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Art Tools of Erika Farkas

For this installment of Art Tools and Gears, we have guest artist Erika Farkas from Canada.

Originally from Transylvania, Romania, Erika is currently based in Ottawa, Canada. A self-taught visual artist, Erika is particularly skilled at graphite, charcoal, and colored pencil art, as well as Acrylic Painting and we have invited Erika to share with us the art tools that she uses, as well as offer some tips for budding artists. We have also featured some of Erika's masterpieces below.

Qn: Could you introduce yourself to our readers? (When did you start drawing/painting? How did you learn and teach yourself art? Are you a full-time artist currently? Do you teach art?)

I basically started drawing when I turned 50, in the fall of 2012. I have always been a “do it yourself” kind of person, and in a year’s time, I developed my own technique and had drawn more than 75 human and animal portraits. In 2013, through local art organizations, I started exhibiting my pencil drawings, and since then I have won several awards in juried local and international art exhibitions in Ottawa and online.

I have a degree in electrical engineering, and my current full time employment is in Information Technology. But art for me is more than just a weekend hobby. Although I never had any formal art training, artistic creativity has been always a big part of my life and creating art has become one of the biggest joys. I thrive on that feeling of urgency and excitement that I get when the creative juices start flowing in my brain and urge me to pick up a pencil or a brush and just have fun with it.

From drawings, I graduated myself to acrylic painting and mixed media. Currently I am working on perfecting my skills in oil portraiture. I have been continuously trying to challenge myself in finding new ways to combine different types of media. In present times, there is an unprecedented array of media available, creating an opportunity for me to push the envelope of visual expression.

I have been asked many times if I teach drawing classes. Naturally, I am flattered that others would like to learn from my techniques, but I have a full time job other than being an artist, and I spend my little spare time in creating art rather than teaching it.

Qn: What distinguishes charcoal from graphite drawings?

In my drawings, I often use a combination of graphite and charcoal pencils. Graphite pencils are great for the fine details, whereas charcoal, because of its deep black value and matte finish is great for backgrounds and dark shadings.

Qn: What are the art tools you use for your graphite drawings?

For my graphite drawings, I use a combination of graphite pencils with softness from 2B to 8B. For fine details, I use a mechanical pencil with an HB lead.

For shading and smudging, I use paper tortillons pretty much everywhere on my drawing. I have these tortillons, which are basically paper stubs, in different sizes, from very thin for fine details to very thick for large areas.

To do the highlights and corrections, I use Staedler latex free erasers and for fine details, a Derwent electronic eraser.

Qn: And how about your charcoal drawings – what are the art tools you use for them?

I use General’s Charcoal soft and extra soft charcoal pencils. Charcoals come in sticks as well, but I don’t care for them, as they are too messy and can’t blend them as seamlessly as the soft pencil charcoals.

Qn: There is a tendency for charcoal to smudge and mess up a drawing – Does this issue happen with graphite sketches too?

Graphite does not smudge as badly as charcoal, but it does smudge to some extent. While I work on the drawing, I usually start from left to right, making sure that the right side is covered by a masking type secured paper. This way, I can keep the right side free of smudges.

I spray my finished drawings with a fixative spray especially made for charcoal, graphite and pastels. I usually use Pebeo brand because the smell is not as bothersome as some of the other fixatives. The sprayed drawing gets a bit of a shine and it doesn’t smudge, not even the charcoal part of it. This spray does not warp or discolour the drawing paper, and it gives a finished look, so it’s great for drawings.

Qn: What type of paper do you use for your charcoal and graphite sketches? (Which would you recommend?)

There are so many brands of drawing paper that you can choose from, but for myself, I prefer to use a smooth and heavy weight paper such as Strathmore’s 300 Series Bristol, especially for larger drawings, as these do not warp easily and are more durable.

When choosing a drawing paper, you can use any type you like, just make sure that it is acid free paper. These do not yellow with age, and will keep your drawing beautiful for a long time.

Qn: What are the color pencils and paper that you use for your color-pencil drawings?

I mostly use Faber Castell and Prismacolor colour pencils because I like their soft, buttery quality and they come in very lovely colors. No special paper is required, I just use Strathmore 300 series, same as for my graphite or charcoal drawings.

Qn: Do you have any advice on charcoal, graphite and/or color-pencil drawings and the choice of art-tools for each of these mediums that you can share with us?

If you consider graphite pencil drawing, the essentials are the softer leads, or B type leads, such as 2B, 4B, 6B. The higher the number, the softer and darker the graphite is and allows better shading, as they smudge more easily. The hard lead pencils starting with H are useful for finer details, but myself, I don’t really see the benefit of using a harder lead than HB, which is the hardness of regular and mechanical pencils.

Charcoal pencils come in different hardness as well as in various colours. I use soft charcoal for backgrounds and shading, usually General’s Charcoal brand and medium-hard Derwent charcoal for outlines.

If you are just starting out with coloured pencils, I suggest you use a student or store brand variety, which are less expensive. These are great for learning and just trying out different drawing techniques. Later, you may want to invest in some better quality pencils, such as Prismacolour, Faber Castell or Derwent coloured pencils. Most of the colours are also sold individually, so if you need a specific colour, for example a flesh tone pencil with a more buttery consistency, you can just buy that single one.

Qn: What type/brand of Acrylic paint and board do you use for your Acrylic Paintings?

For backgrounds and larger areas I use store brand student grade paints, as these are cheaper and come in big jars.

For the fine details and areas that I need to accentuate on my canvas. I usually buy good quality tube acrylic paints such as Pebeo or Liquitex, as these paints are richer in pigments and come in more vivid colours than student grade acrylics.

I use different size of canvases and wood boards as painting support. Lately, I really enjoy painting on primed wood cradleboards that have a toothless surface and do not bend as canvas does. These wood boards are great for collages and mixed media works, as well as for any other type of painting.

Qn: What do you use to clean up after painting with Acrylic?

Painting is a messier activity than drawing, and it does require a larger working area. I do not have a separate studio where I could go as messy as I wish, and believe me, I would be very messy…

Fortunately, acrylic is a water-based medium and can be easily cleaned. I clean my brushes and knives with water and dry them with paper towel. Acrylic paint can be just peeled off when dry, so even if I spill a drop or two or ten on the floor, I can just scrape it off when dry or wipe it off while it is still wet.

Qn: Do you have any tips to share for Acrylic Painting?

Acrylic paints are good for works that you want to finish fast. You can have a dried painting in a few hours, as opposed to oil paints, which can take up to week to dry. However, if you consider portrait painting with acrylic, the fast drying time does not work well with seamless tone blending. Luckily, there are media that you can use to retard the drying time and can be mixed with the regular acrylic paint without altering its colour or consistency.

Qn: Have you read any art-book/s or instructional mediums related to art?

I wish I would have more time to read more art related books. Luckily, there are tons of good art related instructional videos and hand-on artist tutorials on YouTube that require less time and offer more benefits, as you can actually see how a work of art is being created.

Qn: Lastly, which other artists do you think we should interview next?

It is hard to choose from all of the Ottawa artists whose work I admire, as there are quite a few excellent artists in the region. I am always inspired by the works of these two Ottawa artists: Margaret Chwialkowska, an amazing landscape artist, and Soraya Silvestri, an equally amazing abstract artist.

We thank Erika Farkas for this very insightful interview and her generous spirit to share her art tools and knowledge of art. For more of Erika's artworks, you may visit her website or her blog.

Erika also has a facebook page dedicated for art-lovers.

Check out other artist interviewees at