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Drawing Materials "Made Easy"


I’m a big believer in keeping art supplies simple.

If you use relatively few materials, you’ll master them much more quickly. That means you’ll be able to switch between graphite, ink, charcoal and other mediums, with ease! It will also help you enjoy the art-making process that much more. It’s so much simpler to get into the ‘flow’ state when you’re not constantly having to deliberate between dozens of pencils and accessories. I’d go as far as saying that the fewer materials I have to hand, the more I enjoy the creative process!

This guide contains the materials I recommend for anyone wanting to quickly master:

• Graphite drawing

• Ink drawing • Charcoal drawing

It’s not an exhaustive list that’ll take hours to digest, because that’s the last thing you need. What you need is a small, affordable set of materials that you can hit the ground running with.

And don’t think ‘small’ and ‘affordable’ means ‘beginner only’. With the materials listed in this guide I can make almost any type of drawing (style or subject matter) I like. So can you!

Don’t Be a Slave to a Single Medium I think it’s much more fun if you have the option to create a graphite drawing one day, an ink drawing the next time, and maybe a charcoal drawing after that.

You’ll become more creative, you’ll want to spend more time on your hobby and you’ll get more satisfaction from art as a whole.

There’s a medium out there, that you probably haven’t found yet, and that is tailor-made for you. So treat yourself to a range of drawing materials and have some fun!

Here’s the list...


Graphite pencils are the first tool in any artist’s toolbox. You can create fantastic drawings across a range of styles with just three pencils:

• An HB • A 2B or 3B • A 7B, 8B or 9B

If you have a local art store, where you can buys pencils individually then great, you’ll save some money. For most though, it’s easier (and maybe even cheaper) to buy a set of 6. Even a set of 12 won’t cost much more.

My two favourite brands:

Out of those, my favourite is Staedtler’s Mars Lumograph 100 set of 12. The 7B and 8B pencils have a high carbon content, which helps to prevent something called ‘graphite shine’ where lots of light reflects off areas of dark shading.

Even though there are 12 pencils in this set, I will pick two or three for any one drawing most of the time. If you do want to create photorealistic drawings, you’ll have everything you need with the Staedtler set. Here’s a drawing I created with five pencils from that tin:


A carbon pencil is great for quicker sketching. It covers a large area in less time than graphite and there’s something about the look of carbon shading that makes the quickly-laid-down tone look ‘arty’ instead of rushed. If you get the Staedtler set of 12 above, you don’t need to get a carbon pencil because the 7B and 8B are effectively just that. So you can start with those. If you want to get a set of carbon pencils then I recommend the following:

These are relatively new to the market (at the time of writing) but widely available. What I love about these pencils is that they will layer on top of graphite, unlike most carbon pencils.

These pencils effectively eliminate the issue of graphite shine. If you’re not sure what that is, and why these pencils overcome it, see my short YouTube video here:


Please get yourself a set of charcoal pencils!

It is the fastest drawing medium you’ll use and you can create some really strong images in much less time compared to graphite.

Charcoal pencils stop you from getting too fussy. They force you to focus on the things that really matter - like value and proportion - instead of obsessing over small details that no one will notice if the basics are off.

The following drawing was completed for a friend during a time when I was really busy. It took me an hour and half with charcoal pencils because I was forced to keep it quite loose and sketchy:

Get yourself a set of three or four charcoal pencils. They can all be the same colour (black). They are really affordable but you will go through them quite quickly so buy more than a single pencil.

I recommend the following brands:

• Derwent • General Pencils

You should also definitely get a white charcoal pencil. When I come on to paper surfaces later, I’ll talk about toned or coloured paper, and your white charcoal pencil is perfect for this.

The following image was created on a dark piece of paper with a white charcoal pencil for a lesson on ArtTutor. It’s a really nice change of pace drawing in reverse and really quick too:

You can either buy a white charcoal pencil separately but many brands (including Derwent and General) do a set of three to four black charcoal pencils and white pencil.


If you’re starting out with charcoal, my recommendation is to start with charcoal pencils. They will have that familiar feel to them and they’re less messy.

At some point though, you may want to try other forms of charcoal:

• Willow or Vine charcoal

• Compressed charcoal • Charcoal powder

Willow & Compressed Charcoal Willow and compressed charcoal are great for very loose drawings often created at an easel. But they can also render some amazingly realistic studies - like the cast drawings from students of fine art ateliers.

Willow charcoal has a look and feel that is quite smokey and light. You’ll struggle to get strong darks with willow charcoal though. Compressed charcoal will get you those much stronger dark tones and more controlled lines. Very often, an artist will use a combination of willow and compressed charcoal in a single drawing.

When you buy a pack of willow charcoal, you’ll very often get a range of sizes and thicknesses but the tone and colour will be the same.

When you buy a set of compressed charcoal, you’ll often get a range of grade as you do with graphite pencils i.e. 2B, 4B, 6B etc.

In terms of brands, get whatever is available and the most affordable for both willow and compressed charcoal. I’ve found very little difference in the brands I’ve used.

There is one exception...

The best compressed charcoal I’ve used (and many artists will agree) is Nitram (their Academie range). You can sharpen these to a nice point and they blend beautifully. You can get packs in hard, medium and soft grades. Medium is great if you’re just getting one pack.

Charcoal Powder Charcoal powder can be used to create very soft and refined shading (such as skin tones or a muted background). It can be applied with a brush or other applicator (or even a finger) to block in large areas quite quickly. You can also use charcoal powder to create a toned ground on a white piece of paper, that you can then draw darker values on top of, or use an eraser for light areas and highlights.

When you search for charcoal powder, you’ll find products for teeth whitening and even consumption! If you’re struggling to find artist charcoal powder, search for Cretacolor and General Pencil charcoal powder.


I love drawing with fine liner pens! When it comes to simplifying your materials, you can’t get any simpler - the only choice you’re making is what size nib to use!

When buying a fine liner pens, a set of six to eight different nib sizes offers the best value for money compared to purchasing individually.

You can buy relatively cheap fine liners that aren’t designed for art but they probably won’t contain archival or waterproof ink (archival meaning then won’t fade over time or damage the paper surface).

The two brands I recommend are:

• Sakura Pigma Micron pens (set of six)

• Faber-Castell Pitt pen (set of eight)

Sakura are my favourite and are generally considered the best pens available. They are also really quite affordable.

The Faber-Castell set of eight contains a brush pen, which is more like a felt tip. It’s great for covering larger areas and more graphic types of art.

You can buy a Sakura brush pen separately but it’s expensive compared to the set of 6 so either do without, or go for the Faber- Castell set if you really think you’ll need it.

You may also want to get a white pen. Again, this can be used for studies on toned paper. I use a Gel Roll white pen by Sakura. Also look our for the Uni-ball Signo.

I recommend you start off with pens but if ink really suits you, then you may want to experiment with other drawing implements.

These include:

• A dip pen with a medium nib and a pot of Indian ink. • Brush pens (look for Pentel). • Natural pens (such as bamboo) and a pot of Indian ink.


I recommend you get both a plastic / vinyl eraser and a kneaded / putty eraser.

Plastic erasers can be very hit and miss. The two that I find most consistent and that won’t damage your drawing or the paper are:

• Faber-Castell plastic eraser

• Staedtler plastic eraser

My favourite kneaded eraser is by Faber-Castell and you’ll find it much softer than other brands. It’s great for teasing to a point or thin edge, and then used for lifting out precise marks.

If you plan to do any detailed or photo-realistic drawing, a retractible eraser can be very handy giving you a lot of control. They can be a little difficult to find so search for the Tombow Mono retractable eraser.


I feel so strongly about pencils breaking in sharpeners that I felt compelled to make a video helping people avoid the same frustrating fate. You can see it here:

Basically, my recommendation boils down to this:

1. Get Staedtler’s handheld sharpener It’s the best I’ve ever used and has yet to break a

single pencil lead. Failing that, get several cheap handheld sharpeners

and throw them out every couple of drawings.

2. Invest in a good quality mechanical sharpener If you do lots of photo-realistic graphite drawing (and especially if you use coloured pencils as well), you’ll save hours with a mechanical sharpener. Plan to spend about $15-$20 - it’s one of the best investments you’ll make if you sharpen a lot of pencils. Do a search on Amazon and go for the one with best reviews for your budget. I’ve have mechanical sharpeners by Xacto, Helix and Scholar. They are all terrific.

3. Avoid electric sharpeners They are too inconsistent, brutal and will burn through your pencils like there’s no tomorrow.

4. Do NOT use a pencil sharpener (handheld, mechanical and certainly not electric) for charcoal pencils.

Get any craft knife and a sanding block. The craft knife is used to carve away the wood case and the sand block is used to get a point (much more quickly than the craft knife will).

You can get sanding blocks from most art stores or Amazon, or you can just use a piece of sandpaper.


Paper surfaces are probably more confusing to newcomers than anything else in the supplies list. There’s a huge variety of choice - in surface texture, weight, colour, size, manufacturing process - and that’s just within a single brand.

Here are the papers I recommend for the mediums listed above.

Graphite & Carbon Drawing

Day-to-Day Sketches The vast majority of my day-to-day graphite drawings and sketches are completed on standard drawing paper. Most drawing papers will be acid free and relatively archival (meaning they won’t perish over time).

I prefer spiral bound pads because they stay in one piece better than gummed pads, when moving between the pages.

The brand I tend to use is Derwent’s sketching paper, simply because it’s very affordable, comes in a spiral bound pad and readily available in the UK. Strathmore also make excellent papers and their ‘Sketch’ or ‘Drawing’ paper is the most affordable in their range (the yellow cover is cheaper than the brown cover).

A good size is something similar to A4 or American Letter.

There are lots of brands that will be perfectly sufficient for everyday drawing and sketching. As long as you do a search for “drawing paper” or “sketching paper” on Amazon or any online art store, you can go for what is most affordable to you.

Serious Drawings By serious, I mean something you are either going to put a lot of time into or create as a gift or even a commission.

In this case, go for a higher quality paper that is archival. My favourite brand is Strathmore. They do a range of papers and the two I recommend are:

• Strathmore 400 Series Drawing paper • Strathmore 400 Series Bristol paper (vellum surface)

Make sure you get the Bristol vellum surface and not the Bristol smooth surface. The smooth surface has next to no tooth so you can’t build up strong tones as easily. You want the 400 series (brown cover) and not the 300 series (yellow cover).

Charcoal Drawing

Day-to-Day Sketching My recommendation is exactly the same here. The sketching pad you choose for graphite drawing will work well with charcoal.

The only extra consideration here is size. I prefer an A3 size for charcoal because I tend to work larger compared to graphite. Either get two pads one in each size, or just get the larger size and work on half the page for graphite drawings if you want to get conservative.

Serious Drawing Again, my recommendation is the same here. Strathmore 400 Series Drawing or Strathmore’s 400 Series Bristol (vellum surface) paper is perfect for charcoal.

Ink Drawing

Day-to-Day Sketching Guess what? You can use the same paper as you use for your day-to- day graphite and charcoal sketches here as well. It will keep your cost to a minimum and is what I recommend if you’re starting out with ink.

Serious Drawing Ink tends to flow better on a smoother surface, so as you progress, and if budget allows, you can go for Strathmore’s 400 Series Bristol (smooth surface) paper. This paper is stunning and you’ll probably only need the A4 / American Letter size (or closest to it) for ink drawings.

Toned Paper

All the papers I’ve mentioned above are white. But I strongly recommend you invest in a pad of mid grey or mid-tan tones as well.


Because toned paper makes it much easier to judge light and dark values. This might not sound like anything too profound, but it’s the values (lights and darks) that most people struggle with in whatever medium they’re using.

Working on a mid-tone can help you understand value choices much more easily because you can work from both dark to light and light to dark. Plus, there’s something nice about that mid-toned background that creates a unity in your artwork.

The key to using a mid-toned paper is to have a white pencil or pen as well as the blacks and greys.

Or you could use a combination of black and white pens on a tan background like in these drawings:

You could even use graphite pencils plus a white charcoal pencil or white coloured pencil.

And if you use, or plan to try coloured pencils or pastel pencils, then a grey toned paper makes for really striking images:

A the risks of sounding like a Strathmore fanboy (we have absolutely no affiliation with them), it’s their grey papers that I prefer:

• Strathmore 400 Series Toned Gray • Strathmore 400 Series Artagain in steel gray

The Artagain has a bit more tooth so if you use, or plan to use pastel pencils I’d go for this paper. Both are great though.


Here are a couple of lists based on my recommendations above. I’ve linked to and as they tend to be the cheapest. Obviously, skip any materials you’re not interested in but when your budget allows, consider trying a new medium!

Must Haves:

Set of 12 Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 GS pencils. My preferred choice as the 7B and 8B work like carbon pencils. Staedtler Pencils

Drawing or sketching paper. I use the pad by Derwent and Strathmore’s Sketch pad. For charcoal, get a larger size too. Strathmore Sketch Pad

Pad of Strathmore Toned Grey or Artagain (gray) paper.

Toned Grey 9x12inch

Set of charcoal pencils including white. General Pencil charcoal set

Set of 6 Sakura Pigma Micron pens. Sakura pens

Plastic/vinyl eraser. Staedtler and Faber-Castell are my favourites here. Staedtler Faber-Castell

Faber-Castell kneaded eraser. Faber-Castell Eraser

Staedtler handheld sharpener. Staedtler Sharpener

Craft knife.

Any will do

Sanding block. I’ve linked to one on Amazon but you can make your own with a piece of sandpaper. Sanding block

Nice to Haves:

Set of 6 Staedtler Mars Lumograph Black pencils. Staedtler pencils

Mechanical sharpener. Lots to choose from and I’ve linked to one with good reviews at the time of writing.

Mechanical sharpener

High quality paper such as Strathmore’s Bristol (vellum surface) paper for graphite and charcoal.

Bristol vellum surface

High quality paper such as Strathmore’s Bristol (smooth surface) paper for ink.Strathmore Strathmore smooth paper

Willow and compressed charcoal set. Ive linked to a set by Derwent and General Pencil but other brands will do. If you really want to indigo yourself, get some Nitram compressed charcoal charcoal.

General Pencil charcoal set Nitram charcoal

Blog By : Artist Phil Davies Co-Founder of

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