Essential Tools Every Artist Needs

Most people tried some drawing when they were young, and whether they left it alone or progressed and perhaps had some advice or tuition, the quality of materials wasn’t important back then. Most likely the medium was simply a pencil and whatever paper was laying around.


Drawing is gloriously simple and one of its attractions is it’s just a surface and something to make a mark. Here is a brief list of essentials to consider. Not all of these tools are necessary, by any means. But anybody beginning to take their creative work seriously will become serious too about getting the best equipment they can.


Quality pencils


A quick sketch with a range of soft and hard graphite grades will enlighten any budding artist that they’re more than “just a pencil”.


Sets ranging across the hardest 9H through the familiar neutral HB to the softest 6B are readily available, packaged beautifully and presented as serious tools of the trade.


…and quality sharpeners


With a precision set of mark makers like that, any old plastic handheld sharpener that’s been lying around for years won’t do. There is no need to spend a fortune, but a precise, mechanical sharpener can be a pleasure to use and make such a difference to the feel and effect of the artist’s medium. It may be that more than one sharpener works best, with a different design or shape for softer and harder pencils. A blunt or cheaply-made one will make the pencils break almost as soon as they’re drawn with.


A sketchbook


Any artist uses a sketchbook (and, as they’ll quickly fill them out, multiple sketchbooks). It’s the active artist’s place for exercise: a space to realize, explore and develop ideas. It’s also a gym for practice, repetition and drills, a place to work on technique. It may never be used or intended for public display, but sketchbooks are so often a driving force behind successful artists and their work.


Drawing surfaces


Just as different grades of pencil will create varying results, so will different qualities of surface, and here are a few considerations for drawing surfaces.


Tooth, or the texture of the paper, determines how the drawing material is received and accepted by the surface. A heavy texture, for example, may result in a more broken line and harder edge, while the same stroke on smoother paper will produce a fuller line. Different media will apply differently to light or heavy tooth, and artists may discover favorite combinations, but it’s a valuable learning process to experiment with as many as possible.


The weight of the paper is labeled in pounds, and relates to the total weight of a ream, or 500 sheets. This is usually a measure of the thickness of a sheet, but not always – denser materials may result in a thinner sheet weighing more than a softer, thicker sheet of paper.


Acid free paper is worth looking for, as it is more resistant to fading, yellowing and other damage caused by UV light.


A variety of erasers


Much more than just for rubbing out mistakes, different erasers are a useful range of mark-making tools in their own right. The standard rubber eraser is best used on graphite marks to remove them with friction, while a plastic or vinyl eraser is a tougher, harder version that can remove almost any kind of mark, but will also tear paper if used carelessly. A much gentler alternative for sensitive surfaces is the gum eraser, which crumbles as it applies friction and preserves the surface. A soft, pliant kneaded eraser avoids friction altogether, and lifts the mark from the surface. It is shaped and formed to produce different marks (and cleaned) by kneading, stretching and pulling.

Once some technique and style is mastered, and an improving artist begins to compare their work to other artists’ creations, the connection becomes clear between quality equipment and a high standard of artwork. Wanting the best quality materials is no surprise for any emerging artist.

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