Materials and resources

Pro’s guide to what stuff you’ll need, equipment, kit, paraphernalia, gear, bits and pieces

I interviewed an experienced artist (Mayko) to ask what the best equipment for a budding life drawer would be.  She gave the disclaimer that different materials and tools will work for different artists, and a process of trial and error will be needed for everyone. However, she did reveal her top picks for good gear to get you started. Here’s the scoop:

Pencils!

There are materials you can use other than pencils, but they’re a great place to start. Pencils come with a bewildering range of code numbers which indicate how hard they are. All you really need to know is that a beginner should use a 2B or B pencil for drawing, which is fairly soft. It’s easier to make large sweeping movements with these pencils.

If it says F or H on it, it’s too hard.

Good brands include Mitsubishi (look for the Tombo range, which are hard to find in some countries, but are the top choice), Staedtler (get the blue ones: Mars Lumograph), Caran d’ache Grafwood Graphite Pencils and Faber-castell 9000 Graphite pencil.

Charcoals

Willow charcoal of Daler-Rowney and Coates are both great. However, they need fixative after drawing, otherwise marks will fade away easily.

Nitram Fine Art Charcoal (from Jackson art) is excellent. They’re more expensive but one stick lasts much longer than other brand’s.

Kneading Rubber / eraser

The recommendation here is a kneading or putty rubber. With this, you can be very accurate since you can mold it to the shape and size you require. Also, you can achieve more nuanced rubbing out, so the putty rubber itself becomes like a drawing tool.

Edit: I’ve had some problems using putty rubbers – very soft putty rubbers can actually rub off onto your page, rendering the surface impossible to draw on. This isn’t an issue with most putty rubbers – but beware of the very soft ones. Some artists prefer traditional rubbers – you can cut bits off them to get good points and shapes so that you can be more accurate with them.

Paper/sketchpad

You should use paper of at the very minimum A3 size and preferably larger. It’s difficult for even experienced artists to draw well on a small page.

Loose sheets of sugar paper were recommended for quick charcoal drawings. They are cheap, have a nice off-white colour and are of sufficient quality. Generally, it’s more difficult to make drawings on pure white paper look good. If you want to go for higher quality, 90-120 Gms paper is a good bet for both pencils and charcoal (when using pencil).

Loose sheets are practical since they can be folded to the required size, and you needn’t worry about the sheets tearing away from the binding (which is quite annoying). They are also often cheaper than paper in pads. Also, if your life drawing class uses easels or boards, you will probably end up tearing sheets out of a pad and attaching them to the board anyway. However, not all art shops sell loose sheets. So sketchpads are very convenient, and are a fine choice also. Once again, choice of paper is very personal. It’s good idea to try out different texture of different brands.

Fabriano Academia makes some good loose sheets, available at Jackson Art. Daler-Rowney make good sketchpads, and there are good discounts at Cass Art.

Clips (optional)

If your life drawing class provides boards to draw on, you’ll need to attach them with either masking tape or clips. They should provide masking tape, but clips usually hold the paper better. It’s good to put a piece of cheap paper between your drawing paper and the board, so you’re not drawing directly on the hard wood surface.

Folder

To store and protect your precious pictures, it’s a good idea to have a hard folder. Try using a traditional style one, comprised of large hard boards, like this one. They come in handy when you don’t have a surface to draw on. They’re also good for making you feel like a proper artist ;)

Pastels

Schumincke and Unison are the very best brands for pastels, but pretty expensive. Also some of you might find them too soft to draw. Daler-Rowney and Rembrandt are excellent choice at affordable prices with good range of colour and not-too-soft/hard textures.

Got some tips, feedback or questions on good equipment for life drawing? Post a comment below!

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