The top 10 uses for rubbers and erasers

rubbers-and-erasers-collection-2webTypes of rubbers and erasers for drawing

Using erasers for rubbing out mistakes comes last on my list of top 10 uses for rubbers and erasers!  Read further to find out my top 10 tips.  Then you’ll know exactly how you should be using them when drawing.

If you’re new to drawing or just enrolled on an art course or drawing class you may be wondering what else you can do with a rubber or eraser other than rub out your mistakes. Learning to use rubbers and erasers is just as much of a creative journey as learning to use your charcoal, chalk pastel or paint.  Oddly this is very rarely taught on art courses.


Types of erasers and rubbers every artist should know about

In addition to the 3 main types of rubbers that I use all the time, which I talk about in detail in this blog, you can also buy the following types of rubbers and erasers;

The top 10 uses for rubbers and erasers

1. Gum erasers which are very soft and crumbly. I used this a lot in art school many years ago but have not touched one since.  They are useful if you are doing very delicate drawings on soft paper, but otherwise I have not had any use for them since. 

The top 10 uses for rubbers and erasers

2. Rubber erasers are also available but I find these can go hard and don’t do a very good job – just my experience!

The top 10 uses for rubbers and erasers

3. Electric eraser can be very useful for bringing back tiny areas of highlighting. They run on batteries and can be purchased at good craft shops for about £4 – £5.

The top 10 uses for rubbers and erasers

4. Pencil erasers are quite handy if you do very detailed and careful drawings. These come as 2 types – either encased in wood like a pencil which can be sharpened just like a pencil, or as one of those pencils where you pull a string that unwraps the paper covering (just like china markers). I don’t bother with these as if I want a sharp point on my plastic vinyl eraser I simply cut it with a craft knife.  They also come as fills for mechanical or clutch pencils.

The 3 most useful rubbers and erasers

I suggest that you will need 3 types of rubbers if you are serious about your drawing or are about to enrol on a art course or drawing class.  Firstly a ‘kneadable’ or ‘putty’ rubber you can buy at all art shops. Secondly a regular ‘vinyl plastic’ eraser you’ll find in all office stationary suppliers, and thirdly Blu tack.  Most importantly – what’s the difference?

 The next 3 types are the only kinds of rubbers and erasers I use, and I suggest are the only types you really can’t do without.  Read on for more details and creative ideas on how to use…

The top 10 uses for rubbers and erasers

5. Kneadable putty rubbers

Made by different manufacturers (Winsor and Newton, Daler Rowney, Koh-i-Noor, Faber-Castell) they are generally blue or white.  The come wrapped in thin plastic film or in a box.  They can be firm, medium or soft – but either way they are designed to be taken out of their packaging and handled roughly, squashed, pulled, taken apart and squashed together again.  They work best when they are slightly warmed up by your hands.  I keep about 3 putty rubbers, in degrees of ‘dirtiness’, as an essential part of my drawing kit.  They each play a crucial part of my drawing process. A bit like boots before a long hike – take them out and break them in and find out what they can do before you attend any art course or drawing class you may have signed up to.

 Cleaning a putty rubber (and Blu tack) is easy – simply pull and fold in on itself and knead it like a piece of clay or dough.

The top 10 uses for rubbers and erasers

6. Vinyl Plastic erasers

The most popular brand is made by Staedtler.  It is white in colour and comes in a card sheath which can stay on for a while until it starts getting in the way.  At about £2 – £3 they are versatile and essential part of your drawing kit.  I usually discard the card sheath after a month or so when the rubber starts to get back and dirty.  This eraser becomes my ‘secondary’ eraser and is used to achieve different things to my shiny clean card sheathed ‘primary’ eraser.  If you find some erasers lying round the house or decide to pinch one from your child’s pencil case you’ll find they each rub out ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than the other.  Better or worse are in inverted commas as this is not the best way to describe them.  More accurately they simply have different qualities that can be used to achieve different effects in your drawings – experiment to find out what they are!

The top 10 uses for rubbers and erasers

 7. Blu Tack

Putting posters on walls is the one thing I wouldn’t use Blu tack for.  Doing creative tonal drawings in charcoal or soft graphite is what I use it for with fantastic results.  You can buy the original Bostick Blu Tack or any other alternative.

Top 10 uses for rubbers and erasers

1. Cleaning your page

Often the page around your beautifully detailed pencil drawing becomes smudged with graphite from your hand or fingers.  Make broad confident strokes using the flat edge of your clean putty rubber around your drawing to clean the page of smudges. Remember when cleaning close to the page edges to hold down the corners and use your rubber gently, moving from the centre of the page towards the edges, as thin paper may tear easily.

2. Watercolour painting

Stage one of a watercolour painting often involves making a pencil outline sketch prior to painting.  This is usually drawn too dark and if left will result in ugly pencil outlines throughout your painting.  If too dark the excess graphite may mix with your colours making them dirty.  Take a fairly clean putty rubber, roll it into a sausage and roll across your drawing to lift off any excess graphite.  You’ll be left with a pale outline drawing just light enough for you to follow when painting and won’t distract from your finished painting.  Blu tack works excellently for this job.

3. Bring back highlights

This is typically needed when drawing in 9B pencil, graphite, chalk or charcoal as losing the little highlights in say the eyes or hair, can happen so easily.  To get them back is simple with a putty rubber.  Shape the putty rubber by warming it in your hands and shaping it into a little point so you can target the exact spot where you want to regain the highlight.  Then carefully rub in a circular motion to lift of the excess graphite or charcoal. You can even tear of a small piece of rubber if you find this easier to handle than the whole rubber.

Don’t use the ‘plastic’ eraser as this is prone to smudging.

4. Modulating tone

Drawing involves so much more than going from light to dark / highlights to shadows.  There will be times when you find you need to make a part of your drawing lighter to balance it with another section.  This is where the putty rubber excels.  Simply manipulate the rubber to a point, use a corner, or mould into a suitable shape and dab the area you want to make lighter.  Be careful not to make your drawing patchy.  Using your rubber in a sausage shape and rolling it across the area will result in a more even tone.

 You can also draw by subtraction (ie: from dark to light).  This technique works well with willow charcoal.  Cover a page with a mid – dark tone of charcoal and use your putty rubber to ‘rub out’ the charcoal to achieve different tones of ‘highlights’.  Blu tack is great for this technique.  Because Blu tack is so sticky it lifts the charcoal dust directly off the page without smudging it further into the paper.  It enables you to get many different tones of grey while still getting a clean white tone from the clean paper (if you remove all the charcoal).  Try it – it gives you a very different drawing experience.

5. Textures

So much fun to be had here.  There are many ways you can use both the putty rubber and plastic eraser to help you make different textures in your drawings.  Have a play and experiment to find different effects you can use.  Remember rubbers can be used at varying stages of ‘cleanliness’ to achieve different results.  The residue charcoal, chalk or graphite that remains on your rubbers can be used to great effect – don’t forget it’s there to be used creatively!

6. Mark making

You can draw with rubbers and erasers.  The residue charcoal, chalk or graphite left on your rubber or eraser can be used to make lines.  Draw with it as you would a pencil or chalk stick.  Experiment to find out what kinds of lines you can make. I often cut slithers off my plastic eraser to draw neat cutting-like lines with the residue graphite.  Both rubbers and erasers achieve brilliant drawing results when they are black, dirty and you’re tempted to through them in the bin.  Don’t do it – keep them for drawing and for no. 7 on my list of the top 10 uses for rubbers and erasers.

7. Smudging

I use my plastic eraser a lot for this when it is black and covered in excess graphite or charcoal.  Remember, you’re not trying to rub out.  Older plastic erasers tend to become shiny and smooth with age – rubbish for rubbing out – but excellent for smudging your drawings.  Be creative and find ways you can include this in your drawing.  I’ve achieved some stunning results. 

8. Printing technique #1

By now you’re ready to try anything, right?  On my experimental drawing classes I encourage students to find new ways of mark making.  Printing is just one of them.  You can cut lines, textures or patterns into your plastic eraser with a scalpel blade or craft knife.   Use the ends for simple print making.  Either cover in charcoal or graphite and stamp your drawing page for added textures, dip in paint or ink and combine these printed marks with drawn tone or line.

9. Printing technique #2

When you have been using your putty rubber for a while and it becomes quite soft it’s time to use it to take impressions or moulds from any relief texture, such as a brick or stone wall, wood grain or textures from vegetables.  Press the Blu Tack onto the surface, carefully pull away.  Cut away any surplus Blu Tack from around the edges.  Use a flat brush to apply some watercolour paint to the putty rubber and experiment with printmaking.  You’ll need to play around with the viscosity/thickness of the paint.

And of course – if you really want to you can still use these rubbers and erasers for one more thing…

10. Rubbing out all your mistakes!

I hope you enjoy a more creative drawing experience in the future, take your rubbers and erasers with you when you attend any drawing courses or art classes as they will be an invaluable drawing tool alongside your graphite, charcoal, life drawing, or water colour painting.