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


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toolsReview 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 shape. 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 new-found 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

I actually took the time to look over some of the other art-related lens (on Squidoo), and I have to say, most of them looked pretty impressive. But the one thing that took me a back was that most or a lot of them started out with an over-view of art materials. Given how fragile my ego is, I started to wonder if I goofed and should had done the same. After some time, rolling this notion around in my head, I came to the conclusion that for my tutorials, all most anyone would need would be a simple pencil and some paper. (Any paper. It doesn’t even matter.) My thinking goes more or less like this, “Fancy tools don’t make up for a lack of skill.” Sometimes really expensive something-or-other is a big help, or makes doing something easier, smoother, or faster, but if your ability is somewhat limited, then you’ve wasted your money.

I’ll give you a great example. A few years ago, I saw something (I guess it was an article in MacWorld) online about this cutting-edge, new, super-awsome 3D sculpting tool called ZBrush. At the time I just meekly dipping my toe into 3D, never really getting or appreciating what all goes into creating 3D work. I was one of those ignorant jackasses that though all I had to learn was to model and throw on some color, and the software would do the rest. I think that was around the time I first dabbled with that pain-in-the-butt, powerful, yet free open source 3D program called Blender. I convinced myself to like it because I wanted a means of digitally creating buildings and rooms so I didn’t have to stress out over perspective (which I was putting in lots of time mastering.) and lighting. Learning to use Blender at the time was a up-hill battle because there were very few tutorials on Blender. I got the basics after a while, but I couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around that 3rd dimension. My attempts at modeling look distorted and awful. Getting back to Zbrush, I plunked down $500 USD for version 2 thinking that this would be an easier way to model, color, and texture. It’s tablet based, and most of the time I would either be sculpting or painting. Easy-peasy, right?

Well, after a couple of days and weeks playing with my new toy, I found myself in the same predicament. Zbrush was another up-hill battle because it had a zillion buttons and sliders. (Most of while I had little clue about.) Sure I was able to easily do a few cool things, but they weren’t particularly useful, nor did I understand them. Zbrush fortunately had a ton of tutorials, most of which I struggled with. Pixologic’s website had a great forum with tons of accomplished artists doing things with Zbrush that I could only dream of. My dreams were eventually dashed due to my impatience, frustration, and the amount of time “wasted” when I could be more productive. In the end I blew 3D off. I still dabble with it from time to time, mainly playing with Blender. I never felt I had the sufficient free time or confidence to really dig in and learn that stuff. Sometimes I reflected on my attitude toward 3D back when I was wasting my time pursing a degree in graphic design. I probably should had taken a class or two in 3D. I would had gotten a better grasp on it instead of still having to struggle with it today.

So the moral of this story is that whatever tools you use are irrelevant. If you don’t know how to use them or use them well, you’ve just wasted your money. This is the reason why I came to peace with not reviewing materials right out of the gate. At this point in time you really don’t need anything fancy. And what you do need, you can buy anywhere and for cheap! That’s a simple #2 pencil and some copy paper.

drawing surfaceYour Drawing Surface…

This 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 if 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 shows 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 because I want to draw in the moment, and I’m too lazy to take a second to turn on the light. But if you wish to preserve your eye sight, use lots of light! If you 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.


Consider drawing at an angle

If you plan to spend a lot of time drawing, consider how this will affect your back. If you plan on using a flat surface (like the kitchen table), you’ll most likely be hunched over for too long a period. My recommendation is to find a drafting table that can tilt to at least a 60 degree 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. If you’re using a sketchbook, try not to draw hunched over like you would at a flat table. If you can 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.


Avoid distractions

Yes, I said it! And avoid them like the plague. I don’t care if it’s a family member, your spouse, the dog, the phone, TV, whatever. When you’re drawing, it’s your time, no one else’s. Make sure you and everyone else understands that. Unless there’s a fire, war, or some other type of emergency, you’re not to be disturbed until you’re done for the day. If you want to accomplish anything in drawing, art, and life, do whatever you have to do to create this time.


Staying motivated

I struggle with this. To be honest, this is more of an art than a science. As you get more serious, you’ll find your work feeling more like a marathon than a sprint. Working on anything for long periods of time can be tiring. For example, writing and creating the graphics for Chapter 2  of this series felt like it took forever. Then I realized that I needed a dad-gum graphic for the first or introductory module (on Squidoo). You’ll have to try different things to see what works and what doesn’t. Taking breaks, consuming lots of sugar and/or caffeine, listening to certain types of music, whatever moves you forward. The subject or theme of your work will either help or hinder your motivation. If the subject doesn’t excite you in any way, your project will drag on way too much. I’m not suggesting to only draw things that you like. To stretch yourself and your abilities, you’ll need to draw things you’d instinctively avoid, whatever the reason. But drawing something that you like will allow you to put more of yourself in to the work, mentally shifting you into feeling that this is fun or enjoyable. If you’re drawing something that doesn’t do much to get the juices going, take the time to think of how you can make your drawing more interesting.  

block of pencils
You know it!!


Graphite Pencils

For your purposes (I’m assuming you’re a newbie) any #2 pencil will due. Your more artzie 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 an overkill, but you’ll never know when that shade will come in handy. Throughout my tenure as a student of the Art Instruction Schools, I’ve used HB and 2B. 2B seems pretty dark, but at times, it seems like it’s not dark enough.


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 medium or 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 know 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.





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

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 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 use 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 stores, I encourage you to stop by and check out the different types of paper in stock.



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



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



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 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 a 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! The come in both ridiculously big and the affordable hand-held size. I currently use a Helix Auto Eraser. 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 to large amount of erasing with heavy pressure. The actual eraser is usually a soft plastic eraser, so the electric erasure 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, and T-sqaures — OH MY!

Sorry, I just watched a documentary on the Wizard of OZ with Angela Lansbury. Rulers, triangles, and t-squares are how you’re going to make your straight lines. Unless you happen to have that rare talent.



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.



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. They’ll also have a beveled edges, ideal for inking, but I would tape some pennies on one side to prevent ink from seeping underneath and ruining your work.



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 over-view of the most common art materials you’ll use when drawing. I’ve gone a little deeper than originally intended, but 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 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 web sites. Another idea is to visit 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:

  • 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.


(This article originally appeared on, and has been adapted by it’s creator for use in

© 2012-2013 Chris Hilbig