Many people think of the pencil as the one and only drawing tool. The poor eraser gets pushed aside as something that only gets used after you’ve made a mistake. But that’s a wrong approach to take – your eraser can do a lot more than just cover up the bad lines of your drawing. In special conditions, it can actually become even more useful than your pencil.
So take that eraser out of your pocket and start using it. Here are the three best eraser drawing techniques.
1) For highlighting
If you plan your drawings very, very carefully, you can leave small sections of the paper blank in order to show highlights. This is nearly impossible to do without doing several practice drawings of your subject beforehand, but as you gain more confidence in your drawing skills, you will begin to be able to leave blank sections. Until then, your eraser is an excellent tool for creating highlights.
2) For blending
This works best if your eraser has a dull edge, but even an eraser with a sharp edge can be a great blending tool. Ever noticed that erasers don’t typically create a hard line when they take away pencil lead? Used judiciously, that smudging can work in your favor.
Depending on what kind of eraser you have, the pencil lead you’ve been drawing in and the kind of paper you have, you eraser’s blending ability will change. You can control it by how hard you press down when you make the dabbing motion used to erase.
You can also get interesting effects by the movements you make as you erase – I once got a beautiful texture for a bird’s wing by making light, feather shaped strokes with my eraser. It was the perfect way to create a feeling of motion, while still preserving a lot of the details of the feathers themselves that I had drawn (too bad I lost the drawing!). So try out using erasers to blend shadows, and to blend textures as well.
You can also use your eraser like it was a brush. Rub your pencil on some scrap paper to “load” the paper with lead (kind of like you would load a brush before you paint), and then rub your eraser into the lead “pool”. You now have an interesting tool for blending and making marks that your pencil could never make.
You can also use this “lead pool” trick by rubbing your finger in the lead. This will give you wide, soft strokes. An eraser will typically give you thinner, more accurate strokes than your finger will. Just be careful to keep loading the eraser with lead, or you’ll go from blending to erasing when you don’t want to.
3) For negative space drawings (aka eraser drawings)
If you make a large square and lightly fill it with an even shade (or an uneven shade, if you want to get more complex), you will have a black background. This is when it becomes possible to draw with an eraser. These sorts of drawings are also called “negative space” drawings, and they are typically what people are talking about when they refer to an “eraser drawing”.
Silhouettes are nice as negative space drawings. So are nudes – you can create an almost draping quality to the light and the shadows that is very reminiscent of the draping cloth used to cover certain parts of human models.
What you do for the background can be interesting, too. The classic thing to do is to have it be a flat black background, but nobody will stop you if you decide to try out a background of crosshatches or any other pattern.
How to sharpen an eraser
One of the biggest problems of working with an eraser is how soft they are. It is a very different feel than working with a pencil. If you press down too hard with an eraser, or if you make your stroke in the wrong direction, it is quite easy to break the eraser in half.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way around this. You just cut the eraser so it has a good edge to work with. You can do this with a knife, but even a sharp pair of scissors will work. Just make sure the eraser is flat on a surface before you start cutting, otherwise you might get to add some red to your black and white drawing.
All this cutting is going to mean that you go through your erasers faster than before, but you did buy the erasers to use them, right? If you really like the technique and find yourself doing a lot of eraser work, just look into buying a whole box of erasers at a time. They are much cheaper when you buy them in packs.
There is one other way to use an eraser, and it might give you a bit more control. You basically stencil with your eraser. In other words, find a thin, sturdy edge that you can put on your drawing paper (like a stiff business card, or anything laminated). You can use that edge to create a nice sharp edge between what’s been erased and what has not been erased.