I still remember the very moment in my life when I wanted to pursue drawing.
While it was still a hobby, I distinctly remember sitting in my 7th grade homeroom class in middle school, waiting for school to start when I took out my composition book (remember those black and white splotchy books you get for $.99 cents?).
I just used my standard #2 pencil and began drawing my favorite cartoon characters at the time.
When I look back to some of my original drawings, not only do I laugh at how atrocious they are (trust me they are really bad), but I also laugh at the fact that I was drawing on wide-ruled notebook paper...
...I just didn't care!
And, that's completely fine - it's the spirit of drawing that matters!
In a growing world of expensive art supplies, it's so easy to find ourselves chasing quality materials time and time again.
With art companies stating how their paper is 'pure' or that it offers an unmatched texture that will produce amazing results, it's easy to get wrapped up in the marketing jaron (I'm guilty of this more times than I would like to admit)!
But here's the deal:
The simple fact remains that while these art materials are nice, it's important to remember that the talent of the artist on the end of the pencil will make the biggest difference, not the supplies.
Furthermore, no single piece of paper or pencil will magically transform your abilities.
While they may create an environment that allows you to produce better results, just like anything in life, practice and persistence will allow you to become better at what you are trying to achieve.
So with that, I wanted to put together this list of essential drawing materials that I myself, and other artists, still find themselves relying on time and time again:
Table of Contents
Paper Selection Can Determine A Lot About Your Drawing
Depending on the weight and texture of the paper you decide to draw on can produce starkly different results.
A paper that has a rough texture, not only will allow for more broken lines, but will also be much tougher to draw a gradual gradient, even if you do use a blending stump (more on this in a minute).
But a highly textured piece of paper can be perfect for drawing landscapes or other natural surfaces where you may be trying to get more porous or rougher surface conveyed in your piece.
On the other hand, an incredibly smooth paper surface will allow just the opposite. Whispy hairs drawn in a portrait or a silky smooth gradient are trademarks of a smooth surface.
Therefore, when buying drawing paper, make sure that you look for terms like 'Fine tooth' or 'Medium surface' in order to gauge the texture.
Texture aside, if you are looking to preserve your drawings for years to come, then you will also want to look for acid-free paper.
This will prevent the yellowing of the paper as it ages.
Lastly, should your budget allow, you should also go with 100% cotton paper over traditional wood pulp paper.
The longer staples of cotton will be smoother and allow for a much better drawing surface. These are typically reserved for the 'artist' or 'professional' quality drawing papers, but even as a beginner it's nice to try these surfaces every now and again to build upon your experience.
Drawing Pads vs. Sketching Pads
While many artists may use the terms drawing and sketching interchangeably, when it comes to art supplies, both of these terms have two very different meanings.
Drawing typically refer to paper that is suited for finished pieces. This means that brands selling drawing pads will often exhibit many of the finer properties we mentioned above (i.e. 100% cotton, acid-free, etc.).
Sketch pads conversely often will rely on wood pulp and are suited for quick studies (think gesture drawings). While some may offer acid-free paper, their performance may vary greatly and may be susceptible to tearing or ripping when using an eraser.
Strathmore 400 Series Drawing Pads - A respected name within the drawing world, Strathmore's 400 Series pads are 100% cotton and are non-reflective.
Pencil Selection Goes Beyond The #2
While first starting out, like me, you may have used a #2 pencil.
As you develop more of an appreciation for drawing, you will naturally want to branch out to more professional drawing tools.
Drawing pencils often come in two different varieties - part of a set or individually.
If you are just beginning to take drawing a bit more seriously, then we would recommend going with a drawing pencil set.
This opens you up to a variety of pencil grades that you wouldn't normally try otherwise if you were to purchase them individually.
However, we would recommend that you do exercise some restraint.
When looking at pencil sets like this one:
You can see the set sizes become rather large - up to 24 different pencils!
While unlocking a world of varying lead weights, 24 different grades of pencils can be quite intimidating for a beginner (and even expert) - and that's completely ok!
Instead, we would recommend going with no more than 6 when just starting out. This allows you to feel out each of the varying weights and see the differences a bit more easily.
A Quality Pencil Sharpener Can Make A Difference
While some artists like to use an electric pencil sharpener, we find that a manual one tends to perform much better.
Not only will have much more control, but it will allow you to dial in a point to your exact preference no matter the lead hardness of your pencils.
Additionally, manual pencil sharpeners are compatible with the naturally waxy or oily cores found in colored pencils, thus making them a bit more versatile should you also want to work within that medium down the road.
Lastly, should you decide to sketch outside of the comfort of your home, a small pocket sharpener will be an essential tool to take with you.
Go Beyond The Pencil With Micron Pens Or Charcoal
Micron pens are the de-facto standard when it comes to ink drawings.
Their vast array of nib sizes coupled with their unwavering quality have made them loved by artists for years.
Rather than a ballpoint pen that requires downward pressure in order to make the ink flow, Micron pens (and others like them) have a nib that allows the ink to flow effortlessly.
This not only will make for increased comfort during long drawing sessions, but also will produce better and more predictable results.
But beyond just ink based tools to add an additional dimension to your drawings, charcoal is another beloved medium used by drawers as well.
Rather than relying on the graphite found in pencils, charcoal can produce much darker and richer lines - which is perfect for accents and areas where you may want to convey a punctuated meaning.
Charcoal does come in two types - vine/willow and compressed.
Compressed charcoal is much more firm as its bound by a wax substance (similar to colored pencils), and can also be sharpened to a fine tip.
Willow or vine charcoal on the other hand is much softer and is a bit messy. However, the soft charcoal found in this variety can be blended much easier and may be better for larger or broader strokes in your work.
Erasers Come In Many Different Varieties - Know Which One To Use And When
Chances are that when you started drawing, you were either using the eraser found on the end of your pencil or a simple pink block eraser (also known as a rubber eraser).
While these can be great at removing graphite from the paper, they aren't always going to be your best choice.
Here's a breakdown of the popular eraser types and their primary uses:
Rubber Eraser: A bit firmer than a gum eraser (which we will get to in just a minute), rubber erasers work by shedding itself as it attaches to graphite on the paper.
Of all the eraser types, they are the most versatile, but with repeated use may be much too abrasive for lower quality paper and cause tearing.
Gum Eraser: Very similar to a rubber eraser, gum erasers are an all-around favorite by artists who rely on graphite. Much more gentle on the paper than rubber (but not as hard as vinyl), this eraser easily falls apart as it works to remove graphite.
Therefore, if you plan on drawing on either a wood pulp derived paper (i.e. sketch pad) or one that is from 100% cotton, this eraser will work incredibly well.
If you find yourself making mistakes often in your artwork, you might want to purchase those that come packaged in multiples in order to save money. Gum erasers tend to have a shorter lifespan and cost a bit more than the other erasers we covered.
Kneaded Eraser: When dealing with very fine detail work or charcoals, kneaded erasers will be your go-to choice. Akin to a silly putty or Play-Doh, kneaded erasers can be formed to a very fine point in order to erase small areas.
When working with vine or compressed charcoal, kneaded erasers can also be used to create some stunning effects as well.
Vinyl Eraser: For those working on drafting tables or are doing very precise drawings, vinyl erasers are incredibly rigid. They not only can lift the graphite from the paper, but also in some cases, erase ink as well too.
Word of caution regarding the vinyl eraser - unless you are using a cotton based paper, these erasers are known to cause tearing and should be avoided in most cases.
Portable Sketch Book
Any artist who is looking to get better with their drawing talents should always have their sketchbook on them at all times.
Instead of glancing at your phone to see your friend's latest social media posts, take out your sketchbook and do a quick gesture drawing or two of subjects around you.
Getting in the regular habit of sketching incessantly will allow you to see a noticeable upward swing in your skill set in very little time (which can be a great motivator for some).
Whatever it is that you are exposed to when going out and about will be starkly different from the setting that you evoke in your own studio - embrace the everyday settings.
Blending Stump And Tortillons For Spectacular Gradients
Whenever you look at a graphite or charcoal drawing and see these almost Photoshop like gradients, they can really take your breath away!
You might wonder, how the heck they were able to achieve such a smooth looking piece of work with just graphite?!
The secret - blending stumps and tortillons.
These compressed paper felt sticks are used to move the graphite or charcoal seamlessly on the surface of the paper.
While a relatively inexpensive tool, blending stumps can really make a difference in your finished piece.
Just be sure if you do decide to buy a blending stump or tortillon that you get a sandpaper block. Trying to clean these with a pencil sharpener will make for less than desirable results...trust us!
Blending Stumps and Tortillons - 10 different pieces packaged at an affordable price. Definitely worth having one of these within arms reach the next time you sit down and draw.
When just learning how to draw, understanding basic anatomy can really explain how subjects are created.
It's the reason why there are so many art books dedicated to human anatomy.
A great way for artists to visualize the structure of a body or hand is simply by looking at an art manikin.
They allow you to easily configure the model to any pose so you can learn proportions and general figure drawing.
Checking out the selection on dickblick.com you can find a variety of figures including male, female, cat, dog, face figures, and skulls to just name a few.
Fixative For Long Term Preservation (And Sanity)
One of the frustrating parts of drawing, especially with charcoal, is how easily the medium can move after its been drawn on the page.
I can't tell you how many times in art school that I put a charcoal drawing into my art bag only to find it completely smeared whenever I took it out.
While a much larger problem for softer charcoal (specifically vine or willow) rather than compressed charcoal or graphite, movement of the medium can still impact the presentation of the piece.
To ensure that this problem doesn't affect your drawings, you will want to make sure that you have a fixative on hand.
When buying a fixative, be sure to get one that is branded as workable (such as this one from Krylon) as you will be able to spray this onto your drawing and keep working with the medium (and still use your tortillon or blending stump).
Drawing Books For Inspiration And Technique Exploration
A great artist is always learning and practicing.
While we can't stress the importance of always having a sketchbook on hand, another area you should be exploring constantly is drawing books.
As we eluded to this earlier, drawing books cover several different subjects including the human figure, animals, plants, architecture, and more.
This allows you to explore a wide range of subjects and understand them a bit better.
Some our personal favorites are the following: