The 12 Best Tools to Help You Hone Your Drawing Skills
Drawing is an easy and creative way to decompress at the end of a long day, and unlike some arts and crafts activities that require an assortment of supplies, all you really need to start drawing is a reliable writing utensil and a piece of paper. "You can start with a pen or pencil on paper and experiment from there," says Brooklyn-based artist Carly Wilhelm. "The most important tool is your imagination." As you grow more comfortable with the sketching process, Boris Rasin, founder of Drawn Together NYC, says you'll get a better idea of what drawing mediums and tools are best for you. "The more sketches you produce, the more you'll figure out what works and what doesn't," he explains. "Every drawing tool has its own profile and you can get a great visual effect out of any material so long as it is appropriate for the project."
Once you've found a medium or tool you love, Wilhelm says you can experiment with different types of instruments and drawing effects. "That being said, if all you have is your kid's Crayola crayons, don't expect them to blend or have every color," she says. "Know your tool's limitations and use that knowledge to your advantage." Of course, this doesn't mean you have to spend an arm and a leg to create a beautiful, one-of-a-kind drawing at home. "I'm a firm believer in working with what you've got," Wilhelm says. "For example, cotton swabs are excellent for blending and much more economical than buying smudge sticks from an art store."
Curious which beginner-friendly drawing tools seasoned sketch artists say swear by? From tried-and-true sketchbooks to reliable kneaded erasers and more, Wilhelm and Rasin share their favorites ahead.
Perfect for drawing, shading, sketching, highlighting, and detailing, Wilhelm says the General's Draughting Pencil (No. G314) is a thick-core graphite pencil that's versatile and comfortable to hold. "This drawing pencil is soft, sturdy, and sharpens to a needle-like point that makes it very adaptable," she says.
Shop Now: General's Draughting Pencil (No. G314), $1.18, dickblick.com.
Mechanical Drawing Pencil
If you're in the market for a few drawing pencils that can produce an assortment of lines and textures, Rasin recommends the MozArt Supplies Mechanical Pencil Set, that includes four different tip sizes ranging from 0.3 to 0.9mm. "You'll save yourself time on sharpening," he says.
Shop Now: MozArt Supplies Mechanical Pencil Set, $11.99, amazon.com.
Graphite Drawing Pencil
For a high-quality set of affordable graphite drawing pencils, Wilhelm says to look no further than the Faber-Castell Creative Studio Graphite Sketch Pencil Set, which includes six pencils in varying degrees of lead hardness. "This is a great starter pencil set," she explains. "It's the perfect introduction to learning about lead hardness."
Shop Now: Faber-Castell Creative Studio Graphite Sketch Pencil Set, $7.86, amazon.com.
Wilhelm says sketchbooks, such as the Strathmore 350-9 300 Series Sketch Pad, are great all-medium options for beginners who are trying out different drawing tools, including pencils, colored pencils, and charcoal. "The smoothness of the paper provides an easy blend and allows most drawing tools to glide beautifully," she says. "The top opening (legal pad style) also allows for both right and left handed drawers."
Shop Now: Strathmore 350-9 300 Series Sketch Pad, 9" by 12", $7.29, amazon.com.
Practice doesn't always make perfect, which is why Wilhelm suggests keeping a good rubber eraser on hand as you practice drawing. "The Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser is great for removing graphite," she says. "It's smooth, precise, and it's rub-offs are easily blown away, so you won't smear your work."
Shop Now: Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser, $2.29, michaels.com.
Best used for erasing charcoal and graphite, Rasin says kneaded erasers are easy to maneuver and manipulate. "These erasers are durable and long-lasting," he says. "If they get dirty, just fold them over till you get to the clean part."
Shop Now: General's Kneaded Eraser, in Jumbo, $1.96, dickblick.com.
Power Pencil Sharpener
Don't let the simple looks of the Mobius & Ruppert Triple-Hole Sharpener fool you! Each of its three holes provides a different tip point for your drawing pencils. While the shortest hole allows you to sharpen the lead (or the core) of a pencil, the medium hole sharpens the wood casing, and the longest hole sharpens both the lead and the wood casing. "This pencil sharpener ensures a super sharp point every time," Wilhelm says.
Shop Now: Mobius & Ruppert Triple-Hole Sharpener, $4.50, dickblick.com.
Portable Pencil Sharpener
For a transportable pencil sharpener that won't leave a mess behind, Rasin recommends the Staedtler Double-Hole Tub Pencil Sharpener. "This is my old trusty sharpener," he explains. "The mess is contained and the whole operation is very portable."
Shop Now: Staedtler Double-Hole Tub Pencil Sharpener, $6.09, staples.com.
If you're interested in drawing with charcoal, Wilhelm says willow charcoal, which is composed of burnt twigs from willow trees, is a great way to try it. "Willow charcoal is a medium that takes a lot of practice and patience, but the results are gorgeous and cannot be achieved any other way," she explains. "I recommend experimenting with 25 medium sticks, so you'll be able to achieve light, medium, and dark tones as you get more familiar with the medium."
Shop Now: Coates Premium Artist's Willow Charcoal in Assorted Sizes, $6.30 for 25, dickblick.com.
Contained Charcoal Pencils
Unlike encased graphite pencils, charcoal often makes your hands dirty and as a result, leaves unsightly smudges and smears behind. That's why Rasin recommends General Pencil Peel & Sketch Charcoal Pencils, which are individually wrapped in paper that unravels as needed, for rookie charcoal users. "Charcoal is a super messy medium and these tools tend to contain and minimize that mess," he explains.
Shop Now: General Pencil Peel & Sketch Charcoal Pencils, $6.55 for three, amazon.com.
Also known as tortillons, blending stumps are composed of rolled paper and used to smudge or blend marks made of charcoal, pencils, and other drawing tools. "If you buy blending stumps, it's best to choose a plentiful pack with several sizes, as you will go through them pretty quickly," Wilhelm advises.
Shop Now: Artist's Loft Blending Tortillons, $2.49 for six, michaels.com.
Digital Drawing Tool
While mistakes are a natural part of the drawing process, Rasin says that investing in a digital stylus, such as an Apple Pencil, can make it easier to erase any lingering traces of past blunders. "Working with a tablet and stylus allows you to fully erase old mistakes," he explains. "It also allows you to nudge and edit parts of your drawing using editing tools, so sketchers can stay confident as they see their progress improve without getting stuck on those paper-based mistakes."
Shop Now: Apple Pencil (1st generation), $99, apple.com.