I often get asked what art materials to buy, particularly by people starting out drawing and painting.
The answer to a certain extent is that you get what you pay for, and although this doesn’t mean you have to pay for the best of everything there are some cheap buys to avoid. Sometimes a workman can blame their tools.
The cheapest and most accessible tools to start using if you want to create art are pencils and paper.
Pencils come in a range that vary in the marks they make from hard and light to dark and soft.
- Hard pencils are marked ‘H’ and make light, hard, smooth marks. The bigger the ‘H’ number, the lighter the mark, so 8H is lighter than H.
- Soft pencils are marked ‘B’ for blackness and make darker, softer, rougher marks. The bigger the ‘B’ number, the darker the mark, so 8B is darker than B.
- You will need some hard and some soft pencils, and it’ usually easiest to buy a set. Sets contain a range often between 2H and 6B.
Personally I don’t think you need to go lighter than a 2H but others may disagree. Pencils above 6B are very dark, but are sometimes made with carbon instead of graphite which can look out of place in a drawing as the light bounces off the surface differently.
Good pencils are made by Faber Castell and Staedtler. These ranges have a good even gradation of tone throughout the range.
Use your sketchbook to test out the marks your different pencils make, fill a page with lines and shading and note which pencil you’ve used.
You can also make a chart to test out how the tone varies in each pencil.
Download a tone sheet and fill it in so you have a quick reference for which pencils make which tones when you’re drawing.
You’ll also need a good eraser that takes all of the mark off the paper. I like Factis soft gum eraser
Kneadable Putty erasers are also very effective at removing marks. I like Koh-I-Noor kneaded eraser
You don’t just have to use erasers for rubbing out mistakes.
You can also use them for rubbing light tone into darker areas.
An eraser pen is great for ‘drawing’ lighter lines through patches of tone.
Try the Tombow Mono eraser pen.
You can buy a huge range of papers for pencil drawing. Most sketchbooks range from very smooth white paper to rougher creamier paper and a great variety of weights and thicknesses.
Using smoother paper (for example Bristol board) is better for achieving fine detail, although the graphite tends to be more smudgeable as it slides on the surface.
Using rougher paper (for example Strathmore vellum) is good for more expressive drawing. It tends to be harder to erase marks.
Check the feel of the paper in a sketchbook before you buy it, but try a range of papers to draw on, including coloured paper, newspaper and tracing paper to see the different range of effects you can achieve as it’s quite a personal thing.
I must admit that I am not really in a position to advice on pencil sharpeners as I stick to a plain metal sharpener for mine. Plastic isn’t really strong enough.
I’ve never tried electric sharpeners or desktop sharpeners so would welcome any advice or feedback!
My dad always told me that the best way to sharpen pencils was with a penknife. It definitely worked for him but I don’t trust myself!
Enjoy your new pencils and happy drawing. You can read more drawing tips here: