Consider these two paper selection situations:
Situation 1: you see, through a window, a lovely bird on the branch of a tree in the garden. You grab a discarded junk mail envelope and a ballpoint pen from the table and quickly sketch the scene. This emergency drawing on an envelope becomes one of most memorable drawings you’ve ever drawn.
Situation 2: you go to a life drawing class without bringing your own paper, so you use the provided at the class. You realise soon enough that the paper is not very good, and you can’t make marks and lines as well as you do normally. You are frustrated during the class, and tell yourself you’ll never forget to bring the paper of your choice from now on.
We aren’t recommending high quality paper because we are paper snobs. For life drawing, you should be little fussy about your choice of paper, because using a suitable piece of paper actually makes your practice sessions more productive. This is not just because the right paper results in good looking drawings, but because the right type of paper will ‘take’ your intended lines more faithfully. You are more likely to ‘feel at one’ with your drawing while you draw the model. Note that the ‘right’ paper is not necessarily expensive paper!
We recommend you buy individual sheets, rather than sketchbooks or pads. The latter is more convenient to carry, but the sizes and types of paper are limited and tend to be more expensive per sheet. Unfortunately not many street art shops stock sheet paper. So we encourage you to explore good online art shops – they tend to have good selections of paper sold as sheets or even rolls!
For pencil, colour pencil, chalk:
Surrey cartridge paper
Strathmore 400 drawing paper
Arches Hot pressed. This is actually watercolour paper, but is excellent for pencil. It’s very expensive though.
For pastel and charcoal
Fabriano Ingres. ‘Ingres’ is a general term for paper with a fine stripy texture. The feel varies by manufacturers.
Strathmore 500 Charcoal. This is excellent but expensive paper.
Daler Rowney Ingres
Sugar paper (very cheap but take charcoal/pastel well. Not suitable for building layers though)
Wrapping paper. This is not for everyone, but some people use this very cheap paper wonderfully.
Fabriano Tiziano (Pastel paper)
Ultimately, the best answer for your depends on your style and preference. We all use different pencils, pastels, paints, techniques and hand pressures to draw. So what is best for some might not be the best choice for others. Also the availability of specific paper differs by the country you live.
We hope that the selection outlined above is a useful starting point as you figure out what paper works best for your style.
Update – take a look in the comments below – there are some great additional insights into paper!