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Essential Drawing Materials and Tools for Beginners

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

To start drawing, you will need a few basic tools. You can draw with a pencil anywhere, and the necessary materials for work are very inexpensive. You do get what you pay for. However, buy the best you can afford and replenish your stock of tools at the slightest opportunity. Although you can use anything that can leave some marks on paper, you will be sorry to spend titanic efforts on creating a creation that will fade or rub off pretty soon. Here are some of the materials that will help you get started.

In this post, we will examine the following supplies for drawing:

  • Graphite pencils for drawing

  • Conté Sticks, crayons, and pencils

  • Charcoal sticks and pencils

  • Graphite sticks

  • Different types of erasers

  • Different types of paper for drawing

Which pencils do you need for drawing?

Graphite pencils

Graphite pencils come in different hardness - from very soft (6B, 4B, 2B) to hard (7H, 5H, 3H). In the middle of the hardness spectrum, we have the most commonly used HB pencil.

Hard pencils create light lines and are used for preliminary sketches. Soft pencils usually superimpose shading. Flat pencils for sketches will also come in handy in the work; they can create both wide and thin lines, as well as dots. Pick up one pencil HB or 2B. While the pencil is the primary drawing tool, don't limit yourself to just it. Use charcoal, colored pencils, ink, crayons, and pastels to add color to your drawing and improve the quality of the image.

Conté Sticks, crayons, and pencils

Conté sticks (also known as carré sticks) and hard chalks or pastels are ideal for making colored sketches. The most popular colors are earth tones—white, black, grays, browns, and rusts, such as sanguine (a reddish-brown) and sepia—but they are also available in a wide range of other colors. They work particularly well on colored paper and can be used with other dry drawing media. While the pencils are more suitable for line work, the sticks can be used to block in larger areas of tone. They can be smudged and blended but are not easily erased.

A wide range of conté pencils is available in the traditional colors of black, white, sepia, sanguine, terra-cotta, and bistre (a grayish brown). Artists’ pencils resemble traditional graphite pencils but are also available with a rectangular profile. Some of the pencils have a wax content that enables them to be used without fixing, but other pencils are chalkier and will require fixative protection.

Charcoal sticks and pencils

These are essentially charred wood and are one of the oldest drawing materials. Made from carbonized wood (usually willow, but beech and vine can also be found), the sticks are graded as soft or hard and come in four thicknesses: thin, medium, thick, and extra-thick sticks. (Extra-thick sticks are also known as “scene painters’ charcoal.”) Thin sticks work well for fur, feathers, and other fine details, while block charcoal works well for large areas.

Compressed charcoal, also known as Siberian charcoal, is made into a pencil with wooden or rolled paper barrels and is cleaner than traditional stick charcoal. It is graded by hardness and density and can be found with both round and square profiles. They produce darker, sharper lines, which are difficult to smudge or blend.

Sharpen all charcoal by using a sharp utility knife or by using fine-grade sandpaper. Charcoal dust sits delicately on the support surface and will need fixing to avoid being smudged.

Pastel pencils

Pastel pencils are made from a strip of hard pastel secured in a wooden barrel. Avoid dropping them since the soft pigment strip breaks easily. These pencils are harder than soft pastels and look like colored pencils, although they have a scratchier, chalkier feel. They are good for detailed line work, as well as shading, as they are non-waxy and can be blended well.

The mark made with a pastel pencil is not permanent and will need to be sprayed with a fixative (see more on fixatives below). These pencils are very easy to work with. There is a wide variety of strong colors available. They are perfect not only for finished drawings but also for quick sketches and are especially effective when used on colored paper.

Which types of paper do you need for your drawings?

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 it. Paper varies in color, thickness, and surface quality (smooth or rough). For daily practice, use an inexpensive sketch pad. For longer drawings, use special paper. As you gain more experience, experiment with quality paper and see how it affects your results.

The finished artwork is best done on separate sheets of top-quality drawing paper. They come in several types of surfaces: smooth (made with a press or with a hot press), medium grit (made with a cold press), rough, and very rough. Medium-grain paper (made using cold pressing) is the most versatile option. It has a medium texture, but it's not completely smooth, so it's a good surface for a wide variety of painting techniques. The texture of the paper plays a role in how the drawing material is accepted on the surface. Heavier textures will produce 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.

You should consider the following types of paper for your work:

  • Drawing Paper – Medium-grain paper that is suited for drawing with a variety of drawing media, including graphite, charcoal, and colored pencils. There are many options for drawing papers, but Strathmore papers are recommended.

  • Charcoal paper – Heavier-grain paper that is lightweight – almost semi-transparent. Excellent for creating texture. Some types of this paper have a very pronounced surface texture, and you can use them to enhance the texture of your drawing. These papers are also dyed in different colors, which can add dimension to the pattern.

  • Bristol Paper – Smooth-grain paper that is heavier (think cardstock). This paper is quite rigid and is excellent for creating smooth gradations of value or detailed linework with ink.

Different types of erasers for your drawing work.

Erasers aren't just for correcting mistakes. They're also great drawing tools. There are several types of erasers: rubber, kneaded, gum, or vinyl eraser - it all depends on how you want to use them. For example, you can roll a ball out of a kneaded eraser or tear it into small pieces to create highlights or convey texture. The rubber eraser is great for erasing large shaded areas.

Rubber Eraser – Your standard eraser for erasing graphite. This eraser uses friction to remove any material from the surface.

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.

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.

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.

Pencil Sharpeners

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.

Pencil sharpeners generally fall into two categories – Manual and electric.

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. A quality electric pencil sharpener will sharpen your pencil without eating it all up. Electric pencil sharpeners are nice to have for quick sharpening 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.

Manual Pencil Sharpeners

While an electric pencil sharpener has its appeal, a manual pencil sharpener will do for most of us. Like electric pencil sharpeners, manual sharpeners 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. Remember, if you’re sharpening colored pencils, then a manual pencil sharpener is what you should be using.

The above tools and materials should be good to get you started in drawing. As you get better and seek your creative path and unique style, you will uncover additional materials to create your masterpiece.

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