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Art Tools of Jim Meskimen

For this installment of Art Tools and Gears, we have guest artist Jim Meskimen from the USA.

Originally from Tarzana, California, Jim is currently based in Los Angeles, California. Jim studied painting with Miguel Argüello at the University of California, Santa Cruz and graduated in 1982.

Jim is a talented, full-time fine artist who is versatile in both charcoal art and oil paintings, and we have invited Jim to share with us the art tools that he uses, as well as offer some tips for aspiring artists.

Qn: Would you be able to introduce yourself to our readers? (Also, how did you discover your passion and flair for art? Are you a full-time artist?)

I've drawn, sculpted and painted my whole life, semi-professionally and professionally, and although I primarily make my living as an actor and voice artist, I always turn back to the visual arts because I love to do it.

I trained myself to be a cartoonist in my teen years, emulating the work of Al Hirschfeld, and the artists in MAD magazine. I went to work as a storyboard assistant at Hanna Barbera animation studios in Hollywood, before heading off to college at UCSC.

I had a great lucky break in being a student of a Spanish realist painter Miguel Argüello and studied with him classical drawing and painting techniques from 1979 to 1982, in Santa Cruz and in Galicia, Spain.

After studying in Spain, I moved to New York and did character design for the original Thundercats animated show for Rankin/Bass productions in New York, and worked as a freelance illustrator/cartoonist for a couple years while I got my acting career going.

I had a show of my large charcoals in the Michael Johnson Gallery in Beverly Hills, with sculptor Jule Rotenberg, which was fairly successful, but otherwise I've just been producing work for myself and for my friends and family.

I'm preparing about 20 small oil paintings for a show that hopefully will be this year, 2016. It's going to be called (maybe) 18 x 24, for the size of the canvas.

Qn: What are the art-tools that you use for your charcoal drawings?

I use twig charcoal from Nitram charcoal, they are a terrific company. I use gum erasers, kleenex tissues, stumps and little bits of cloth. I use also Workable Fixative and other spray varnishes. I use whichever simple tool I can to get across the quality of the image or idea I'm after.

Qn: Is there a tendency for charcoal drawings to get a tad dirty/messy because the charcoal smudges? (Have you ever encountered such a situation? If you did, how do you resolve this issue?)

Well, one thing I learned early on is that you have to learn how to control charcoal, and expecting everything to stay clean and nice is just a fantasy! It's dust! I learned to tame it, by rubbing it in very thoroughly into the paper and then pulling off the charcoal in the “dirty” areas with a gum eraser. It's like herding cattle in a way, you can't expect the cattle to always go where you want them to go.

It's quite easy to remove charcoal with the gum eraser or a soft cloth, and so you needn't really fret too much about having the charcoal spill over into areas of light; just put the charcoal on, rub it in, and clean it up by putting the light areas back with the eraser. If you get to the point where you really want the tones to stay put, spray a fixative on it. If it's workable fixative, you can even erase through that, but maybe with a stronger eraser that provides better friction, like a vinyl or pink rubber eraser.

Some artists use charcoal very carefully and keep within the lines, rubbing it in and staying very clean, but I don't really enjoy drawing this way. I like to make a mess and then clean it up after.

Qn: What type/s of paper do you use for your charcoal sketches? (What do you think are the best type/s of paper to use for charcoal drawing? And why?)

I don't have a particular brand to recommend. I last bought a big roll of fairly thick, creamy-white colored paper that had a bit of “tooth” to it, but not too much. I was working on fairly large drawings of 40” or more, so I just pulled out as much as I thought I needed off the roll and sliced It off.

Charcoal needs some texture, for sure, to hold the dust. Too smooth and you will have a lot of problems with uneven “coating” of the paper. The Bristol paper you get in pads has a bit of tooth, if it's not cold pressed; I like that. But you have to experiment and see what you are comfortable with. It's a bit like asking, “what kind of sweater do you like to wear?”

Qn: Could you share with us more about the art-tools and materials you use or have previously used for your oil paintings?

I do still paint in oils. I like Windsor & Newton, which are the best and the most expensive, but lately I've tried limiting myself a bit, and I'm using the paint sticks sold like big crayons.. they come in small, medium and large, and I like the mediums for my 18” x 24” compositions. I can scribble on a Claybord surface and the gesso surface holds on well and is very absorbent. It's not for everybody, the technique I'm interested in, but the Claybord is very good for any kind of oil painting and will last a long time. I like a hard surface, not unmounted canvas.

After I work with the paint sticks for a long time and make a very weird, uneven and patchy color surface, I sometimes paint with regular oils and brushes over that to give it another look. I'm really just experimenting, trying to be very bold and do the kind of thing that is very easily and swiftly done with a computer digital painting program such as Painter by Corel, which is a terrific tool.

I've used digital techniques a lot in my work, by creating digitally and then copying the painting in oil, or actually printing out an image on canvas and then painting on top of it with oils or acrylics. I love digital painting, it's quite fast.

Qn: Do you have any tips on charcoal drawing and Oil Painting that you could share with us?

My old mentor, Miguel Argüello used to caution us, “always put a little red in your green and a little green in your red.” Which I have found to be good advice. Also, don't use black to create darkness, use, if you need a very dark color, use a mixture of Burnt Sienna, Prussian Blue and Alizarin Crimson. I know, that sounds crazy, but try it; it makes a beautiful “black” which is full of color and not sooty or dirty.

Also, mix warm with warm colors only, and cool with cool. That is to say, a warm yellow with a warm red or a warm blue. What are the warm blue? Cobalt blue is warm, Prussian Blue is warm. Ultramarine is cool, Cerulean is cool. Alizarin is cool on the red side, Cadmium Red is warm. Lemon yellow is cool, Cadmium Yellow warm. If you keep them in their own family of warm and cool, the colors will be cleaner, not muddy, and they will look beautiful in counterposition to one another.

With charcoals, be patient and add layer after gentle layer. If the charcoal builds up, pull the paper away from the surface and snap your finger on it; if dust clouds form, you need to knock more off the surface, rub it in or spray it down. If you develop the drawing slowly, adding layers, it will gradually turn into a very deeply toned piece. That's just one way, and some people will want to work more directly. I like to work slowly, building up by degrees. If I'm in a hurry, I use more fixative.

Work it, and never think it's ruined. There's always something you can do. Really.

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

Not too many. I have the Max Doerner book on art materials, but I don't turn to it very often.

Qn: Which artist/s do you think we should interview next?

Elizabeth Shepard and Peter Kendall from Australia

We thank Jim Meskimen for sharing with us his art supplies, experiences and knowledge of oil painting and charcoal art. To find out more about Jim and his works, you may visit his website and twitter page

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