Top Drawing Materials Supplies to Get You Started
The absolute basics! My recommended top drawing materials supplies to get you started drawing with no unnecessary fuss or massive expenditure…
This page is all about choosing the right drawing tools for you – it’s something that’s very personal, so there’s no right or wrong thing to choose. There’s only the thing that’s right or wrong for you – and it’s absolutely okay for that to change, either gradually over time or all of a sudden.
It’s important that you’re happy and comfortable with how you do your art and that it feels like an extension of who you are and what you’re about so that you get the most enjoyment out of it.
I’m also not about fancy equipment or expensive equipment. I’ve been broke… and art paper, pens, and pencils were an expensive luxury.
But guess what? For drawing your own way you don’t need them!
Let me repeat that. You don’t need anything fancy to get the benefits of creative and expressive drawing. All you need is something to draw with and something to draw on. Got that? Then you’re sorted.
Having said that, your experience of drawing is always going to be far more pleasurable if you actually enjoy using your tools. So this lesson is about helping you choose what to start drawing with and what to start drawing on.
Choosing Your Own Top Drawing Materials and Supplies
At school, I had ‘proper’ art paper and ‘proper’ art pencils. When I got started drawing again, creatively, I was in my 40s – and I got started with a biro and an exercise book… yes, a simple exercise book with lines in it!
This is actually a great choice for starting out, because it’s what you’re comfortable with. Can you write? Yes? Good! Because drawing is just the same thing – only the communication is called a picture rather than words and sentences.
But it’s, essentially, exactly the same thing – you put your pen or pencil down on the page; the marks come out (more or less) where you intended them; and when you put them all together, they show the reader or viewer (and that might be just you) something that you were thinking about or something you wanted to tell them about.
And as you progress with your drawing, you will start to get the marks coming out where you intended them to be more and more often and you will also start to develop your own ‘handwriting’ style (think of your distinctive signature) that we call your artistic style.
So a tool that you feel comfortable with, that already feels nice in your hand, is a grand choice to start.
Don’t draw on cheap photocopy paper if it feels horrible and scratchy to you. Choose something that feels nicer. Lined paper can seem an odd choice… but it’s likely familiar to you. And early on in your artistic journey, in particular, what’s important is the process – drawing for enjoyment and building your skills.
I love drawing on coloured card or paper (like these lovely, pink scrapbook pages, above) or on individual pieces of card. My favourite drawing surface is to use ivory, 300gsm, smooth card, A4 size, (usually found in the card-making supplies) - see below…
Using lined, squared, coloured, or off-white paper can help you to overcome that surprisingly common artist’s fear of that blank page… where to start? Don’t worry if this happens to you. It’s normal and okay… and nothing to worry about.
You can try coloured paper, or adding a coloured wash to your page, or even a collaged background, before you start to draw… or just doodle in the corner for a minute. We’re learning to make our marks, not creating a masterpiece. And it’s the process that’s precious, not what’s on the page.
Fancy buying a nice sketchbook?
If a nice sketchbook feels good to you, go ahead.
Even now, I don’t often use a ‘proper’ sketchbook. I find a whole, shiny, nice, new sketchbook encourages me to put pressure on myself, to only put my ‘best’ or ‘perfect’ drawings on it… and I end up feeling fearful to draw anything in case I ‘mess up’ this lovely thing – even though I know it’s the process of drawing that’s important and not the product (the result) – and even though I know that every artist makes mistakes and messes up sometimes….
So I draw on individual pieces of card instead, and I put them in a folder or display book. In that way, I can keep all different types of drawing paper together…
And I can also leave out any complete disasters that make me feel bad to look at them (yes, recovering perfectionist here!) or I can tuck any ‘ugly’ preparatory drawings or drawings that I’m not so proud of behind those I love to look at.
In a bit, I’ll prompt you to find and try out your own drawing tools, but I just wanted to share, here, what I use in my own art, and what I’ll be using across the website, so that you can follow along with me, if you’d like to do that.
There are lots of different ways to draw and things to draw with, like charcoal, graphite sticks, pastels, markers and more (which I’ll be looking at in other sections)… if you’re comfortable with these media already, then go ahead and use them. If you’re an absolute beginner, I just wanted to keep it all simple and let you choose something easy, inexpensive, and that you’re likely more comfortable to get started with to practice those beginner drawing skills… pencils and pens!
For drawing light or sharp lines
Light pencil – draws a very thin, light line (known more properly as a ‘hard pencil’ because the lead is hard). I use this for light sketching of outlines.
The ‘light’ pencil grades (known properly as the ‘hard pencil grades’) are the H numbers on the end of the pencil: H, 2H, 3H, 4H, 5H etc. (the ‘H’ grades).
I usually use a 3H or 4H pencil for very light outline sketching.
The higher the number, the lighter or finer (harder) is the pencil. So the line from an 2H (or 1H) pencil is a little narrower, lighter, and harder than the H(1H) pencil. The 5H is still narrower, lighter, and harder. The 9H pencil is the narrowest, lightest, and hardest line.
If you’re just starting out, I recommend an ‘H’ pencil (just an H, no numbers), as it is easy to find in stores and good for light sketching for outlines.
For drawing thicker, darker, and textured lines
Soft pencil – draws a wide, dark line (I sometimes call this a ‘dark’ pencil for the strong, dark line it draws).
I don’t use this sort of pencil so much these days, as I use a pen instead for my firm-line drawing. But if you choose to draw your art out in pencil, a heavier line can be good for your final drawing. It also allows you to do some nice shading techniques in your drawing.
These ‘softer’ grades of pencil are also called B grades (the letter and number on the end of the pencil). The higher the number, the softer the pencil (the heavier/darker the line).
A ‘B’ pencil (just a B, no numbers) is a nice one to start drawing with, and maybe get a 2B pencil too to try out more shading techniques.
The heavier, thicker B pencils are very soft and smudgy so are great for all kinds of shading and smudging techniques once you get going. But to start with a B pencil is easy to use and isn’t too messy with unwanted smudges of your page where you’ve leant on it with your hand.
Keeping it Simple?
If you only want to buy one pencil to start with, get an HB. It sits right in the middle of the H (hard) and B (soft) pencils and it’s pretty good for light sketch work and slightly heavier drawing and mark-making too. You can really start to develop how you make your marks and use your pencil when you’re relying on one single pencil for all your drawing effects so you’ll learn lots this way.
Drawing with Pens
I also use a black fine-liner pen. I most often use Unipin Fine Line which is waterproof and fade proof.
Using this black pen can be quite scary to start, as you can’t rub it out. But this does help you to accept what you’ve drawn. Once you’ve drawn it, it’s there, you can’t rub it out. And it does help you to think about where you want to put your line and to draw a more confident, bold line on your page that will help you to develop your own artistic style/handwriting more quickly.
So if you feel like it’s for you, I really recommend trying to draw with a black fineliner pen. I use a very fine-tipped one (0.1 nib) – but this is because I spent 10 years doing technical drawing of maps with a pen that was 10 times finer than that, 0.01, and the 0.1 nib feels like a nice, heavy pen for me.
If you’re just getting started, I recommend that you try a 0.6 nib (thicker), a 0.5 nib, or the finer 0.3 nib, first. Look out for packs with a range of sizes that can help you to try the pens out.
I recommend you go for a 0.5 nib if you just want to buy one drawing pen. It’s a nice easy size to control, looks good on the page, and is stocked most places.
I’ll be coming back to colours and coloured medium later on, once we’re sorted with the basics of drawing and mark-making, but if you want to draw in colours because that’s what you feel happiest or most comfortable with, go for it. Your art is always what’s right for you.
I recommend a good quality art eraser. I like a Staedtler art eraser. Just select one from an art or hobby store when you buy your pencils, rather than a stationery store.
Drawing Materials Exercise
Go to an art store, or raid your own art supplies or those of a (willing) friend or family member.
Try out some different pens and pencils
How does it feel? …smooth? …flowing? …nice?
What are you enjoying drawing with?
Please remember, don’t make this into an exercise in buying lots of art stuff, however tempting. Keep it simple and inexpensive. We don’t want to be overwhelmed by choice. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter what you start drawing with, as long as it’s something you like to use. Just buy one or two of what you’ve enjoyed using and get started with those. Trying out other things can come later…
Some extra practice with your chosen top drawing materials and supplies:
Once you’ve chosen your pens or pencils, practise some doodling with them on a scrap of paper. You could draw some spirals or swirls. I like to draw little flowers or a winding vine or tree. The aim is just to get used to holding them in your hand so that you feel comfortable with them when you try out some of the basic drawing techniques and skills later on.
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