Here's a list of art supplies and tools for beginners that I've compiled based on more than a decade of experience with using them to make art. There are also some recommendations on which specific product and brands to check out.
Better quality art supplies are usually more expensive but that's not always the case. The products that I mention below will be ones that provide the most value for money AKA the cheap and good ones.
If you want to get the bare minimal to get started, you just need pen, pencil and paper, and these are inexpensive.
These are the classic wooden graphite pencils.
Graphite pencils come in different hardness where H represents Hard and B is for Blackness (soft). There are a total of 20 grades between H and B. You don't need so many. Just get a HB and 2B will do. Throw in 4B to make your drawing setup more versatile. I recommend skipping a grade for pencils, meaning, get 2B and 4B which you give a more visible difference on paper compared to 2B and 3B.
Graphite pencils can be sold in a set with pre-selected hardness grades. If you want to learn pencil drawing and shading in depth, those are the sets to get. If you just want to draw casually, you can just get 2 or 3 graphite pencils, or go with those sets with assorted pencils including coloured pencils.
Graphite pencils are versatile. You can use them to draw thin lines, details or shade with them to cover large areas. They are waterproof so you can use them with watercolour. When blunt, you can create lines with varying thickness.
Coloured pencils are lots of fun and can open up lots of possibilities with mixed media.
There are normal coloured pencils which are either oil or waxed based. And then there are the watercolour pencils which are more versatile because you can use them like normal pencils, and add water and you get a totally different effect.
Coloured pencils can be cheap and good, but there are really expensive ones too.
Brands to consider are Koh-i-Noor, Faber-Castell, Cretacolor, Derwent, Prismacolor, Caran d'ache. Koh-i-Noor Polycolor is cheap and good. For watercolour pencils, Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer are good but more pricey.
You will need pencil sharpeners when you have pencils.
Get a pencil sharpener that comes with a container to collect the shavings because that's convenient, and cleaner. The Staedtler two-hole pencil sharpener comes with a lid that prevents shavings from coming out of the container.
Or you can get the smaller ones if you want something more portable, but you have to find ways to dispose of the shavings, usually not a problem in a public area.
My favourite sharpener is actually the KUM Automatic Long Point Pencil Sharpener because it can sharpen pencils to a long point.
If you use pencils frequently, you may want to invest in a manual turning sharpener or electric sharpener (go with the battery operated ones). These are going to be more expensive.
Mechanical pencils that take lead (0.3 to 1.0) don't need sharpening and are convenient. These pencils are great for drawing thin lines and details.
Lead holders take much thicker lead, usually 2mm lead, and these will need sharpening. These are used just like wooden pencils. They can be used to draw lines or shade. However, the leads are usually not available in as many grades as wooden pencils. The lead is usually sharpened by lead pointer sharpeners (usually made by the same company) or sandpaper.
Other graphite products
Graphite products are generally quite affordable. Other graphite products you can check out are watersoluble graphite pencils, Derwent Graphitone, watersoluble graphite blocks, watercolour graphite, Liquid Pencil and more!
There are many types of eraser in all shapes and sizes. The two main types you'll need to know are the kneaded erasers (left) and plastic erasers (right).
Kneaded erasers are soft and can be shaped into whatever shape you want. You can shape them small to clean up small areas, or press them flat to erase or lift graphite off large areas to lighten the tones.
Plastic erasers are the typical firm erasers. I like the Staedtler Mars erasers because they erase clean and the clumps will stick together which makes easy to remove from paper.
Get both types. They are inexpensive.
There's a huge variety of pens out there with all sorts of tips and inks for all sorts of purpose. Disposable pens are convenient but not so good for the environment. Refillable ones allow you to use your own inks which will save you money in the long run, and are good for the environment.
For beginners, it's actually okay to just get any affordable pen you see at the stationary shop. Once you're more comfortable with drawing with pens, you can explore other types of pens.
The pens above have their own characteristics.
From left to right
- Uniball Jetstream uses waterproof ballpoint pen ink
- Pentel Touch has a felt brush tip that can produce thin and thick lines. Ink is watersoluble.
- Pentel Pocket Brush Pen uses bristles and behaves just like a brush
- Uniball Vision needlepoint with coloured waterproof inks
- Copic fineliner has a felt tip that produces lines with uniform thickness. Ink is waterproof.
- Rotring Isograph is a refillable fineliner
- Lamy Safari fountain pen comes with a metal nib that produces lines with uniform thickness. You can use your own ink
- Dip pen comes with a flexible nib capable of producing Extra Fine (EF) lines to thick lines.
- Glass dip pen is made of glass and produces lines with consistent thickness
- Special nib dip pens for creating unusual strokes
- Bamboo pen for producing lines with rough edges
Fineliners are sometimes called multiliners. These are basically needlepoint pens.
The pens above are just some of my pens. Within the fountain pen category, there are different types of nibs that can produce different types of lines. The more you research on pens, the more you'll be tempted to buy more and more.
But generally speaking, if two pens produce the same lines, they are the same to me regardless of price and body design. I like cheap pens and pens that have specialty nibs (expensive).
If you want to get a fountain pen, get Lamy Safari or TWSBI (recommended) as they are quite affordable and have good build quality.
Fountain pens can come with disposable ink cartridges or ink converters (refillable), and some pens even have the ink convertor built into the pen. Definitely get an ink convertor if the fountain pen doesn't come with one. You have to check. Using fountain pens will give you access to a large variety of inks and colours.
Check out all my fountain pen reviews at https://www.parkablogs.com/tags/fountain-pen-reviews
Get some white gel pens. These are so useful for creating highlights, contrasts against dark colours or black.
There are two types of inks, waterproof and non-waterproof.
Waterproof inks are usually pigmented which means there are physical particles that "create" the colour you see. Black ink is created with carbon particles and is waterproof and archival (the black will never fade). Waterproof inks are great to use with watercolour. Downside is these inks can clog fountain pens so you must only use inks that specifically mention they are safe for fountain pens. Otherwise, you should only use those waterproof pigmented inks with dip pens.
Non-waterproof or watersoluble inks are usually dye inks. These come in a huge variety of colours and are safe for use in fountain pens, markers, brushes and brush pens. Downside is the colours will fade when exposed to light for long periods of time. These are fun to use but don't get too carried away and buy too many colours. Just start with a few colours and buy more only after you know that you enjoy using coloured inks.
Waterproof inks may or may not be pigmented. The main reason to choose pigmented ink is because they are lightfast and will not fade when exposed to light. The black "permanent" waterproof ink from Sharpie markers can fade to brown when exposed to light for months.
Watersoluble inks are definitely not pigmented.
If you want to use inks with dip pens, buy ink bottles that are short and have a large opening.
And paper can come in loose sheets, in blocks or sketchbooks.
For beginners, I recommend going with a ream of A4 copier paper rather than sketchbooks. I have written extensively on how to choose a sketchbook for drawing so you may read that if you want to go the sketchbook route.
I recommend a ream of A4 paper (at least 80gsm) because get you get way more value for the money spent. For less than US $10 you get 500 pieces of paper. Most sketchbooks that cost as much don't even give you more than 200 pages (100 pieces of paper). When you're a beginner and learning, you won't want to worry about drawing on expensive paper. Just go forth and draw. If you mess up, throw the paper away and get another piece.
If you feel like your work has improved, you can switched to sketchbooks which will help you collect your sketches or art in a convenient package that you can refer to in the future.
There are different paper for different purpose.
Drawing paper usually has some texture on it and works well with pencil, pen and inks.
Smooth paper works well with inks and markers but not so well with pencils because there's no texture for the graphite to grip onto. Copier paper is considered smooth but alright for practice.
Watercolour paper is treated (the process is called sizing) to prevent water from soaking through the surface so that you can paint on it.
Bristol board or paper is just thicker smoother paper good for inks and markers.
Marker paper is treated so that when used with alcohol markers, the alcohol inks are less likely to bleed through.
Choose the right type of paper for the media you use and you will save money. E.g. Don't use expensive watercolour paper to practice pen and ink drawings, or use exclusively with pencil, when cheaper drawing or smooth paper will do.
Paper come in different weight (gsm). Writing paper is usually around 60-120gsm. Drawing paper can be 80-150gsm. Watercolour paper is usually at least 150gsm and can go up to 600gsm. Thicker paper will allow you to use heavier media, e.g. watercolour. Thicker paper also prevents the media from soaking through.
Choose acid-free paper whenever you can because they will not turn yellow with age.
Paper can also come in different colours. Stillman and Birn's Nova Trio series sketchbooks have white, beige and black paper bound together. Coloured paper are best used with (opaque) coloured pencils, graphite, white pastel.
I do not recommend markers for beginners because they are expensive. Use markers only when you know you want to achieve a certain look or style.
You need to get one marker for one colour. To have many colours, you'll need to buy many markers and that's expensive. You can mix colours by overlaying markers but you'll still be limited by the number of markers you have.
There are two types of markers, water-based and alcohol based. It's easier to blend colours with water-based markers because they don't dry instantly like alcohol markers. Water-based markers are also less likely to soak through paper if the paper is thick enough. Water-based markers can also be pigmented which means the colours will be lightfast and do not fade.
Some markers are refillable but even with refills they are still expensive because you need to buy a refill for each colour you have.
Watercolour is more versatile than markers and there are many advantages to using them.
You can colour mixing and colour harmony with watercolour. With three primary colours (yellow, magenta and blue), you can mix a huge variety of colours. With two sets of primary colours, you an mix an almost infinite variety of colours.
Watercolour are used with brushes so you can paint details as well as cover large areas. Imagine using markers to cover a large area on paper -- you'll have to buy a new marker next week.
Watercolour are quite convenient. You can get them in watercolour pan sets with pre-selected colours and these box sets usually come with a palette box for mixing colours. You can also buy watercolour tubes instead which will last longer but you'll need to buy a palette for mixing. Porcelain palettes are great for mixing colours and are easy to clean. Plastic palettes are cheaper but colours will stain the white plastic.
There are so many watercolour products out there to choose from, watercolour crayons, watercolour pencils, watercolour brushes pens and watercolour blocks and more.
Watercolour is value for money if you get the right brand and quality. Check out this article for the best value-for-money watercolour sets:
Get the brush for the medium you are using. If you use watercolour, use a watercolour brush.
The shape of the brush will determine the type of strokes in can create.
For beginners, just get a round brush which will allow you to draw thin and thick lines. A size 6 brush is good. If you like to draw details, get a size 2 as well. And if you want to paint big, get a size 10, or a squirrel brush.
Watercolour brushes made with sable hair are the best. They hold good amount of water and can retain a sharp point. But they are pricey, and some people may not like animal products. Quality of synthetic hair brushes are getting better each year and some can even rival natural hair brushes.
The brush I always recommend is the Da Vinci Casaneo which uses synthetic hair. Da Vinci Casaneo can hold a good amount of water, and brush hair can taper to a point making it easy to draw details. Casaneo is also available with different types of shape, round, flat, mop, sword.
Certain watercolour brushes are available in collapsible format that makes bringing them around easy. Always get collapsible ones if you can because they are more convenient compared to wooden brushes. Only downside is collapsible brushes aren't available in as many shapes and sizes compared to wooden brushes.
Waterbrushes are usually plastic body brushes with built-in water reservoir, and they usually have synthetic bristles. These are more difficult to use compared to traditional brushes because you need more control with the water supply.
Waterbrushes are meant to be used outdoors. The main advantage of waterbrushes is they are convenient to use since you don't have to bring extra water supply with you outdoors.
They are not that expensive so you can probably get one or two to try. Get one with a large bristle. The waterbrush brands I recommend are Holbein, Pentel and Kuretake and I have them reviewed here.
Care for your supplies
Here's a quick list on how to take care of your art supplies so that they can last longer and work as expected.
Don't drop them.
Only use inks that mention specifically that they are safe to use in fountain pens. If you use pigmented inks in fountain pens, clean the pen out if you are not going to use the pen for weeks.
Make sure you cap the ink bottle properly or the ink will dry. You can drop stainless (rust-proof) ball bearing inside to make it easy to shake the bottle. When used with dip pens, it's good to clean the dip pen with fountain pen cleaning liquid after each use because the India ink will coat the pen nib and affect the performance.
Do not use India inks in fountain pens.
Mold can grow on watercolour if the conditions are damp and dark. If you use a watercolour pan box, make sure to dry the box completely before storing away. It's best if you can ventilate the box without closing the lid completely. I have a lot of mold problem because of humidity in my area so I have my frequently used watercolour boxes beside the window where the sunlight can get to them to heat the boxes.
Always store watercolour brushes horizontally whenever possible. When watercolour brushes are dry completely, you can store them vertically.
Always clean your brushes after each use. You can just clean with water. For more thorough cleaning you can use brush soap. You can also use brush soap to shape the brush tip to get a sharp point.
If you use collapsible brushes, make sure the brush is completely dry before you store it away. If you cap the brush when it's still damp, mold can grow (the next day in my case).
If you use black ink with brush, it's good to dedicate just a single brush for inking. Black ink is difficult to clean and will contaminate other colours.
Get acid-free paper.
The sizing on watercolour paper can deteriorate over time so don't keep watercolour paper for too long. When sizing deteriorates, the water and paint will soak through the paper which is what you do not want when painting watercolour. To better protect watercolour paper, you can store them in big air tight containers.
With proper care, your art supplies can last for a long time.
Have I left out anything? Let me know if you have any questions in the comments section.
And if you're looking for detailed art product reviews, check out this page