Art Tools of David Chong

For this installment of Art Tools and Gears, we have guest artist David Chong from Singapore with us.

Born and raised in Singapore, David is a self taught and talented artist who is versatile with both traditional and digital drawings. Holding down a day job with family responsibilities to juggle certainly does not deter David from fervently pursuing his passion in art as a hobby, as he shares his artworks on his Facebook page on a regular basis. David has also been sharing videos of his iPad finger painting on Youtube.

We have invited David to share with us his art-tools and works which are featured below, as well as offer some tips for fellow artists.

Qn: Could you give our readers an introduction to yourself? Also, how and when did you discover your passion for art/drawing?

I am probably not someone whom you would imagine as an artist. A former diplomat and now an Economics teacher, most people would not normally associate me with creativity and art. Nevertheless, drawing has always been part of my life. I have doodled since as long as I can remember. Deeply captivated by imaginative stories by Enid Blyton and Japanese anime, childhood was for me about make believe stories and creating stuff, often on paper.

As I look back, there were several key events that fanned my passion for drawing.

The first was an incident in Primary One (first year in elementary school). I was given
a C grade for my very first art assignment to draw a playground. Unhappy with the grade I was given, I went home and began to stick pieces of paper on my original artwork to create a 3D playground. I resubmitted my drawing the following day, much to the surprise of my teacher, and received an A+ this time. This incident spurred me to constantly challenge my artistic limits later in life.

The second was my encounter with airbrush painting. When I first learnt about the existence of airbrush painting, I was greatly astonished by its realistic effects. However, I later discovered that the cost of the lessons was beyond what we could afford. But I never forgot the beauty of airbrush effects. So you can imagine my joy when I later discovered the existence of digital drawing tablets. I quickly acquired one when I could afford it, and started to teach myself digital painting.

The third was really a series of challenges that I undertook over time. During my days serving National Service in the army, I accepted a friend's challenge and has been drawing human portraits since.

About five years back, I watched on in disbelief as a time-lapse video of an iPad finger painting folded. This prompted me to challenge myself by doing the same. Similarly, I beg for
a ballpoint pen drawing when I first came across the unbelievable ballpoint pen drawings by Samuel Silva.

Although I had put aside drawing for a very long time since my days in the army, I picked it up again about five years ago, only to embark on more digital and traditional mediums. In this way, my art journey has been an experiential one as I continually seek to discover the beauty and joy of painting in different digital and traditional mediums. My passion was further sealed by my Christian faith, as I found great beauty in God's creation especially in human expressions, regardless of their age and how they looked.

Qn: What are your experiences using the BIC Ballpoint pens for coloring? (Inkflow, grip, durability, what type of ink – water soluble/water-proof? Does the ink bleed through paper?)

I love BIC ballpoint pens because they are very cheap and durable. They have a steady ink flow, and do not bleed as much as other ballpoint pens – even the more expensive ones. I also love their orange colored pen as it creates an excellent skin tone. But they still bleed sometimes, so I always make it a point to wipe the pen tips regularly as I draw.

It also pays to scratch very lightly with the pen, so I can apply layers of color around areas of ink bleed to make them look less conspicuous.

My way of doing ballpoint pen drawings is rather unorthodox, because I don't do any pre-sketches with a pencil. Some ballpoint pen artists use pencils to make soft marks as points for
positioning, but I don't do that too. Every single stroke that I lay is my very first and last. This helps to greatly increase my drawing speed, trains my precision, and keeps my paper clean and the colors of my strokes vibrant.

Qn: Are those DAISO ballpoint pens next to the BIC pens? Which offers a better drawing experience, BIC or DAISO?

Yes they are. BIC pens are still the best in my view. The reason why I started using DAISO pens was because sadly, the type of BIC ballpoint pens that I used could no longer be found in the stores in Singapore. I am now relying on leftover supplies that I bought in the past, and may have to buy them online when they eventually run out.

Qn: Have you used any other brand/s or type/s of pens before using BIC and DAISO? If yes, what was your experience like using the previous pens? How do those previous pens compare up against the ones you are using now?

I only use the BIC and DAISO pens for coloured ballpoint pen drawings. If I am doing a blue colored pen drawing, I would be happy to pick up any brand that doesn't bleed so much. It cannot be a gel pen though, as I can't control the darkness of its strokes so well.

I see from your Youtube Page that you have uploaded many iPad finger painting videos. Some examples of your iPad finger paintings are featured just below. Could you share with us more about how you created this paintings on your iPad?

For portrait paintings, I would place the reference photo by the side of my iPad, either in hardcopy or showing it in another iPad. In recent years I tend to go for the easier way by
importing the photo reference and painting on the blank space next to it.

All my paintings are done from scratch without tracing. I also do not use the color picker to copy from reference photos, but I always choose my own colors from the color wheel.
For original works, I would usually have a concept in mind, and then construct the painting while referring to several reference photos.

Qn: An ordinary A-pen like the one above can do the trick for Blue ink drawing? (Is it Daiso Brand? I can't really see the brand name..)

Yes. I don't really have any favorite brand of pen that I use for blue ink drawings. A-pen isn't from DAISO, but it is a rather common brand of ballpoint pens that can be found in Singapore stationery shops.

Qn: Could you introduce us to the items below that you use for your charcoal drawing and how they are used? (Why do you need a pen-knife for your charcoal sketches? An ordinary sharpener will suffice to sharpen charcoal pencils?)

Actually I use the tools in the photo above together with the Pelikan willow charcoals. The willow charcoal is easier to erase than the pencil strokes, and are useful for laying down the initial lines that form the basic structure of my drawing. I use the charcoal pencils when I am certain of the areas that I want to darken, as well as for finer details.

I don't use an ordinary sharpener (or even the blue sharpener provided by Derwent together with their pencils), because they break the pencil tip easily. Sharpening with a pen knife helps to resolve this problem.

The two white stumps are blending stumps that I use for blending finer details. I use tissue paper to blend larger surfaces. The grey pieces on the right are kneaded erasers, which can be rolled, stretched, and pinched to erase finer areas or dabbed lightly to attain a lighter shade.

Qn: Other than Derwent Charcoal pencils, you use Pelikan Charcoal pencils as well – are they meant to be used for different types of shading? Which is better in terms of quality and the shade they produce?

Actually I am also experimenting with larger sized charcoal pieces. It is very difficult to shade with charcoal pencils. Hence I usually combine the use of charcoal pieces as well as the pencils.

Qn: What is the difference between charcoal pencil drawing and graphite pencil drawings?
I personally find it harder to create finer details using charcoal for a drawing of the same size. Hence my conclusion is that graphite is more suitable for smaller drawings, while charcoal is more suitable for larger drawings. That said, detailed charcoal drawings are possible too. The advantage of charcoal, is the very dark values that you can achieve. You can achieve a dark value with an 8B graphite pencil, but it will be a lot more effortless to achieve a similar darkness charcoal.

On the other hand, charcoal drawings can get very dirty, and can be smudged easily if not set in place with a fixative (which is I have heard, but not personally tried). Graphite
drawings can last longer and won't smudge so easily. But graphite drawings have a problem too– they reflect a lot of light, so it is difficult to show the exact tones as compared to charcoal drawings in a photograph or digital scan.

Qn: Are the items below all that is needed for your graphite pencil drawings? Can you run through these items briefly with us?

Yes. I like the Staedtlers pencil set, because it comes with a full range of pencils from HB to 8B (I don't use the HB pencil though, as I prefer to sketch lightly with a 2B pencil instead). I use the pink mechanical pencil with 2B lead to draw the finest lines. The kneaded eraser is used in the same way as I do for charcoal drawings. I forgot to include the blending stumps, but they are a useful tool for blending. Similar to the sharpening of charcoal pencils, I use a pen knife to prevent the lead from breaking easily.

Qn: What paper do you use for your pencil (Charcoal & Graphite) drawings? How about papers for your watercolor?

I usually use Daler Rowney paper for all my drawings and paintings. For watercolor, I use Daler Rowney 300g/m2 Aquafine.

Qn: What are the qualities that you like or dislike about this set of Prismacolor pencils that you have below?

I like the Prismacolor pencils because its colors are vibrant, and they are great for blending. The vibrance of the colors become very obvious when you compare the same color with that of another brand.

I have heard that Polychromos pencils are good too, but I haven't had the chance to try it. Both brands are rather expensive, so I wouldn't really recommend them for beginners. I believe it is sufficient to first practice and get the strokes right with normal color pencils.

Qn: What do you use for your watercolor paintings? (Paints, brushes, paper etc)

Frankly, I had to check my watercolor paint box for the brand – Marie's watercolor from Shanghai. I am still very new to watercolor, so I just went with whatever my wife happened to have at home. My brushes are also the common synthetic kind that can be found in most stationery shops.

Qn: Do you have any tips on drawing or painting that you can share with us? :)

I believe that many other artists would probably disagree with many of the points I make below, as my views are rather unorthodox.

Being a self-taught artist has been both liberating and frustrating at the same time. I started off with completely no idea about the type of tools and paper available in the market and their differences in quality. Most of the time, I just made do with what I could find.

As I interact with other artists (largely via social media), I have come across some who are very particular about the types of materials to use, or the correct techniques to achieve certain outcomes. I also know a few who believe that anyone who hasn't received proper art training isn't qualified to teach or advise anyone on art.

Hence the truth is, I often find myself wondering if I am doing things correctly. I still do. But over time, I have come to the conclusion that there is no one right way to paint or draw. Frequently I would receive questions on the type of tools (e.g. the brand of stylus, the type of paper) and the techniques that I use.

But to me, the tools and specific techniques are all secondary to the burning desire to reach the end goal that I want to achieve.

You may have heard of the Centipede's Dilemma, a poem in which various creatures question the centipede on how it could run with so many legs. The centipede used to be a
happy runner, but after it tried to analyse its steps, it lost the ability to run.

In the same way, I personally find that art can be very stifling and rigid if too much attention is focused on getting the tools and techniques right. While I can share the exact methods that I use to draw hair or skin for others to replicate, the most important skill that an artist needs to develop, I feel, is the ability to innovate and reflect. For instance, after doing pencil portraits all these years, I finally learnt one day that the name of a technique that I had been using was negative shading.

But as I read on, I found myself put off by the large amount of very detailed information.

I wonder if my passion in drawing would have been sustained if I dwelled deeply on each of the points raised by the artist. Therefore, instead of sharing specific tips on drawing and painting, I would like to share some broad attributes that I feel an artist should develop.

1. Strong observational skills.
One way that a person can be certain that he is developing as an artist, is when he finds himself increasingly able to see more –in terms of nuances in tones, colors, proportions, as well as see less – ability to summarise overall shapes, the broad underlying colors.

<2. Strength control and precision.
Any form of drawing and painting, even digital painting on the iPad, requires good strength control (for iPad, this may be in terms of recognizing the darkness of the values) and precision.

3. Ability to grasp proportions correctly, only with the eye.
I am aware that many artists use grids to determine proportions. While grids are very important for large drawings, using grids for smaller drawings may become a crutch in hampering an artist's ability to recognize correct proportions.

4. Ability to spot and reflect one’s own mistakes.
It is often said that artists are perfectionists. I think that is true. But the ability to find fault with one's own drawings/paintings is, in my view, a very important ingredient for greater growth.

5. Let your imagination go wild.
It may not be obvious from my mostly realistic drawings/painting's over the past few years, but my desire is to do eventually do more creative illustrations. Some of my original iPad concept paintings were born when I started off with random strokes and textures, and then I imagine shapes and figures from them.

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

I only started reading some art books and checking online YouTube videos by other artists over the past year. As I failed miserably in my first attempts at watercolor and acrylic, I decided to find out more. The art books certainly helped, but what was more beneficial was the online time lapse videos done by artists. I find it easier to learn by observe the progress of an artist painting.

Qn: Lastly, which artist/s do you think we should interview next?
There are two artists whom I respect very much. One is Nikolai Lockertsen, a professional digital artist whom I became acquainted through an iPad art Facebook group. He became especially famous for his amazing iPad paintings done with the Procreate app - the same app that I use for my iPad paintings.

Another is Zimou Tan, whose YouTube videos on the processes of his drawings and paintings in various mediums simply blow me away. I personally benefited a lot from looking at Tan's videos.

We thank David Chong for this very insightful interview and his generous spirit to share his tools and experiences. For more of David's artworks, you may visit his Facebook Page or his DeviantArt page.

If you are interested to find out more about David's iPad finger painting videos, please visit

Check out other artist interviewees at


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