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Studio Craft: Keep Drawings Clean

The illustrator Blanche Grambs (later known as Grambs Aronson) at work

Most artists prefer to leave only the marks they intended to make on their drawings. Fingerprints and smudges distract from the picture and take attention away from what the artist intended to depict.

Keep hands clean: Before handling new paper and finished drawings, wash hands to remove skin oils and residue from handling and sharpening drawing instruments.

Wash drafting instruments: Artists who use rulers, triangles and French curves should clean them periodically to prevent transferring pencil lead and ink to new drawings. Most instruments can be washed with soap and water and dried with paper towels.

Use stomps and tortillions: Smudging with fingers is a common bad habit that deposits skin oils on paper, leading to yellowing. Skin oil also acts as a fixative, making erasers less effective in removing marks. Instead of smudging with fingers, use rolled paper stomps and tortillions to manipulate graphite and charcoal cleanly and with precision. When stomps become saturated with drawing medium, use a kneaded eraser to clean them.

Use a drafting brush: When eraser dust builds up, it’s tempting to blow across the page or whisk away crumbs with the hand. A soft drafting brush more completely removes eraser residue without the risk of smudging or depositing saliva on artwork.

Erase: Most of the time, an eraser is best used as a drawing instrument, subtracting graphite or charcoal along contours and forms, but sometimes it’s necessary to use the eraser as a cleanup tool. Erasing usually alters the paper surface and changes how it accepts additional media, so use the most gentle type of eraser with the minimum necessary amount of pressure.

Interleave paper between drawings: Sheets of clean, acid-free paper can be placed between drawings in storage to reduce smudging. To keep grease stains from transferring between drawings, use Glassine Paper, an acid-free, translucent tissue intended for archival storage.

Use a paper shield or drafting bridge: Allowing the hand to rest on the paper while drawing can lead to stains and smudges. Place a piece of clean paper between the hand and drawing to prevent transfer of skin oils, dirt and drawing medium. A drafting table can be fitted with a bridge, a flat rail that rides above the paper so the hand can rest and steady without directly contacting paper.

Keep food and beverages away from the work area: If food and drinks are on the work surface, sooner or later they’ll end up in your work from spills or dirty fingers. More seriously, eating at the work station carries the risk of ingesting art materials, some of which are not good for your health if eaten. Instead, take breaks and wash hands before and after resuming work.

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