Shopping for a Basic Tool Kit for Drawing

With my Master Classes in Fine Drawing  underway at the studio, I thought it would be useful post a list of basic materials that we use, and the best suppliers local to Bloomsbury. I have always maintained that one should use the best possible materials for everything, whether it is a rough sketch or finished piece, regardless of experience or professional standing. It makes a big difference to one’s attitude towards drawing – cheap and nasty paper and pencils are discouraging and annoying to use, producing poor results. I am going to keep it simple, listing the stuff that is absolutely tops on my list – but having said this, these are entirely personal choices, and you should feel free to experiment with anything else that takes your eye.

My two favourite art shops are in Bloomsbury:

L. Cornelliisen & Son in Great Russell Street, a few doors down from the British Museum, has been supplying materials to artists since 1855. It is a wonderful old-fashioned shop full of fabulous stuff that you cannot get anywhere else – rare pigments and paints, custom-made tools, and silverpoint drawing supplies. The staff are all artists, and very knowledgeable about the materials and how to use them – it is always worth asking their advice about anything.

Shepherds Falkiners specializes in fine paper and bookbinding supplies, and all manner of other useful things for artists, craftspeople and conservators. They also run classes in bookbinding, and again, they have a dedicated and very knowledgeable staff.

Basic drawing toolkit: Fine quality paper, a range of pencils, a scalpel for sharpening them, putty rubber for cleaning and optionally some loose graphite and a magnifying glass.

For a basic drawing tool kit I recommend:

  • Paper: FABRIANO ARTISTICO – I like the smoothest, which is called “Hot Pressed”, because I want to have the greatest fidelity to the actual mark-making of the drawing. It also comes in “Not” and “Rough” – “Rough” is the most textured, good for watercolour or pastel, “Not” literally means ‘not smooth and not rough’ – somewhere in-between. Fabriano Artistico is a premium rag-paper, not made of wood-pulp so it does not deteriorate, and it is very tough and well-sized. It is a creamy-white colour with deckle edges, and comes in the old ‘Imperial’ sizes – a single sheet is about 56 X 76 cm. You can also buy a range of Fabriano sketchbooks.
  • Sketchbook or Journal: This is an artist’s essential tool; you should always have one on the go. Get one that you can carry around with you without too much hassle – A5 or A4 are good sizes. Personally I like MOLESKINE sketchbooks, with nice smooth cream-coated pages and a pocket to put stuff in. Both the shops I mention above carry unique ranges of beautiful books. It is an important personal accoutrement, so treat yourself!
  • Drawing Board: When you are drawing on loose paper you should always use a nice smooth drawing board. If you don’t, the drawing will pick up the texture of whatever it is resting on, which is not desirable. I use 6mm MDF cut to sizes ranging from A3 to A1, and a sheet of glossy FORMICA for a really smooth surface. Always keep your drawing board scrupulously clean, never let paint or smudges accumulate on the surface, as these will ruin the quality of your work.
  • Pencils: Always get the best quality pencils. such as FABER-CASTELL. You need a full range from very hard to very soft. A medium pencil is the ubiquitous HB, hard ones are in the H range and soft ones are in the B range. 8H is usually the hardest you can get, and 8B the softest. Hard pencils produce a lighter coloured line, but can indent the paper; they are very good for precise detail. Soft pencils produce a much darker line that can smudge, which I love for swift shading effects. Having a wide range encourages exciting drawing that has lots of variety in shade, contrast and texture. Further variety can be achieved by adding LOOSE GRAPHITE  (rub it on with a finger for large areas of shade) and CONTE PENCILS which come in an ultra black for deep contrast, or white for highlighting.
  • Scalpel: The traditional SWANN-MORTON SCALPEL with a general-purpose 10A blade is best for sharpening pencils. BUT REMEMBER THESE ARE VERY SHARP SO HANDLE WITH CARE!!! Use controlled strokes aimed away from your body (and keep your fingers behind the blade!) to pare away the wood to expose the pencil lead, then use gentle flicking strokes, turning the pencil all the time, to sharpen the point. You can further refine the point by giving it a gentle sanding on EMERY PAPER. Try to avoid using a pencil sharpener as they never really work and the twisting motion  just puts the lead inside the pencil under stress, causing it to break.
  • Rubber: I do not generally condone the use of rubbers in drawing, as they do not encourage clarity while working. Over-use of a rubber is always obvious and makes the work look laboured, it also destroys the texture of the paper. If it is absolutely essential to erase something only use a top quality eraser, like STAEDTLER MARS PLASTIC. Better still, use a KNEADED PUTTY RUBBER , which simply lifts a graphite mark without spoiling the paper. It is the best thing for cleaning up smudgy art-work after completion, and it can also be used creatively to make highlighted marks in an area of shading.
  • Rough paper: Always have some rough paper to hand, like a few sheets of printer-paper. Use a clean sheet to place under your drawing hand while you work, so that you do not smudge your work, and use another sheet to test pencil-points and strokes before committing to your drawing.

That’s about it for starters – you don’t have to buy everything at once, just enjoy getting it together bit by bit, and enjoy browsing and experimenting!

A page from my sketchbook