Charcoal paper– Heavier tooth paper that is lightweight – almost semi-transparent. Excellent for creating texture. (A variety of media can be used on charcoal paper – not just charcoal)
1. The “Tooth” – The “tooth” of the surface is the texture of the paper. The texture of the paper plays a role in how the drawing material is accepted on the surface. Heavier textures will produces lines that may appear “broken”, while smoother textures will produce smoother lines and gradations of value. Some artists will prefer heavier textures while others will prefer a smoother surface. Learn how the tooth of the paper can affect the application of the medium here.
Like electric pencil sharpeners, the manual varieties come in different forms. My favorite is a simple, handheld metal sharpener. It’s a cheap and easy solution that is portable and easily replaced.
I’ve already posted on art material storage and the solutions that I use over here. You can check that out to learn more about what solutions may work for you as well.
If you are drawing with clutch pencils the Staedtler sharpener (shown right) is a “must have” item. Purpose made to sharpen the leads inside these pencils, it is capable of producing needle-sharp points if required.
On top is a lead cleaner (a fibrous insert into which the sharpened pencil point is pushed to clean it of loose graphite powder) and, to either side of this, are two small holes — extend the lead into either to obtain a set length – one gives a sharp point, the other a standardised blunt tip.
You can also save the waste graphite and use it with a brush for gentle toning – although I don’t personally use the method, preferring the greater control offered by the gradual building up of lines of graphite for blending.
The conventional sharpener shown above is used not only for sharpening wood-cased pencils but also to obtain very usable points on stick erasers (see below).
Taking care of your artwork is important – but taking care of your materials is important too.
I absolutely love felt tip pens. Felt tip pens allow the artist to create a variety of marks. The tip of the pen allows the artist to create a broad range of line quality.
Almost since the day I started drawing in earnest, over 20 years ago, I have eschewed the use of conventional, cedar-cased pencils. They have their place and many artists use nothing else but I use only one (6B) – and then infrequently.
Why? Well, there’s little worse than using a tool that continually shifts its size and weight and I don’t see any advantage in drawing with a tool that has to be constantly relearned. On the other hand the mechanical pencils that I use possess none of these faults and many advantages.
These mechanical pencils (known to me as Clutch pencils but also known as Drafting pencils or Lead Holders) remain a known constant at all times. Neither length nor weight change. Balance remains true, affording very precise control.
Sharpening involves only the enclosed lead and not the outer casing, allowing needle-sharp points to be easily achieved when required. The only thing you can’t do with a clutch pencil that you can with a wood-cased pencil is tuck it behind your ear.
Most makes of clutch pencil even include a built in sharpener which, although rarely used, can be a life-saver during outdoor drawing trips. Depressing the top cap opens the clutch around the lead at the base allowing it to be extended or adjusted in length to suit the current application.
The green pencil at the top is from Faber Castell but most of mine are made by Staedtler. From the top downwards the grades of these three are F, HB and 2B. How do I know? Because each pack of leads include a colour end cap to fit on the holder.
You will see that F has a green cap, the HB has its original chrome cap and a purple one is fitted to the 2B. If you’re buying for the first time I suggest you purchase just three – 2B, HB and 2H – these will achieve almost all the effects you might need.
Electric Pencil Sharpeners Electric pencil sharpeners can vary in price and the old saying, “you get what you pay for” is true for what you get here.
An added benefit to a felt tip pen is the psychological effect that it can have on the artist.
Charcoal provides a broader range of value and mark-making than what’s possible with graphite. The manner in which marks are made is different as well.
In this post, I’ll offer 10 essential drawing materials and tools for artists that are just starting to get serious about their drawing. (This list is focused on black and white media only)
Charcoal comes in both stick and pencil form. Sticks of charcoal are usually either “vine” or “compressed”. Vine charcoal is softer and produces lighter marks, while compressed charcoal – which is concentrated, produces darker marks.
3. The Permanent Stack – If the need doesn’t exist to be carrying your art materials all over the place, then a more permanent solution might be the best option for you.
Electric pencil sharpeners are nice to have for a quick sharpen of the pencil, but should not be used with colored pencils. The waxy binder found in colored pencils can build up within the blades of the sharpener, ruining the device.
Do not discard old stumps and tortillons.Worn tortillons saturated with graphite can be used as “pencils” in their own right. I often use them to add delicate tone and to randomly sketch indistinct backgrounds.
Finding a suitable storage solution is easy. Let me offer three different solutions for three different situations.
Using a medium that cannot be erased forces the artist to be more deliberate with their marks. As a result, a bit more thought is put into the marks that are made. You can actually improve your drawing skill by using a felt tip pen.
A quality electric pencil sharpener will sharpen your pencil without eating it all up.
“I just received the Blu-tack… and it really is fantastic! I am working on a drawing, and as soon as I tried using the Blu-Tack, what a difference! I have about 5 other brands of tacky stuff and nothing works like this! And you are right that it gently lifts the graphite without ruining the original pencil marks.
I love it!”
I am often asked about the tools I use to create my drawings. Do I use traditional wood-cased pencils or mechanical ones? What type of eraser do I use? It would appear that many Artists have a fascination (and a vested interest) in the tools and techniques used by other artists.
.. and I’m no different in that respect! So, what tools do I use……
Rubber Eraser – Your standard eraser for erasing graphite. This eraser uses friction to remove any material from the surface.
Here are few recommended papers that you might experiment with…
Drawing Pencil Sets Pencil sets usually come packaged in nice tins and can be great because they often include the full spectrum of graphite grades. Many sets include pencils with harder graphite (9H) through softer graphite (6B). Harder graphite makes lighter marks and keeps a sharp tip longer, while softer graphite makes a darker mark, but needs constant resharpening. These sets give the artist the ability to work with many different values and varieties of mark. Learn more about the different grades of graphite here.
Used for impressing a line into paper before drawing commences. It produces a clean white line with parallel sides and (with practice) a perfect tapering point. Uses include the cat’s eyebrow whiskers as shown here.
The tool is home-made and consists of a darning or sewing-up needle (round, not pointed, tip) with the eye snapped off and inserted into a spare clutch pencil. Once the lines are indented I use the 2B Progresso pencil to lightly shade over the area to reveal their positions during later work.
Progresso pencils are solid sticks of graphite and very versatile tools. However, although I keep both 2B and 6B I rarely use them except for outdoor sketching and for lightly washing tone over an incised area (see Incise tool).
Pencil sharpeners generally fall into two categories – Manual and electric.
By no means are all of these materials and tools required for serious drawing. (You really only need a mark-making medium and a surface.)
We’ll start off with the most obvious essential – quality drawing pencils. When it comes to drawing pencils, each artist will find a brand that they connect with. There’s no way to know which brand will become your favorite until you try a few.
1. Rigidness – Look for a portfolio that will keep your artwork from bending. Most portfolios will do this, but there are a few cheaper versions that may not. Look for a portfolio that has a rigid support system.
3. Acid Free – Paper that is “acid free”, without going into all of the technical details, will stand “the test of time”. This paper is will not yellow over time and is more resistant to fading that can occur when exposed to UV light.
Accept no alternatives. Blu-Tack is not widely available outside the UK and I have received many reports on similar products, such as Hold-Tu and Tack’N’Stick. I invariably find Blu-Tack to be superior because it possesses a tackiness not inherent in other products, which tend to be only as useful as a normal kneadable eraser.
Clutch/drafting pencils or lead holders Stylus for indenting / incising Graphite leads for clutch pencils Progresso solid graphite pencil Wood-cased graphite pencil Stump and Tortillon for blending Soft art erasers in holders Soft art eraser Blu-Tack used as eraser Sharpener for clutch pencils Sharpener for wood-cased pencils and eraser cores Colour Shaper
Kneaded Eraser – This eraser lifts material from the surface, instead of using friction to remove it. It can be pulled and fashioned into different forms to create specific marks. This eraser gets dirty over time, but can be cleaned by pulling and “kneading” it.
Most of us started drawing when we were young. Back then, materials and tools were not that important to us. Perhaps, they weren’t even considered. A standard pencil on some notebook paper would often “do the trick”.
Click any item for a full description of its uses and properties
Never brush eraser crumbs or dust off your drawing using your hand. Keep a brush or two handy for such jobs so your drawing doesn’t absorb oil from your skin. And don’t blow dust off as you risk moisture marking the surface.
I keep the big 1″ brush for general cleaning of the drawing surface and the red-handled brush lives behind my ear – it’s readily available for removing eraser dust whenever I need it.
“The Blu-Tack is better than I even thought it would be…I’m still amazed at how that light touch will pick up the graphite. It’s great!!!!”
Bostik’s Blu-Tack has allowed my drawing to develop like no other product ever has. Its greatest strength lies in its unparalleled ability to remove already applied graphite and to “draw” light or white shapes within it.
The merest touch lifts graphite straight from the paper and, with practice, whole areas can be gradually faded. In pre-applied graphite it leaves a clear, sharp-edged impression of easily preformed shapes so it is exceptional at suggesting background foliage, hairs in areas of deep shadow, anywhere that a suggestion is to be preferred over sharp focus.
For making additions at a late stage it is unsurpassed – a determined series of touches of Blu-Tack can take 6B almost back to white before finishing with a conventional soft art eraser. Read my “Erasing with wall putty” tutorial for more information.
But, if you are getting serious about your work, then you’re probably getting serious about your materials and tools as well and this list is what I consider to be “the essentials”.
Charcoal pencils can be sharpened like graphite pencils, making them great for details.
There are many different portfolio options out there on the market – each with their own benefits and drawbacks. If you are looking to add a portfolio to your collection, I would suggest looking for a couple features.
You can learn more about using blending stumps and blending tortillions in drawings here.
Erasers are for mistakes – right? Think again. Erasers can be a great mark-making tool as well. Each eraser creates a different mark and should be used as necessary according to the specific drawing medium.
A drawing can be made on any surface, but the quality of that surface is sometimes just as important as the medium that it is used upon it.
2. Size – When purchasing a portfolio to store your work, be sure that you provide yourself some room for larger works. Don’t just purchase the 18″ by 24″ portfolio because all of your works up to this point are smaller than this size. Chances are good that you’ll produce drawings that are larger in the future and you’ll wish you would have opted for a larger sized option.
Pencils need to be sharpened with a quality pencil sharpener. Use a poor quality sharpener and you could be out of a pencil in a matter of moments.
Let me make an analogy to a sketchbook’s importance. Let’s compare a professional athlete’s life to that of an artist’s.
2. Paper Weight – The weight of the paper refers to how much a ream (500 sheets) of that paper weighs. For most papers, the weight of the paper will be directly related to the thickness of the paper. ( It should be noted that some papers may have a heavier weight but actually be thinner.) For example, 80 lb. paper will typically be thicker than 60 lb. paper, while 100 lb. paper will be heavier than 80 lb. paper.
You don’t have to buy a portfolio when you can build your own. With a couple of rigid pieces of cardboard and tape, a portfolio can be created fairly quickly.
There are a few considerations for choosing a drawing surface that will affect the finished result.
Due to many requests Mike Sibley Fine Art now supplies Blu-Tack worldwide.Click below for prices, shipping details and order form.
Usually cased in Cedar, these pencils possess a lightness that can aid subtle shading techniques but suffer from a number of disadvantages. They shorten in use resulting in an ever-changing balance and weight; a variety of points can be achieved but very fine points tend to require the use of an emery board or other rough surface to achieve this – clutch pencils possess a needle-point by default.
If dropped or bent the graphite has a tendency to break internally – clutch pencils support the lead internally with virtually no breakages in normal use.
A sketchbook is one of the most important things an artist can have. I should point out that I am referring to an “active sketchbook” – one that receives attention on a daily basis. Anyone can “own” a book with blank pages of drawing paper. But the one that actively gets drawn in on a daily basis is the one of value.
Vinyl or Plastic Erasers – This eraser is the toughest of the bunch. It can erase almost anything. But be warned – this eraser can tear the paper if you’re not careful.
Used for blending graphite. Stumps are generally double-ended, larger and bulkier than the finer single-ended tortillons. Both have their individual uses although I tend to use only tortillons – for coarse work I wrap kitchen paper around my finger and use that instead.
Never use your unprotected finger to blend graphite. The natural oil in your skin will cause graphite to stick to your paper in irregular patches. It once took me two days to constantly tone and blend around such an area before it became unnoticeable.
..A wide range of grades is available of which the most useful, from softest to hardest, are 6B, 4B, 2B, HB, F, H, 2H, 4H and 6H. The softest I use is 6B although I use it infrequently – being coarse-grained the individual grains of graphite tend to be visible, which can distract from the reality that I’m trying to achieve.
In normal use my softest grade is 2B and my hardest 4H. Most of my drawing is achieved with just the three grades of 2B, F and 2H. The colour Shaper is used in much the same manner as a tortillon, being particularly useful for blending in tight corners.
Unlike the tortillon it doesn’t absorb graphite, which restricts its use to small areas – this is not a tool for mass blending. The one I use is a Forsline & Starr #2 Taper-point soft. A wider flat chisel point is also available and both styles can be purchased as soft or hard.
Gum Eraser – “The Crumbler”. This eraser is great for removing media from surfaces that are sensitive to tearing. A gum eraser removes the medium through friction, but crumbles as it does so – preserving the surface.
Drawing Paper– Medium tooth paper that is suited for drawing with a variety of drawing media including graphite, charcoal, and colored pencils.
Manual Pencil Sharpeners While an electric pencil sharpener has its appeal, a manual pencil sharpener will do for most of us.
Bristol Paper– Smooth tooth paper that is heavier (think cardstock). Excellent for creating smooth gradations of value, or detailed line work with ink.
Blending stumps also allow the artist to create gradations and smooth applications of value in areas of detail that may be hard to get to otherwise.
There are more than a few options for storing artwork, but the most popular option is a portfolio.
An Extreme Solution I’ve had the pleasure of working with the X-Acto Commercial sharpener. It is a MAJOR pencil sharpener. One negative is that smaller pencils can get caught inside of the sharpener. This sharpener is definitely on the extreme side of things, but a cool commodity to have around.
2. The Semi-Portable Container – Larger varieties of the portable option exist as well. I call these “semi-portable” because while you can lug them around – they are really too large for daily use. But, they can provide exceptional organization for your art supplies and tools.
An active sketchbook is the artist’s “exercise”. It is the “hard work” that goes into the development of the artist and it is the breeding ground for innovative, artistic ideas. Though the sketchbook may never be seen by the world, it is the often driving factor in successful artworks and successful artists.
1. The Portable Container – When I was an art student in college, I carried around a tackle box filled with my art materials. No manufacturers had tapped into the demand for portable art storage containers back then, so we were all forced to carry around theses modified tackle boxes. They did the trick.
Your artwork is important. Even those works that you’d rather not let anyone else see are important. They need to be treated with respect and stored in manner that will keep them preserved and protected.
A wide variety of conventional erasers exist but I only use those shown here. The main requirement is for a soft eraser that can gently remove graphite and not grind it ever deeper into the paper’s surface.
It is for this reason that I no longer use ink or typewriter erasers. Apart from the block eraser (shown right and that I only use for cleaning the margin around a drawing on completion) I make most use of Staedtler’s stick erasers.
Of the two versions shown above I use the top one — although this is now unavailable the 528-55 refills for the 528-50 below will fit the old (and more comfortable and precise) holder. The eraser core is capable of being formed to a very fine point using a conventional pencil sharpener.
If you are starting to get serious about your artwork, no matter what age, you may also be starting to get serious about the materials that you use.
There are more options to black and white drawing other than drawing with graphite. No artist’s toolkit would be complete without charcoal or conté.
Individual Pencils Many artists will find that they don’t use all of the pencils in a drawing pencil set. Instead, they may find that they only use a few of the pencils. For example, 2H, HB, 2B, and 4B pencils would be plenty of range for most of us. If this is the case, then a pencil set would not make sense. Instead, purchasing the individual pencils as they are needed is a more logical approach.
The professional athlete may workout for hours daily in the gym or on the track to enhance their performance on “game day”. Though the world may never see the hours of hard work that have been put into the workout, the exercise is important – if not crucial to the athlete’s success.
But as we grew and developed as artists, the materials and tools that we chose became more important. The connection between quality art materials and quality artwork becomes noticeable along the way and it’s no wonder that emerging artists desire to have the very best materials possible.
These days, there are plenty of portable solutions that are fortunately designed for artists. Many of these feature stackable trays and levels and are long and deep enough to accommodate brushes and other important tools.
Blending stumps are essential for the artist wanting to smudge or move material around on the surface. A blending stump allows the artist to create gradations in value without introducing the oils of the finger (through finger smudging) which can make a drawing look dirty or uncontrolled.
Staedtler 2mm diameter leads are available in tubes of 2 and packs of 12. The 12-pack (illustrated above) comes complete with a grade-dependent colour-coded end cap for your pencil. The leads are fully supported within the pencil by an internal brass tube.
A wide range of grades is available of which the most useful, from softest to hardest, are 6B, 4B, 2B, HB, F, H, 2H, 4H and 6H. The softest I use is 6B although I use it infrequently – being coarse-grained the individual grains of graphite tend to be visible, which can distract from the reality that I’m trying to achieve.
In normal use my softest grade is 2B and my hardest 4H. Most of my drawing is achieved with just the three grades of 2B, F and 2H.
Conté is similar to charcoal in richness of color – however the makeup of the material is different. Charcoal is burnt organic material, while conté is made of clay constituents.
“The Secrets to Drawing” is for beginner and intermediate artists and features over 300 minutes (5 Hours) of HD video instruction and 178 pages of eBooks covering the true essence of drawing including the elements and principles of art, and a variety of drawing media and techniques.