My Art Kit New Edition

by GregFahlgren

Taking a look at my favourite art supplies and desired art supplies, along with some friendly advice.

In addition to being a blogger and novelist (figures crossed on that latest submission letter), in the last year or so, I’ve taken up the dubious task of learning how to draw. I have posted a similar article to this one in the past, but since then I’ve acquired many of the supplies I wanted, and have decided to rewrite and reassess that article with a new one, telling you what is in my art kit, and what I would like to have in the future. Drawing is a wonderful hobby or career to take up, and hopefully by telling you all about these great products that I have come to love, I can inspire a few of you to take the plunge and give it a shot like I did. This world is lacking for artists and storytellers these days, and if be reading about these products inspires you to become one yourself, then I’ll be a happy camper.

Pencils

The first part of my art kit is of course, pencils. Now, most of you when hear the word ‘pencils’ think of the good old HB pencil that we all know and love. Some of you might even think that it’s the only kind of pencil out there. Well, you’d be wrong. There are many different of pencils among many different mediums, all of which can be used for specific purposes. For my kit, I have and desire a wide range of pencils and coloured pencils to render my art work, each different kind unique and used for a specific purpose.

Graphite

The Base Medium

The starting point for all aspiring pencil artists, graphite is in the most basic of terms, a lead pencil. They don’t use lead in pencils anymore (thankfully), but graphite has been used by artists for generations. There are many different grades of graphite pencils, ranging from the hardest of leads that will barely transfer to paper, to the softest which provide deep tones that are nearly impossible to erase (believe me I’ve tried).

I tried out a number of different brands of graphite pencils, but the best set I bought came from Derwent (that name is going to come up a lot in this blog). Both Staedler and Primascholar are good brands as well, but I chose the Derwent Graphic set as it featured more grades of pencil than any other brand, ranging from 9H (the hardest) to 9B (the lightest). The set also features an extra unit for the more popular grades HB, (about the middle of the hard and soft grades) 2H, 2B, and 4B. It also came with an F pencil, which is a grade about the same as an HB, but sharpens to a much finer point for more precision work.

There are also the Derwent Sketching Pencils, which are the same as the Graphic, but are thicker, and only featured in HB, 2B and 4B grades. Compared to the Graphic set, they are better suited for broad strokes and large sketches. More importantly however, they are a great starting point for beginners, and can easily work with the other thick cased brands that Derwent provides (which we’ll get to in a bit).

Charcoal

Messy, but Fun

To be completely honest, I hated charcoal when I first state using it. The pencils I bought were not great quality, and I didn’t have a proper sharpener for them. Since getting my Derwent pencils however, which are MUCH greater quality, I’ve come to appreciate the medium. Less oily than graphite, charcoal is dryer, and creates much darker and more pronounced tones on the paper. The lead is weaker than all but the softest grades of graphite, so you have to take care when sharpening, otherwise you’ll go through your pencils fast. The another drawback is that it’s messier than graphite (because of how dry it is), the dust constantly getting on my hands while I draw, which then rubs off on the paper. This can be rectified by having another sheet of paper resting under my hand, but for long projects, taking the care to wash my hands frequently is often the better solution. There are some accessories that can help with the excess dust charcoal produces, which I’ll get to in a little bit.

The Derwent kits featured below are some good starting points for charcoal, though I would advise getting used to drawing and sketching before trying them out because of how messy and frustrating they can be to sharpen.

Onyx

Darker than Dark

Here is a product that I haven’t picked up yet, but after watched a few videos of it in action, and they are interesting. As I’ve stated above, graphite pencils have a wide range of grades, 9B being the darkest. What the Onyx Pencils attempt to do is create a graphite pencil that is ever darker than that, and thus far has made two grades of extremely dark graphite leads. As I’ve said, I haven’t had the chance to try them yet, they are hard to find in Canada, but they are intriguing, and given the opportunity I would love to give them a go.

Coloured Pencils

Soon after taking up drawing, I bought a large art kit with a built in easel and all kinds of coloured pencils. I hadn’t given much thought to using coloured pencils at the time, but since they were in the set, I gave them a try. Suddenly, I’m brought back to the many great memories of using colour pencils as a kid, and decided to expand my own personal collection to include more. I’ve collected a good amount of the sets I’ll be talking about (all Derwent of course), the more expensive ones to be bought when I can afford it.

Studio Pencils

Adding Some Colour

I haven’t gotten a chance to purchase these yet, but given the direction my art seems to be leading me, Derwent’s Studio Pencils will likely become a huge part of my work. They are much like any other company’s standard colour pencils, and a great starting point for learning how to use the medium. Pencils like this make up the vast majority of colouring needs, and have a wide range of colours suitable for nearly any drawing situation. Most companies have variations of these, but Derwent hasn’t let me down yet, so I hope to get a hold of these soon.

Metallic Pencils

Give it some Shine

The first large kit I bought included a special kind of coloured pencils with metallic colours such as gold and silver. These pencils are specially coloured to give a metallic sheen on the paper, perfect for shading in weapons, armour, and other metallic objects. When it came time to purchase more, I picked up the Derwent set, which includes twelve unique shades perfect for colouring metallic objects. They are exceptionally good pencils, easy to blend, durable, and easy to sharpen. If you already have a Studio set (or like pencils), a metallic set is a great compliment, giving the artist more colours to play with, and a special tool that will come in handy more often than you might think.

Artist Pencils

Colour Galore

The single largest set of colour pencils Derwent provides, Artist Pencils are much like the Studio set, except thicker, more chalky, and a much larger range of colours. The top set, only available in a large wooden box, holds 120 individual pencils of every conceivable colour, giving the artist more options than any other set. This is the likely the last set I will go after given the expense, but I have no doubt it will be essential to my collection as my skills improve. The wooden box it comes in can also double as a storage unit for both the Artist Pencils and any others you might want to add to your collection.

Drawing Pencils

Colours of Nature

As I’ve expanded my repertoire, I started looking into other types of coloured pencils. The first of these were the Derwent Drawing Pencils. A compliment to the Artist Pencils, the Drawing Pencils offer a range of Sepia related shades, they offer bright, vibrant tones ideal for still life and other like projects. Though their use is very specific, they are a great compliment to the Artist set, and give more options to the artist. I’ve played around with them, and so far, I’ve liked what I’ve seen, and plan to use them more in the future.

Graphtint Pencils

Shades of Graphite

Graphtint Pencils are pretty much what they sound like: coloured pencils made from graphite that have been tinted. The colours all have a certain grayish tint to them, but are still as rich and as vibrant as the Drawing and Artist pencils, the colours unique and unfound in any other brand. Like the Drawing and Metallic pencils, these might not be essential to have, but they do add more colours to the pallet, and that’s never a bad thing.

Coloursoft Pencils

Happy Compromise

As I’ve mentioned before, in my first big kit there were a variety of different kinds of coloured pencils. Among these were a small set of Pastel Pencils, and I found myself liking them more than the other mediums I had. Full of vibrant colour, the pencils were great except for one major fallback: The lead was very brittle, and easily breakable. Now, I would still like to use pastel pencils in the future, not saying that, but soon after my pencils started to wear out, months after purchasing them, I started looking for something similar that was a little more durable. Eventually, I found Derwent’s Coloursoft pencils, which seemed to be the happy medium. Watching some demo videos on Youtube, I absorb that the Coloursofts have the same bright, vibrant range of colours as the Pastels, but are much more durable, and blend far better with the Artist and other like kits. These pencils are at the top of my list to try out, and highly recommend them to anyone else looking for an alternative to pastels.

Tinted Charcoal Pencils

Dusty Expression

Charcoal, though messy, can be a great medium as I’ve stated before. One of the problems with it however, is mixing charcoal with other mediums is... well... impossible. Most other drawing mediums are too oily for charcoal to really get along with them, making adding colour to a charcoal drawing somewhat difficult. To remedy this problem, Derwent has created tinted charcoal pencils. These work about the same as normal charcoal, but in a range of colours that can add to any drawing. The colours themselves have a dark tone to them, this is charcoal we’re dealing with after all, and they are a great way to expand on that medium without having to play around with fixatives every time you want to add some colour. Not only that, the colours found in these pencils aren’t found anywhere else, making them a unique set that is a must by for charcoal artists. Especially when the only other medium that I’ve found that works well with charcoal is...

Pastel Pencils

The Deepest of Tones

The final kind of pencils are the only kind that are in a bit of ‘maybe’ situation for me. As I’ve stated before, I have used Pastel pencils in the past, not Derwent ones, and though they were great for colour and broad strokes, they were brittle, and frustrating to sharpen. Since that time I have discovered new ways of sharpening such pencils, and have read up on the quality of the ones I was using vs Derwent’s own brand. I want to give them a shot, even if it’s a small pack, to see how I would like them. Pastel pencils are great for landscape drawings, or other works that require broad strokes and bright, vibrant colours, but they are messy, and if not sharpened properly, can become brittle and easily break. However, a major upside of pastels is how well they work with charcoal. Both mediums are very dry and dusty, and can be used in conjunction with each other far easier than either does with graphite. Like I said, I’m more than willing to give them another shot, and if you want to see what they can do for you, by all means check them out.

Accessories

Of course, any art kit needs a few essential accessories to go along with your pencils. You need erasers, sharpeners, and paper for starters, otherwise you’re just a grown adult playing with pencils all day (DON’T JUDGE ME!). In addition to those, there a host of other tools any potential artist can pick up, giving one more options to play with when creating their art. I have experimented with many such tools, and have through a lot of trial and error, found which ones work for me.

Erasers

Pencil's Loveable Sidekick

Next to pencils, erasers are the most essential part of any art kit. However, I don’t just mean the normal plastic erasers you buy at Wal-Mart. They’ll do the job, but there are many different kinds of erasers out there, specifically designed for the kind of art work I practice.

For a ‘rubber’ eraser, I’m using the Staedler Black Erasers, and they are better than any others I’ve tried. They barely leave any marks on the page, and last a lot longer than the normal white ones. Staedler’s erasers are far ranging of course, but these were the best I’ve tried, and recommend Staedler’s line above any others for these kinds of tools.

Other than the traditional rubbers, I will also recommend purchasing what is called a 'kneadable' eraser. This soft eraser can be shaped to virtually any form, and absorbs the graphite or whatever you’re using from the page far better than a rubbing eraser. Besides that, they can used to perform precision work, like when you need to lighten the graphite in a specific place without erasing it completely. Biggest upside is that you can use these without rubbing on the paper, leaving the risk of damaging the paper at a minimum.

When working with medium like charcoal or pastel however, you will need something called a dry clean pad to accompany your other erasing tools. This small pad can be used to pat the surface of the paper, taking away any excess dust from the page, which helps prevent the smudging that can occur when the paper comes into contact with your hands.

Another tool I’ve recently purchased is the Derwent Electric Eraser. Sounds silly right? Well, if you want to use for traditional erasing, then yes, it is silly. What you use this tool for is precision tasks when drawing, erasing away the edges of a subject to make it look sharper, or to add fine detail by removing the appropriate amount of graphite.

A tool that can be used in conjunction with this and other erasers is called an erasing shield, which allows the artist to create precise shapes within the shading of any medium with more control than the electric eraser provides.

Sharpening Tools

Pencil Maintenance

Besides erasers, sharpeners and like tools are the most essential parts of any art kit. Who wants to draw with a dull pencil? There are several different types of sharpeners you can choose from of course, each with their own uses.

Hand sharpeners are the most basic tools, small ones being inexpensive and nearly universal. However, with softer leads and colour pencils, the normal sharpeners are often too hard on the leads, and they break easily. For those tools, you want to use a slightly bigger holed sharpener that will take away as little wood as possible, and expose the lead you need without endangering it. For things like charcoal, pastel, or any of the thicker cased pencils I’ve listed above, you’ll need a slightly larger holed sharpener still. Most companies sell multi-holed sharpeners, and I’m currently using the Faber-Castell model that features three holes, plus receptacles on either side, making cleaning up far easier. One hole is for hard leads, another for basic colour pencils and softer graphite, while the third is for thicker pencils like pastel pencils. This is a great tool, and has been my best sharpener yet.

Another useful tool for sharpening is an art knife, which can help took off the wood of the casing, exposing the lead below without damaging it. You can then use sandpaper to sharpen the lead into whatever shape you need. Sandpaper can be acquired in blocks, which are easy to use and once that piece of paper is used up, you rip it off and move on to the next one. Their inexpensive too, which is a huge bonus. I’m using the Derwent Craft Knife right now, which also came with a stand, which is useful for hold the pencil in place while you the wood casing. This technique is most useful for soft leads like charcoal or pastel, as using a sharpener can often break the lead no matter how careful you are. I have had good experience with pastel sharpeners, but the knife and sandpaper technique is less damaging to the lead at the end of the day.

Blending Tools

The Next Step

Once you get the hang of sketching, shading, and all that jazz, the next step for a pencil artist is blending. There are many tools you can bring the table, the most common being paper stumps, which are easy to use and inexpensive. Derwent has a number of such stumps, but have released a number of other items for this purpose however, which are work just as well if not better.

The first are blending pens, which are exactly what they sound like. I haven’t had a chance to use them yet, but I’ve seen some videos that show how effective they can be. However, I did purchase their Blending and Burnishing Pencils, which are wonderful products. Essentially, they are two pencils using colourless leads, one to blending pencil strokes together, while the burnishing pencil is give the render a soft sheen to it. Both pencils work wonderfully, and are a wonderful complement to any pencil set.

Measuring Tools

Yes, I said Measuring Tools

As part of my artistic endeavours, I have been taking lessons I’ve been taking from the Drawspace website. One of the most recent lessons has been learning how to size up subjects so that I can draw them proportionally accurate, which is much harder than it sounds. Eventually, I hope to be able to do this naturally like other artists, but until then, I will employ the use of the most simple of measuring tools, a ruler. Any ruler will do really, it’s not horribly important how long or short it is really, but for the moment I’m using a Staedler product, which is flexible and sits directly on the drawing surface, which is far easier to use for me than corked rulers.

Another tool for later down the road is called a scale divider. This tool (the best by far the Derwent product), allows you to take a small or large object, measuring it out, and then recreate on much smaller or larger scale. Sounds simple, but given how difficult proportions can be at times it’s a huge plus to have in an art kit, especially when taking a larger work and recreating on a smaller scale, or vice-versa.

Pencil Extenders

Not as Foolish as They Sound

One of my biggest pet peeves about my medium is that pencils can often break when sharpening, leading me to spending a lot whittling them down to the point where they become too short to use properly. Thankfully, many companies have built pencil extenders to remedy this problem.

Again, I went with Derwent for this product, buying a pack of two extenders which have extended the life of my pencils by a huge amount. It might seem silly, but in the long wrong it will probably save a lot of time, money, and frustration. Besides that, they are specially designed for comfort, to the point where I actually find that they are more comfortable to hold in my hand than a normal pencil, so I use them even if the pencil doesn’t need it.

Stylus

Indenting Paper

The final drawing tool I own is something that I never thought I would actually use. There is a technique in pencil drawing to “score” the drawing surface in order to create lines in the shading. This technique can be used for a number of things, like drawing hair or grass, and once I gave it a try, I found it to be quite effective. You can use any number of tools, but I found a stylus works best, as they are designed to not dig into the paper and tear it. Word of caution though, make sure you know exactly what you’re doing with this technique. Once the paper is scored, it can’t be undone.

Paper

You Kind of Need It

You can’t draw with paper, that’s a simple fact for a penciller. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different kinds of drawing paper out there from a plethora of companies, all with different quality, weight, and textures. So, how do you decide which paper to use?

Generally this depends on the medium. I use exclusively dry media, so I don’t necessarily need the heavier weighted paper that wet media does, but having heavier weighted paper can actually be an advantage, but it doesn’t hurt in the slightest. The heavier the weight, the easier it lays flat, and the tougher it is. Generally speaking you don’t want anything too flimsy, as you can tear or damage the paper too easily if you’re not careful.

Tooth grades matter as well, the texture of the paper affecting the texture of the drawing. I’m not a huge expert on it, but I find the fine-medium tooth paper works best for graphite and its coloured companions. For charcoal, pastel, and softer coloured pencils however, there are special paper made specifically for those medium, though normal drawing paper will work to a degree.

Pads are great for when learning the art or making initial sketches for a larger or more complicated work. If something goes wrong you just tear the page off and start over. Books, specifically hard cover books, are more for things you want to keep, like concept art or maps like I do. No matter what though, make sure the paper is acid-free. Acid-free means that the paper was not cut with acid, making it both easier to draw on and help preserve the work once it is finished.

Right now, I am using Canson’s Illustration paper, as well as their Mi-Tientis Pastel paper for darker pages, and the Pure White Canson pad. I have a larger sketch-book for my own concept art, and a small journals including the Pentallic Travellers Journal, which I would recommend whole-heartedly.

Drawing Board

Pads and books is great to work with, but if you’re me and like to work on single sheets of paper, then getting a drawing board should be a no brainer. Personally, I have the Derwent Board, an acrylic board with a smooth and easy-to-clean surface, and large enough to accommodate nearly any size of paper. As a bonus, it also has drawn-in measurements on the surface to help size up subjects for rendering. It is quite large however, so it is not exactly something you travel with. However, for working from home, the Derwent Board is a wonderful product, and hasn’t let me down yet.

Storage

Given how many items I’ve listed, and the amount of pencils and tools that will be included in those items, any artist is going to need a place to store it all. The tins and boxes the pencils come in should do fine at first, and if you have a good desk you can put a lot of the tools in a drawer like I do. But for those of you who want to travel with your art, as well as maybe build build an in home studio, you’re going to need a few items to help store your pencils, tools, paper, and every else in between.

For Pencils

Bags, Wraps and Boxes

Most of the pencil sets that you see in the links I’ve provided come with their own tins where they can be stored until you need them. However, if you want to go on the road with your pencils, you might need something more built for that.

First up is the Derwent Pouch, which can hold 12 pencils and can fit easily in your pocket. It’s a basic item, can’t hold any erasers or sharpeners or other tools really, but it is good for a small selection when you just need a few pencils with you while you’re out and about.

If you need something more than that, the Derwent Wrap is the next step up. Able to hold 30 pencils, it also has slots for a sharpener, erasers, or any other tools you may need. This product is best for when you need a wide selection of pencils and tools, but don’t need to carry EVERYTHING you own with you.

However, if you’re the kind of artist that wants to carry all their tools with them, than I might suggest the Derwent Carry-All Bag. Able to hold over a hundred pencils to start (with the option of adding extra ‘leaves’ for another 88), this bag is great for storing a large array of pencils, ready to travel at the drop of a hat. It also has room for a small sketchbook, and a nice pouch to keep all your tools, making it perfect for the artist on the go, no matter their needs.

Now, if you have a huge selection of pencils like I want, then you might need something a little bigger to keep at home (preferably in your very own studio). For this, I can recommend Derwent’s Art Boxes (which sadly are only available through their home website in Britain). Coming in various sizes, the largest are able to hold over 150 pencils and various tools, these boxes are a little pricy, but are perfect for when you have a wide array of pencils to store. Some of the Derwent pencil sets come in the wood box, which are a little more expensive than the tins I admit, but with built in storage to come with your pencils, it’s not a bad deal, is it?

For Paper

Portfolios and Cabinets

In addition to storing your pencils and tools, it is also a good idea to buy a few things for your art once it’s rendered. A back pack is good, but paper can crush or bend the paper, ruining whatever you’ve spend hours or even days working on. Instead, getting a nice portfolio is a far better option, portfolio’s designed for keeping your paper nice and safe when moving around.

In the studio, getting a simple cabinet will do for storing your paper and finished work, most of which are reasonably affordable. This might sound like a no brainer, but having stuff like this to keep your finished work safe is incredibly important, so you shouldn’t ever dismiss it.

Conclusion

GET DRAWING!

Art is a wonderful thing. I had always loved drawing and doodling as a kid, so when I decided to take it up again, it became one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time. It’s a lot of hard work, not going to fool anyone here, but it is very, very rewarding. I learned a long time ago that trying new things is it's own reward, and by taking up drawing again, my life has been happier, and more filled with wonder than it was before.

The tools I have listed in this blog are what I use or want to use, but that’s for me. Art is a personal practice, so anyone wanting to take up the practice should do what feels right to them. Purchase some of the starter kits featured on this blog, give them a shot, and if they don’t work for you, no big deal. The only thing you have to lose by taking up art as a hobby is a little money and time. If it doesn’t work out, move on to something else. But if you never try something you want to, you’re cheating yourself. Live life through adventure, and take the chance of learning something new. No better advice I can give really.

Anyway, hope this was fun for everyone, and that you all found some products you might enjoy. Until next everyone!

Updated: 01/07/2016, GregFahlgren
 
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