Product Profiles: Erasers, History and Application

It’s as important to subtract from a drawing as it is to add. Non-artists think of erasers as correction tools, forever associated with mistakes, but artists depend on erasers as essential drawing instruments, often as important to drawing as the pencil or charcoal!

Stone: The earliest instruments for correction on drawings and documents were abrasive stones like pumice. Abrasives actually remove material from the surface of artwork, and the resulting surface doesn’t accept subsequent media quite the same after. Burnishing with a polished piece of agate or bone helps restore smoothness and harden the surface of paper abraded with pumice.

Stale Bread: Stale bread (crusts removed) has been used for cleaning and erasing works on paper and other surfaces for centuries. Bread provides a gentle “dry cleaner” for sensitive surfaces. Renaissance-era invoices for supplies to clean frescoes list large amounts of bread and Greek wine (though we wonder if some of that was for lunch, too!)

Gum Eraser: Gum Erasers are made of factice, a crumbly material derived from vegetable oil, and other proprietary ingredients. Earlier artists used to refer to these as “bread erasers” because of their crumbly consistency and for the aforementioned role of stale bread as erasers. Gum Erasers are gentle with low abrasiveness, making them ideal for cleaning light smudges from delicate papers.

Pink Rubber: This type of eraser is the direct descendant of the original natural latex eraser invented in the 18th century. Rubber erasers are now made of synthetic materials but the function is the same. Pink rubber erasers are good for removing stubborn, deep marks but can alter the paper surface, making it rougher and less absorbent to wet media. Keep this type of eraser in your drawing kit, but use it conservatively.

Kneaded Rubber: The Kneaded Rubber Eraser is a malleable, putty-like material which lifts friable media from paper without the need to rub or abrade. Pressure alone with a dabbing action can lift a portion of material, lightening a passage without smearing or loss of detail. Kneaded erasers are cleaned by working them like dough.

White Vinyl:White vinyl erasers are mild on paper and vellum, and leave much less residue than rubber or gum erasers. These synthetic drawing instruments are ideal for hard graphite and fine line work, though they can sometimes smear heavy, soft lead.

Typewriter/carbon: These are harder to find all the time, though old stock is sometimes available online. Typewriter erasers are wood-bound pencils with a core of eraser material containing a gritty abrasive, topped with a stiff brush for whisking away dust. Artists still favor these old-fashioned instruments because they can abrade heavy ink and other media.

Propelling: “Click erasers” consist of a plastic barrel with a slide mechanism which manually feeds a stick refill. Refills are usually of the white vinyl type, but other varieties are available including refills for removing ink from drafting film.

Electric: Electric erasers hold a stick refill which is rotated by an electric motor. These are favored by draftsmen and animators for quickly erasing long, continuous lines. Electric erasers are available as rechargeable, plug-in or battery powered models. Plug-in erasers are generally more durable than battery powered, which can burn out with heavy use. Electric erasers can be used with a high degree of precision in combination with a thin, metal erasing shield.

Dry Cleaning Pads: This instrument used to be called a “drafting mouse” but the term has fallen out of use, due to the ubiquity of the computer mouse. A dry cleaning pad consists of a permeable cloth sack filled with a material like eraser dust, and is used to gently remove marks from vellum and drafting film.

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