Ric Coon loves art materials

Yes, You Too Can Draw! Ch 3 — Art Materials

This chapter of “Yes, You Too Can Draw!”, covers the important topic of Art Materials. Picking wrong or inferior art materials will not just affect the quality of your work, but cause frustration that will eventually discourage you as an artist. Your goal is to pick the art materials that will work for you and your ends.

In this chapter, I will attempt to give you guys some guidance when it comes to picking basic art materials. There is no right or wrong answer. You should pick the art materials that will work for you.

But first, let’s review what we learned in the previous chapter.

Review And Summary

The Review

Before we get into the topic of art materials, let’s go over what we learned last time. It was a pretty long chapter:

1.) We learned that anything can be broken down into simple two-dimensional shapes. We explored this further by drawing a 3-D cube with 2-D squares.

2.) We learned how to quickly and easily draw a cube using the Six Steps to Cubedom!

3.) With our newfound knowledge, we were able to draw cylinders and other 3-D objects utilizing the cube as our guide.

4.) We learned about the mighty sphere!

5.) And you had homework.

Today’s Chapter: Art Materials

drawing surfaceYour Drawing Surface…

Your drawing surface is probably the most important thing to consider. (I’m not talking about paper.) I say that because this is the place where you’ll spend a considerable amount of time working. You may as well be comfortable working there. Here are a few key points to consider:

Your surface needs to be clean, flat, and spacious.

Regardless of whether you use a drafting table or the kitchen table, it needs to have all three of the characteristics mentioned. That means no small bits of gunk stuck on the surface. Imagine trying to draw and your pencil suddenly gets stuck. Or if your shading and some type of wacky pattern show where it shouldn’t.

If you’re one of those freaks (like myself) who used their drawing surface as a cutting board, you may want to consider putting another piece of paper or some smooth, flat cardboard to avoid picking up those gouges into your drawings.

Your surface should not be cluttered with anything you don’t plan to use in your drawing. You don’t want to spill your beer, coffee, or tea all over your hard work. That means you’ll also want to have plenty of elbow room so to speak. Clutter will make life difficult. Clean it off or use another surface.

Your Surface Should Be Well-Lit

I’m guilty of not always following this one, but if you wish to preserve your eyesight, use lots of light! Plan to buy a swinging arm lamp. Make sure it’ll provide plenty of light. (Many of them don’t.)  Being stingy on this item is usually a bad idea. Whatever you use for lighting, make sure the light evenly covers your paper.

Just as important, make sure that you use a quality light bulb. Consider purchasing an OttLite lightbulb [Amazon]. I’m not kidding! I have a review of the OttLite light bulb up for you to read.

Consider Drawing At An Angle

If you plan to spend a lot of time drawing, consider how this will affect your back. Using a flat surface (like the kitchen table), will most likely force you to be hunched over for too long a period. My recommendation is to find a drafting table that can tilt to at least a 60° angle.

I realize that this is a pricey recommendation because good drafting tables don’t come cheap. If this is not an option, do yourself a favor and plan in lots of breaks. This may seem wasteful, but it’ll preserve your health and save your back.

When you’re using a sketchbook, try not to draw hunched over like you would at a flat table. Find some way to angle it in the same way you’d angle a drafting table. This may take some experimentation, but your ultimate goal is to feel comfortable during and after your sketching. Back pain is no fun!

block of pencils
You know it!!

Pencils

Graphite Pencils

For your purposes (I’m assuming you’re a newbie) any #2 pencil will due. Your more professional pencils will utilize a better blend of graphite and clay for a smoother application.

If you swing by the pencil aisle at your local arts and craft store, you’ll find a crazy array of graphite pencils. (Once again determined by the amounts of graphite and clay.) They’ll range from 9H (your hardest and lightest pencil) to F and HB (standard #2) in the middle, to 9B (your darkest and softest pencil). This may seem like overkill, but you’ll never know when that shade will come in handy.

Ebony Pencils

I’m not so sure how common these pencils are, but every artist has at least one or two of them hiding somewhere. These pencils contain a blend of carbon and graphite. Ebony pencils will give your shadows a bit more of a kick, making them darker than even the darkest graphite pencil.

Charcoal, Conte, and Pastel Pencils

These are naturally messy mediums. These mediums can feel really soft, and leave a powdery mess on your surface. Normally you’ll find these mediums in small sticks. But wood-covered, pencil versions come in handy for more detailed work.

Color Pencils

Everyone should be familiar with these. (Crayola should come to mind.) Color pencils are basically a mix of wax and pigment. The more professional color pencils, Prismacolor for example, will utilize more pigment than wax, and will lay down a lot smoother than cheaper brands. Professional color pencils are also very soft and can easily break with the slightest bit of pressure.

One of the big frustrations of color pencils is known as the wax bloom. Basically, you went to town in a certain area and you now have too much wax built up, making it virtually impossible to erase or draw over.

There are variations of color pencils that use a harder wax, such as Prismacolor Verithin. The core of these types of pencils will give you a similar feel to your standard graphite pencil. They’ll be less prone to crumbling and snapping, making them great for sharp, crisp detail.

Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils will give you a similar look and feel that wax-based color pencils provide, but you can manipulate and blend your pencil strokes with a brush and water, much like standard watercolors. There are gobs of brands out there producing watercolor pencils. There are even graphite watercolor pencils. I own some by Derwent. They can be a lot of fun and can add another dimension to your drawing.

Paper

If you’re just starting out, your standard copy paper will be just fine. As you expand your horizons, you’ll find tremendous types of different papers, and for different purposes and mediums. Paper is usually chosen for whatever purpose or medium based on its weight, layers (represented as PLY), and surface.

Weight

Weight is determined by the weight of a ream of paper, which amounts to 500 sheets of paper. As an artist, you’ll generally want to use heavier-weight paper for wet mediums. If you’re more abrasive in your pencil work or any other dry medium, the heavier paper will prove to be a lot more durable.

Layers

Layers or ply will follow the same type of consideration. The more layers, the thicker, the better its ability to handle any wet applications of medium. For example, if I want to draw a series of comic book pages and ink them (I’d use india ink over marker), I would select a paper that’s 300 lbs and 3 ply or better. That would both handle the rough applications of my pencil work, and accept applications of ink later on.

Surface

Surface or surface texture is as advertised. The texture of the paper’s surface. There are two basic types of surfaces, plate (hot-press, smooth) or cold-press (textured). Either surface will affect both how the medium will be applied and the end result or look of the application.

Plate surface paper will allow the medium to be smoothly laid on top of its surface. The more textured cold-press paper will offer a rougher feel to your works. This type of paper is often used with watercolors, as it tends to complement that medium. Pastels and charcoal are often used on more textured paper. The surface texture is able to carry more pigment than a plate-finished paper.

Just like the numerous variations of pencils, there are also numerous variations of surface texture that are often determined by the paper’s tooth or surface finish. If you happen to live near an art or crafts store, I encourage you to stop by and check out the different types of paper in stock.

Erasers

erasers

There are also tons of different types of erasers out there. I’ll go over the most common you’ll run into.

Plastic

When you think of plastic erasers, think of those soft white erasers. They come in many variations, sizes, and shapes. The main feature that you’ll find are the soft feel and its ability to erase without much abrasion or wear to paper.

Hard Erasers

These will be your pink erasers. Hard erasers will dig in deeper for a tougher job, but can just as easily dig into your paper.

Kneaded Erasers

Kneaded erasers seem to be the most fun for people. They can be molded and shaped like clay. This makes kneaded erasers indispensable. You can form and shape them to fit whatever the job, from tiny little spaces to larger jobs. They’re also great for lifting and lightening up sections of graphite.

Electric Erasers

For those of you who love more power, (and what man doesn’t love more power?) the electric eraser is your power tool! They come in both ridiculously big and affordable hand-held sizes. I currently use a Helix Auto Eraser [Amazon].

Electric erasers have a thin, rounded eraser attached to a cylinder. The cylinder is attached to an electric motor that spins both the cylinder and the eraser really fast. The benefits come in whenever you have to quickly erase large areas of pencil or those marks that can’t seem to disappear no matter how hard you scrub.

The motorized action is the equivalent of a large amount of erasing with heavy pressure. The actual eraser is usually a soft plastic eraser, so the electric eraser won’t dig too quickly into your paper. Some will offer the option of the hard grey “ink” eraser, which in my opinion is sandpaper in a stick.

Rulers, Triangles, & T-Sqaures

Rulers, triangles, and t-squares are how you’re going to make your straight lines. Unless you happen to have that rare talent to create straight lines, you should consider purchasing something with a straight edge.

Rulers

This will be short and sweet since everyone is pretty aware of them. These will be your straight edge. They come in steel/metal, plastic, and wood. Most rulers will have both metrics and inches running across. This is as basic an art material as one could have. Rulers also happen to be pretty cheap. So buy one.

Triangles

These are usually made of plastic or hard acrylic. They are literally triangles sporting the usual 90-degree angle and two 45 degree angles or 30/60 degree angles. Triangles will also have beveled edges, ideal for inking, but I would tape some coins onto one side to prevent ink from seeping underneath and ruining your work.

T-squares

Just like rulers, they can be made of wood, plastic, and metal. I would recommend a good metal t-square. These would be ideally used in conjunction with a drafting table. For me, they seem to be the most useful when ruling out comic book pages or working on perspective in your drawing.

In Conclusion…

That’s a pretty good overview of the most common art materials you’ll use when drawing. I’ve gone a little deeper than originally intended. If I happen to of peaked your curiosity, then go swing by your local art store and see what’s available.

Online you should check out MisterArt.com. They have a wide array of art supplies at great prices. With their VIP Savings Club, they offer even deeper discounts than what you’d find on other websites. 

Another idea is to visit Amazon.com [Amazon]. It’s a great online store with virtually anything and everything to do with arts and crafts. Plus most everything is sold at a pretty good discount. (A big bonus in my book!) Now on to the homework assignment…

Today’s Homework Assignment:

  • Take some time to read throught the reviews that interest you on this website. I’m pretty good about adding new ones.
  • Go visit a local art store. Michael’s and Hobby Lobby do count.
  • Check out the different drawing supplies and papers.
  • Purchase one item that you think will either help or challenge you in your drawing.
  • Return to this very page, and report your findings to the rest of the group.

© 2012-2013, 2022 Chris Hilbig – Updated Jan 24, 2022