Using a Slice Tool with Colored Pencils

Time for another product review. Today I want to share my experiences using a Slice Tool with colored pencils.

Before I begin, I want to thank Slice Inc. for providing samples of their tools. The tools were sent to me after I contacted the company for more information and product images for the Q&A post, What is a Slice Tool?

I’d never used these tools before, though I’d seen countless videos by artists such as Lisa Ann Watkins and Bonny Snowdon, and have published many tutorials by Peggy Osborne. So I was delighted to get a chance to try them out for myself.

Using a Slice Tool with Colored Pencils

The Slice Tools I’m Using

I received three different Slice tools: The Manual Pen Cutter, the Manual Precision Cutter, and the versatile Slice Craft Knife.

All three are ideal for etching out details such as whiskers, flyaway hairs, and other fine details. Slice tools have quickly become a Must-Have tool for pet portrait artists and wildlife artists, but I wanted to see how well they added highlights to grassy areas in landscape art.

From left to right, the manual pen cutter, the precision cutter, and the craft knife.

I didn’t have time to make a new piece to try these tools on, so I went back to some older art that I thought could be improved with a little etching. The piece I chose was Spring Storm.

A Landscape on Clairefontaine Pastelmat

Spring Storm was completed in early 2020. It’s on Anthracite (dark gray) Clairefontaine Pastelmat, so scratching out details was more a matter of adding shadows than highlights.

But there is a lot of grass in the foreground that I thought could benefit from a few more details. Here’s what the area looked like before the Slice tool.

The lower right half of portion of Spring Storm before the Slice tool.

I tried all three tools on the drawing. At first, it didn’t look like they were having an affect. But as I continued to scratch out shadows, I began to see the difference.

I used the two larger blades to add shadows to the grass in the foreground and the tall clump on the left.

The smallest blade, the Precision Cutter, was great at adding a few spots of dark foliage around the edges of the trees in the middle ground.

All three knives allowed me to add fine details that would have been next to impossible to recreate with pencils, especially on such a small drawing (about 7 inches by 9 inches.)

Here’s what the same area looked like when I finished. I don’t know if you can really see the differences this way, but in real life, they are quite obvious.

An Interesting Experiment

My next experiment was this little piece.

This is one my Sketch Habit sketches. It’s on white Clairfontaine Pastelmat and I wanted to see if I could make sparkles on water.

I layered three or four colors heavily onto the paper in a pattern that looked like water.

Then I used a couple of the Slice tools to etch X shapes in various spots in the drawing. I’d seen an acrylic painter create sparkles on water by painting white shapes like this, and wondered if it would work with colored pencils.

It does, if you scratch color off the paper.

Keep in mind that I made no plans where the sparkles would appear as I was laying down color. This was just a sketch; a experiment.

If I were to do this with a finished piece, I would be more deliberate in where I put and how I put color down. Using brighter colors in some of the areas where I wanted sparkles would help them show up better.

But overall, I’m thrilled with this little test.

Tips for Using Slice Tools

I also learned a few things about using Slice tools that are worth sharing.

First is to be careful. It’s difficult to cut your fingers with these blades, but it’s easy to cut paper. Use light or medium-light pressure to gently remove color.

Second, it will probably take more than one “layer” of etching to remove enough color to make a difference. Going over an area a couple of times produced good results. That’s why light pressure is so important.

Third, the scratch marks will be either the color of pencil beneath the layers you’re removing, or it will be the color of the paper. For my test with Spring Storm, I was essentially drawing shadows because the paper was so dark.

On the white Pastelmat, I drew highlights.

Fourth, you get the best results if there’s a clear difference in color or value between the color you scratch off with a Slice tool and the color beneath.

Scratching black layers off dark gray layers makes very little difference. Scratching black layers of light gray or white layers makes a big difference.

Do I Recommend the Slice Tools?

If your work is highly detailed and you like precision in your artwork, then consider buying the Slice tools. They’re a great way to get ultra fine details.

You can remove color, add more color, then remove color again to create a depth of detail that is difficult (if not impossible) with just colored pencils.

And you can also bring a little additional life to an older, finished piece, as I’ve shown here.

They’re not for everybody, just as sanded art paper isn’t for everyone.

But if you’re looking for something to add a little spark (or shadow) to your artwork, the Slice tools may be just what you’re looking for.

My thanks again to Slice, Inc. for their generosity in giving me an opportunity to try their tools. I didn’t honestly think I’d have much use for them.

I now know different!

What is the Slice Tool?

Using a Slice Tool with Colored Pencils 2

Liz submitted today’s question, and she asks, “What is the Slice tool?”

She also wants to know where to get one.

The answer to the second part of her question is easy. The Slice tool is available through art supply stores like Dick Blick, Jerry’s Artarama and Jackson’s, as well as directly from Slice, Inc.

Now that we know where we can find them, what exactly is a Slice tool?

What is the Slice Tool?

The Slice Tool Described

The Slice tool is a ceramic knife similar to the X-acto knife.

The X-acto knife is a long-time artist’s tool with stainless steel blades and great cutting ability. I have two in my art tool kit and I use them for a number of things.

Unfortunately, cutting fingers is one of the things in that number. X-acto knifes and other knives with stainless steel blades must be handled with care because they are so sharp. I know of at least one artist who doesn’t use them due to a propensity for cutting herself.

Slice tools were originally developed for fine industrial cutting work because the ceramic blades maintain an edge much longer than steel blades. Slice, Inc. makes a wide variety of cutting tools, including scissors, with ceramic blades used by industries of all types world-wide.

According to the company’s website, ceramic blades cut better, require less force, and last longer than the best stainless steel blades.

But more important to many of us is the fact that they don’t cut human flesh nearly as well as they cut other things. That’s why their official name is Slice Ceramic Safety Knives.

Types of Slice Tools for Artists

It didn’t take artists long to discover the usefulness of these tools. Artists use Many of the Slice tools. Depending on the type of art you make, and what you draw, they may be helpful to you, as well.

Following are two of the most often used tools.

The Manual Pen Cutter

This is the manual pen cutter. It’s the tool I see most often on the videos published by other artists.

The Manual Pen Cutter is ideal for adding whiskers, hair details, and other fine details to colored pencil art. It has quickly become a Must-Have tool for pet portrait artists and wildlife artists, but I can also see that it would be useful for adding highlights to grassy areas in landscape art, as well as highlights and details to floral art and still life art.

The Manual Precision Cutter

The Manual Precision Cutter is also a great fine art tool. It’s used in much the same way the Manual Pen Cutter is used.

But it’s also useful in cutting intricate shapes when necessary. If you do a mix of fine art and craft art, or if you cut small, complex shapes in non-art applications, this is probably the best Slice tool for you.

The blade is smaller, giving the artist more control in every application.

Using a Slice Tool

How to Use a Slice Tool

Artists use the Slice tool the same way they use any type of etching tool: By scratching out details.

A short video on the Slice Company website shows an artist creating hair-like details on a horse.

Peggy Osborne, who has written tutorials for this blog, uses a Slice tool to draw whiskers and other details on her pet portraits. She used it several times in her Irish Setter tutorial.

Other Basic Information

As I mentioned before, I’ve never used a Slice tool, though I have tried scratching out details with an X-acto knife.

Hopefully, between the information I’ve shared here and additional information from the company website and other artists, you’ve learned enough to decide whether or not you want to give them a try.

In closing, I want to thank the Slice, Inc. representative. He not only answered my questions, but provided the product images you see in this post. It’s always good to get information directly from the source, and it’s especially nice when the people with whom I chat by email are friendly in addition to being helpful.

By the way, here’s something else I learned in email correspondence with the Slice, Inc. They offer three Slice Tool kits for colored pencil artists ranging from a basic sketching kit, to the Masterpiece kit that comes with everything. Each kit includes free shipping. If you’re not sure which Slice tool is right for you, you can check out all the details here.

The Drawing Boards I’ve Used

The Drawing Boards I've Used

Today, I’d like to share the drawing boards I’ve used for colored pencil work over the years. They’re so easy (and cheap!) you’ll be amazed you haven’t thought of it yourself.

This post comes in response to a reader question, so let’s take a look at that to get us started.

Hi Carrie,

Could you please tell me what you use under the paper of your colored pencil pieces? My table leaves unwanted marks on the paper.

What a great question! Thank you!

First, I need to explain that I don’t draw at a drawing table very often, and even when I do, I have my drawing mounted to a rigid support for stability. So I don’t have problems with the surface of the table creating unwanted marks in my drawing.

Since I do a lot of work sitting on the couch or standing at a drafting table, I keep works-in-progress mounted on light-weight, portable surfaces.

But you can also use drawing boards this way and they can be very efficient.

The Drawing Boards I’ve Used

I’ve been using colored pencils since the 1990s, and have been using them exclusively since 2017. So I’ve used a lot of different types of drawing boards.

Professional Boards

The first drawing boards were small, 16 x 21 inches. I used them because I had them. As I recall, they were part of the supply list for a correspondence course I took as a teenager. Art Instruction Schools, if anyone is interested. A good course that covers everything. I still have the binders!

Because I bought these boards in the late 70s, they were wood, so they were on the heavy side. But they were very smooth and very well made. It was easy to mount paper to them with ordinary masking tape (I didn’t know any better back then,) and work with them in my lap or propped up on a desk or table. When I wasn’t working, I could lean them against a wall or on an easel and the art was visible, accessible, and out of the way.

I still have one of them, but I no longer use it even though it’s still a good drawing board. The main reason is the weight. It’s just too uncomfortable to sit with it on my lap these days. Age, I guess.

It’s also a bit on the bulky side compared to the types of drawing boards I use now, and it’s nowhere near as portable. So it’s in storage.

This exact drawing board is no longer available, but Dick Blick sells a similar model that’s very lightweight and comes in a variety of sizes.

Richeson Drawing Clip Board

A few years later, I purchased two drawing clip boards, one large and one small. These boards are very light, have very smooth surfaces, and were excellent to draw on. They are fitted with two strong clips on one side, and a grip hole at the top, so you can easily carry them. They also have a strong, wide extra large rubber band to hold paper securely, so you don’t need to tape your paper down if you don’t want to.

I’ve since given the larger one away because it was too big for what I needed. I still use the smaller one, but it’s on my oil painting easel with art clipped onto it. More on that in a moment.

The Drawing Boards I've Used

These are very nice drawing boards, and they’re not that expensive. You can get them from Dick Blick for less than $20 each at the time of this writing.

The reason I no longer use them for drawing is that they just didn’t fit my needs. They may be perfect for you.

Homemade Laptop Drawing Boards

When my main artwork was horse portraits, I went to two big equine trade shows every year, and as many smaller local horse shows as I could manage. I tried to have something to work on at these venues, especially the longer shows. Most drawing boards just didn’t fit into a medium-sized sedan loaded up with artwork, marketing tools, and a complete display system.

So I started looking around for a workable solution.

It didn’t take long to realize I could make my own lightweight, laptop drawing boards for next to no money, and I could make as many as I needed, in whatever size I needed. They worked great! I made them to carry a work-in-progress safely, cleanly, and in a manner that allowed me to work on a piece during lull times at shows, but still display the work on an easel when I wasn’t working.

These are totally hand made, and I describe how I did it in a post titled Build a Lightweight Laptop Drawing Board. If you’re interested, the step-by-step directions will help you build your own.

The great thing about these is that they’re inexpensive, you can create the type of drawing surface you want, and you can display works-in-progress without having to remove it from the drawing board.

My Current Favorite Drawing Boards

Given the shortage of time to draw, I’ve been working small the last several years. The majority of my work is 9×12 or smaller. That size makes it possible to scan pieces if I’m putting together a tutorial. But speed and scanning are not the only benefits.

I buy most papers in 9×12 inch pads. When the pads are empty, I don’t throw them away. I use them for drawing boards for my small pieces if they have rigid backing.

The beauty of using empty drawing pads for drawing boards is that they’re very lightweight. I can take them anywhere, or lean them on a shelf between working sessions. I can also have more than one piece in progress at a time, and each one has it’s own drawing board.

To cover the artwork if necessary, I leave the cover on the pad. And if I want to travel with them, I can easily slide them into a resealable, archival clear plastic envelope, and tuck them into a briefcase, a piece of luggage or a tote bag.

They’re also free. You’ve already paid for the paper and used it up, so the empty pad cover and back is no extra charge. It’s also a great way to reduce the amount of waste that comes with any artistic endeavor.

In other words, they’re perfect!

Subscribers to my newsletter learned how to turn empty drawing pads into nifty, next to no-cost drawing boards. For exclusive how-to articles and other features, subscribe to the newsletter!

Those are the Drawing Boards I’ve Used

Any one of these tools provides a smooth, mark-free drawing surface. Not all of them will suit your drawing preferences or taste, but that’s the beauty of art. There are very few Must Do All The Time answers.

And if you really just need a smooth surface to put between your artwork and your favorite drawing table, get a sheet of good, archival mat board. Cut it to the size you need, then lay it on your table top whenever you want to draw.

Make sure to use the back, because that’s the smoothest side, no matter what type of mat board you use. You can get full sheets at a good frame shop or online, and chances are it will be less expensive than most drawing boards.

Best of all, you can use it on different tables with little or no fuss.