I sometimes think there is nothing so delightful as drawing.
~ Vincent van Gogh ~
As young children, we grab some pencils, paints or markers, scrawl on some swirls and lines and a figure or two ... and know we can draw. Somewhere, between childhood and adulthood, many of us stop drawing because we think we can't.
The thing is, everyone can draw, and everyone can learn to draw well. If you feel inspired to create some art — do it.
'Oh, I don't have the right supplies,' you cry. 'I'm no artist!'
Poppycock. Paper and a pencil — that's all you need. Maybe an eraser, which you'll probably find lurking in the back corner of your junk drawer.
After a while, though, you'll probably want a little more. A few extra accessories, some new drawing techniques and just one or two different art supplies — watercolour, inks, acrylic paints, brushes, oil paint, an easel, canvas ... and more pencils.
Let's do it.
Drawing for Beginners — What Do You Need to Know?
If you stick to pencils and paper for a while, drawing is pretty affordable. If you want your drawings to draw attention, however, you can't just use any old pencil or scrap of paper. There are good quality art supplies and bad — you just need to recognise the difference or your 'as good as free' hobby could end up costing you more.
What is on the 'must buy' list?
If you've taken up drawing lessons, you can ask the teacher for a list of recommended supplies. Don't feel you have to rush out and buy it all at once, it can add up quickly in addition to the cost of your class.
Really, the main thing you need is a good quality set of lead pencils along with an eraser, sharpener, ruler and a pencil case to keep everything together. Most drawing courses provide the paper, but it's a good idea to ask — just in case.
Aren't all pencils the same?
You probably call your pencil a 'lead' but they're actually graphite — which is perfectly safe to use. Think of it as your best friend.
Artists often use a graphite pencil for the preliminary drawing which they then fill in with paint (watercolour, acrylic, oil) or perhaps pens, markers or inks — unless the drawing is a complete pencil sketch. If you're doing this, you'll need to know that not all graphite pencils are the same.
Pencils differ in their hardness or softness. The HB pencil is probably the one you remember from your school days. On either side of the HB are the soft (B) pencils and the hard (H) pencils — and all their gradations. When you're just starting out with your drawing lessons, you won't need all the gradations. Perhaps just an HB and a 2B. The 2B will let you draw lighter lines and helps with darker shading.
From time to time, of course, you'll need to sharpen your pencils. Did you know there's a right way and a wrong way to do that?
The importance of correct sharpening
What the pencil sharpener looks like is of little importance to the artist — it's all about whether the sharpener leaves a nice tip and doesn't break the lead inside the casing.
A quality sharpener is essential, but the way you turn the sharpener is important too. Most children learn to sharpen their pencils by twisting the pencil — that causes stress on the lead, so instead you should turn the sharpener.
Some artists prefer to use a knife or a razor to sharpen their pencils as they feel this makes it much more easy to shape the point perfectly, and it is more gentle on the graphite.
You can get more tips like this when you join a drawing tutorial (Melbourne)
What's the best type of eraser?
There are two schools of thought about erasers — one being that they are essential art supplies, the other that they will only hold you back because you are forever 'rubbing things out' (and creating holes in your paper). If you watch professional artists at work, you'll realise that their use of the eraser is limited to removing excess lines once the drawing is completed. It's just one step of the art process.
As with pencils, there are many types of erasers, each serving a different purpose.
- Gum eraser — soft gummy texture that crumbles on the paper as you use it. It's not particularly precise but more gentle on your paper.
- Rubber eraser — the all-purpose eraser you would have used at school.
- Kneaded eraser — looks like a blob of clay or Blu-tack. You can shape these however you want, so they're great for precision. They also work well used in conjunction with shading to give that feathery effect, and they don't tear holes in your paper.
- Pencil eraser — looks like a pencil and can be sharpened like one.
- Vinyl eraser — super hard and can even lift inks off your paper.
Once you've got your eraser, sharpener and a couple of pencils, you're set and ready for those life drawing lessons (Melbourne).
What Extra Supplies and Accessories Do You Need for More Advanced Techniques?
Working on your art can be a great way to relax and unwind on the weekends or during the holidays. Once you've been pencil drawing for a while, you might be getting curious about other techniques, materials and supplies, and itching to try them.
There are so many online video lessons these days, you don't need to step outside your home to take an art tutorial. Skillshare is an incredibly popular and cost effective platform featuring artists who share their techniques and hints in an easy to follow, step by step video tutorial. Many artists also offer online lessons or programs through their websites, and some, like Jane Davenport, also sell a range of gorgeous art supplies and accessories.
If you are sick of staying at home though (and who isn't right now), your local art gallery will sometimes run art lessons in conjunction with exhibitions. At these sessions, you can learn watercolour techniques, how to paint with inks or inside tips about oil painting from the masters.
Of course, enrolling in a course of art lessons or engaging a tutor are also great options. As with any skill you learn, though, you need to practise in between lessons — so, back to the store you go to get those supplies.
Every artist has their own favourite supplies and brands.
When you're looking to broaden your scope and improve your skills, you don't need an overflowing supplies cupboard to achieve this. In fact, less is more and if you can be patient, you'll end up being more decisive and knowledgeable if you take a step by step approach to investing in new supplies.
Different pencils for different techniques
Back to drawing — if you've mastered the sketching and shading with HB and 2B pencils, you might be ready to explore the full range of graphite available. The graduations go from 9B (softest) right up to 9H (hardest) but how could you possibly need that many pencils?
Understanding the effects of the different pencil strengths will allow you to add highlights, shadows and contrast to your drawings, making it easy to bring them to life. An artist also knows that each pencil has a specific use, for example, H pencils tend to be used for technical drawings, whereas a B pencil is more likely to be used for a realistic drawing.
Not only pencils, but the type of paper you use can affect how your final drawing or painting looks.
Isn't all paper the same?
It's always handy to have a supply of paper at home so you can practise any time the mood hits you. When you're starting out, A4 photocopy paper will do the trick, but soon enough you'll learn that different techniques and media require different papers.
The weight of the paper is one important thing to consider and your art teacher can advise you on this depending on whether you are using pencil, watercolour, acrylic, oil or inks. Artist sketchbooks or pads are ideal because the paper is thicker and you can keep all your work together. They come in different sizes, and it's always nice to have a smaller A5 sketchbook to throw in your bag with a pencil or two and your kneaded eraser.
Many artists who work as illustrators invest in quality light tables. A light table allows you to copy and trace your outline drawings when you need to, for example, draw the same character in multiple settings or in slightly different poses. Of course, many artists are also now moving into the digital space and using tools and apps such as Procreate.
An easel is also a useful piece of equipment to purchase. Like paper, easels come in different sizes and give you the stability and flexibility to angle your paper or canvas in the best position for you.
Looking After Your Artwork and Art Supplies
Leaving your art materials and supplies lying around once you've finished for the day is not only messy but can be wasteful. Many supplies, such as paint and markers and light sensitive and will fade or dry out. Paper, too, can become brittle or yellowed if left in a sunny spot. Your kneaded eraser is really good at picking up dust and dirt particles, and we won't even talk about what happens when you fail to wash your brushes and leave them to dry.
In the same way that you can view a video of step by step art techniques, the artist tutors running these lessons will also discuss how to care for your materials at the end of the video, so don't stop watching once the painting is done.
Protecting your art work should also be a priority. You want to keep it flat, so it doesn't tear, bend or become dog-eared. If your art work is not already in a sketchbook or pad, then you should be keeping it in a large art folder or ring binder with plastic sleeves (although, make sure the painting is completely dry before adding it as it will stick if it's even the tiniest bit wet.
Doing a mini stocktake of your supplies every 6 months or so is a good idea. This allows you to check for damaged or depleted supplies. The last thing you want is to be ready to add the finishing touches to your whimsical lady only to discover the pink salmon colour has run out and there's none left in your box of watercolour crayons.
The Best Places to Shop for Art Materials
You can find art materials and supplies almost on every corner — from supermarkets and department stores to elite art supply centres and everything in between. Of course, if you shop in the supermarket, the range (and quality) will be limited, however, there are artists who have developed a style based solely on supplies from budget chains.
Obviously, the best selection (and advice) will be available in specialised art shops. Stores like Eckersley's Art & Craft and Australian Art Supplies are usually well stocked and employ informed and knowledgeable staff members. They can be on the pricey side, but tend to have sales frequently, so get yourself on their mailing list.
There are plenty of online sites that specialise in a full range of art products, and they will often have a range of video links demonstrating how to use different materials to achieve a range of effects. As always, when ordering from an online shop be cautious that you are actually getting what you think you are. Ask for samples if you can get them.
In drawing, nothing is better than the first attempt.
~ Pablo Picasso ~