coffee table will always hold a special place in my heart and living room.

Well that feels good. I’m glad this stuff has finally gotten the attention it deserves. And now you’ve seen me in my polar bear pants!

Lucky you!