Drawing Basics: Use Bread as an Eraser?

12 Feb 2014

Like any exacting craftsman, a draftsman can be very particular about her tools. One encounters artists with extremely specific ideas about drawing basics such as which pencil is best, which paper will work, and even what eraser to use.

Today, most erasers are made of vulcanized rubber, which is latex-based. (People who are allergic to latex may find some latex-free "rubber" erasers in art-materials stores.) The most popular kind of eraser for artists is the kneaded eraser (also made of latex/rubber), which is usually gray and very pliable, allowing the eraser to last longer. It also melds back together and doesn't crumble, which allows an artist to keep the drawing surface neater and less prone to damage.

The first erasers (marketed in 1770 by an English engineer named Edward Nairne) were made of untreated rubber, which, as a natural product, dried out and otherwise deteriorated relatively quickly. Vulcanization, a process involving the heating of rubber along with a stabilizing element such as sulfur, made rubber more shelf stable.

Looking back further, drawers used the soft parts of bread to erase marks made by lead, graphite, chalk, and crayon. The notion is not so crazy--bread was readily available (except perhaps for the most starving of artists), and when it comes to erasing marks, the only important thing is strictly physical: The eraser component must be composed of molecules that are stickier than the molecules of the drawing surface so that the marking material is pulled away from the surface and adheres to the eraser.

On a related note, a Japanese manufacturer produces erasers that are in the shape of bread:

 

Drawing erasers in the shape of bread

--Bob


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Comments

mclnda wrote
on 14 Feb 2014 12:20 PM

I just had to read this post! To learn the style as well as the tools of the old masters peaked my curiosity. Looking forward too reading other comments.

wendygoerl wrote
on 15 Feb 2014 12:45 PM

The only thing surprising about this article is that you have to go to Japan to find "bread" erasers, since we seem to make them all shapes and sizes here! (I used to actively collect them when I was a kid; I've got yo-yos, dice, crayons, lots of cars, and of course, oodles of "flats" with all kinds of designs on them.

on 15 Feb 2014 4:28 PM

Have been using bread as an eraser for over 60 years!  Works well and the only drawback comes when you get hungry!

ctutt wrote
on 5 Apr 2014 6:03 PM

I learned about the bread trick decades ago when I was doing crewel work on my lunch break. One of the ladies in the accounting dept. told me to pass my thread through French bread to clean it -- the nuns taught her that in school!  Been doing it ever since ~~~