Beginning Artist : Pick Your Tools : Drawing

Tree drawn with a classic stylus and nib. Carissa Carnahan 2014

Tree drawn with a classic stylus and nib.
Carissa Carnahan 2014

Drawing is usually the starting point for aspiring artists.  Can you get the stuff in your head onto paper.

Many tutorials start off with the suggestion of spending an hour a day drawing.  Do blind contour drawing, negative space, shading, still lives or from photo.  This is valid advice.  I think that you should do this AFTER you learn about your tools.

Learning the basics of drawing is very important, no matter what medium you choose.  It forces you to see things that are really there and what they look like.  The important thing is to see what is there and make your hands translate what your eyes see onto paper.  The way this is done depends on what tools you are using.

Common materials for drawing and sketching includes a variety of graphite pencils, various charcoals, conte, ink, chalk and pastels.  The way you use them is very different and practice with them can improve skill with the more expensive mediums.


Pencils come in a wide variety of hardnesses,  the hardness dictates how dark the pencil shows up on the paper.  The harder it is the lighter it is.  Try buying a variety pack and try them out.


Charcoals are similar to pencils in that the harder they are the lighter they are on the paper.  They also very from what kind of plant they came from.  Vine charcoals are very dark and fragile while Tree charcoals tend to be lighter but sturdier.  Charcoals smear a lot and are good all kinds of things.  I like them for light studies (shadows.)  They take practice to use because they smudge easy and they never really come off the paper all the way.


Conte drawing tools


Conte is commonly referred to conte crayon.  It is a neat way clay like substance that is a cross between a pencil crayon and oil pastel.  The common colors are black, white and red/brown (sepia.)  Conte is a really smooth drawing material, one of my favorites.  Conte is great for textures, shading and tons of other things.


Chalks are common.  You used them to draw on side walks when you were a kid!  Artist chalks are brighter and more expensive.  They stay around longer (on paper) when sealed correctly.  Chalks blend really well and can create amazing treatments. Messy and fun.

You can also use high end chalk pigment to create your own paints and cosmetic products (hair and nail colors are common.)


Pastels come in two varieties, dry (essentially chalk) and oil.  They are hard to get the hang of right away.  More is not always better with them.  It seems counter intuitive, but it is true.  I like the feel of oil pastels over chalk.  They are smoother on the page and your hands do not dry out.


Inks are more of a finishing product. Inks can be used from a standard pen (go Bic!) or you can go modern with fine tip felt pens or sharpies.  You can also go traditional and get a fountain pen or stylus with a variety of nibs.  Inks are great for practicing lines, line shading techniques and stippling (drawing with dots.)

Art supply stores usually have all of these items in the same area.  Start off with the cheap ones.  As you get better move up to the more expensive ones.

I hope that this opens you new artists up to some new mediums!


A variety of pencils and the type of lines they make.


2 thoughts on “Beginning Artist : Pick Your Tools : Drawing

    • Pencils are awesome. Especially when you find out that the ones you use for tests are not the only ones available. All types of artists use them for all sorts of reasons. Pencils connect us artists.

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