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Pencils, Paint Brushes and Canvas: The Essential Illustrator Tools

By Yann, published on 22/03/2018 Blog > Arts and Hobbies > Drawing > The Essential Art Equipment for Drawing & Painting

Art lovers don’t stop at visiting museums to enjoy their favourite canvases; they also take brush to hand to impose their imagination onto canvas or sketchpad… or computer.

Expressing oneself artistically has many benefits, one of them being a calming effect: drawing and painting can reduce stress.

While sketching, the artist detaches from the strain of today’s ultra-connected world.

Artistic endeavours work the right side of the brain, improve hand-eye coordination, and can even lower blood pressure.

To effectively render art, one must observe nature and be able to faithfully reproduce it, without letting your left brain influence artistic vision.

Right brain? Left brain?

To fully grasp how the brain’s hemispheres influence perception and artistic ability, you should check out Betty Edwards‘ book: Drawing on the Right Side.

As fascinating as the topic of the human brain is, our interest lies elsewhere, at least for this article.

While art can be made of just about everything, drawing anything, be it the human form or a rose, requires certain implements.

From graphic tablets to charcoal and colored pencils, we now discuss the logistics of art creation.

Graphic tablets are at the cutting edge of digital art Wacom is generally considered the leader in graphic arts Source: Pixabay Credit: NinjaBeaver

The Best Graphic Tablets for Illustrators and Cartoonists

Of course, graphic tablets are not limited only to drawing manga or cartoon figures.

However, if you wish to break into that market as a graphic designer, you must know a thing or two about how to draw, using such a medium.

Today’s mainstream art creation is inextricably tied to the digital world.

If you have ever opened any computer application meant for making doodles and attempted to draw, using only your optical mouse, trackball or touchscreen, you know how inexact, nay! downright dismal! those apps can be.

Not with a graphic tablet.

Such a peripheral tool connects to your computer via USB; some models can even connect wirelessly.

It is a pressure-sensitive pad that comes equipped with a stylus; and that is where the resemblance to a graphite pencil and drawing paper end.

It can be disconcerting, at first, to trace the tip of the stylus along, with nothing appearing under your hand, as it would if you were sketching on paper.

Producing art on a graphic tablet calls for an evolution of your hand-eye coordination. Using this equipment, you would see lines and contour appear on a computer screen, unless you invest in an LCD tablet, which has a display built-in.

Also, whereas traditional artists use an eraser – a completely separate tool from the pencil, for shading and blending, graphic tablets have a totally different utility for that purpose.

And, while a purist might have a pencil case full of implements of different thicknesses and composition for varying the darkness and broadness of pencil strokes, a graphic artist needs only to press harder on the sensitive pad to make a thicker, darker line.

Selecting a graphic tablet comes down to your needs: are you taking a Drawing for Beginners class, and your art teacher requires you to furnish a tablet?

Are you a professional portrait artist, ready to modernise your studio?

Do you just like cartooning, or drawing cool things?

If you are ready to make your mark (pun intended) on the graphic arts world, here is what you should look for in a tablet:

  • the size of the tablet (the area available to draw in)
  • the resolution of the tablet
  • the stylus and pad sensitivity
  • software compatibility (with your computer’s operating system)

You can find such tablets at a range of prices, depending on the features and resolution you are looking for.

Entry-level ones start at around £50; high-grade tablets can run into the hundreds of pounds.

In art circles, the Wacom tablet is generally recognised as the leader in the technology of digital drawing.

Online Interactive White Boards

If you are not quite sure of where you artistic aspirations might lead, you may want to hold off on investing in a digital painting device.

Interactive white boards online is an alternative to purchasing a graphic tablet.

In an IWB, as such applications are known, you have a collaborative visual communication tool that allows you to create art drawing online.

You can share your work and invite your friends’ or colleagues’ input on the art project.

IWBs have been taken out of the boardroom, where they were originally used to brainstorm, mind map, and cultivate ideas.

Online, they have seduced a wider, more diverse audience, including schools, and individuals who are learning how to draw.

These web-based white boards, while great to hone your drawing skills, also suit as:

  • element integrators: you can add photos, music, voice and video to your artistic expression
  • chat gateways to other artists; great for developing your drawing techniques
  • export portals for your sketches: you can upload them into your blog or other social media outlet
  • an open document sharing marketplace

Naturally, each IWB has its own properties. Some permit step by step drawing among a group of artists while others forbid collaboration.

Most sites allow basic drawing lessons in figure drawing with only a login; others demand a fee to access their sites’ premium features.

If you want to try your hand at perspective drawing or three dimensional art online, here are a few sites to try:

  • Flockdraw
  • Deekit
  • Aww app
  • PixiClip

Working on these sites, and perhaps benefiting from drawing tutorials by an established illustrator, makes having a go at these easy drawing pages worth your time.

As long as you are buying pencils, how about a line of coloured pencils? The top names in pencil manufacturers also make quality coloured pencils Source: Pixabay Credit: Holiho

For Those Who Prefer the Pencil

Are you one of those who would rather draw people or a still life, feeling the reassuring warmth of a sketchbook, with the smell of Conté crayons wafting about?

There is a lot to be said for an artist who knows how to draw people without the benefit of technology to erase erroneous contour lines.

So: how do you go about choosing your drawing pencil without first receiving instruction on the different types in art school? 

Here are a few tips, to get you started…

Drawing pencils are classified along two broad lines:

  1. Hard points, or H-series pencils are generally used for technical drawings, or a quick sketch. Lines and shadows erase well with a simple rubber.
  2. Black points, or B-series enjoy expansive use by artists of all stripes. Their greasy leads permit wider, darker lines, the more pressure that is put on them while drawing. A kneaded eraser is generally necessary to obliterate erroneous contours.

Both categories of pencil are rated from their initial – H and B, up to #10: the higher the number, the greater its particular quality.

An H10 pencil would be most brittle and a B10, most greasy.

Staedtler, Derwent and Faber-Castell are all time-tested brands with solid reputations. Each brand produces a line of colored pencils, as well.

You could also opt for mechanical pencils and buy a stock of different leads.

In addition to ye olde pencil of pencil and paper fame, you may also want to try:

  • Charcoal pencils: indispensable for drawing faces or creating light and shadow.
    • Be sure to spray a sealer on your charcoal drawing once it is finished.
  • Hematite pencils give a Renaissance feel to your renderings.
    • This is a great medium for working your colored pencils techniques
  • Pierre Noire: comparable to charcoal in every way but the mess, it gives a fine, matte black finish to your pencil drawing
  • the blue pencil, essential for drawing anything that you will later scan into a computer to finish.
    • Anything drawn in this particular shade of blue will disappear when scanned or copied.

First You Sketch, and then You Paint

If your artistic pleasure goes beyond how to sketch, or pen and ink drawing, you may want to paint.

In what medium?

Whether you choose oil, watercolor or acrylic painting, one factor remains the same: what brush to use?

In buying all of your drawing tools and paint brushes, but especially those for painting, you should be aware of three main categories that influence your purchase:

  • The handle: wooden handles feel more natural, warmer in your hand. They come in an assortment of lengths, meant to help you gain perspective (longer handles) or render fine details exquisitely (short handles).
  • The bristles are made of synthetic or natural fibres. The first are suitable of acrylics; the others for watercolor or oil.
  • Seven different brush heads permit painting anything from the finest of lines and expressive faces to realistically texturing clouds.

Absolute beginners would be best served by purchasing a full complement of brushes, ones that come in a packaged set, rather than individual implements.

At least until they have decided whether they prefer rendering portraits in oil, as opposed to still lifes in acrylic.

Why not take your coloured pencil sketches to the next level with watercolours? For artists ready to graduate from coloured pencils to paint, there is a variety of media to choose from Source: Pixabay Credit: Bodobe

Paint Brushes Need Canvas

As long as you have settled on paint as your medium, you should consider what you will paint on.

How should you choose your canvas? And how much will it cost?

Any artistic endeavour requires investment: of time, of passion, and, of course, of money.

Depending on the type and size of canvas you select, your cost can vary significantly.

Types of canvas include linen, cotton and synthetic cloth. If you are particularly adept at portrait drawing, you may even invest in what is called portrait canvas: fine-woven linen.

Synthetic canvas is relatively new on the art scene. In spite of traditionalists mistrusting this untested material, it is a cost-effective solution to more expensive weaves.

Regardless of type and quality of your canvas material, size plays a big part in pricing your art canvases.

Canvases are sized in two formats: landscape and portrait. Under each header exists assorted dimensions, ranging from just a few inches square to wall-sized tableaux.

If you would like to draw a cat playing with yarn, a suitably-sized canvas will cost substantially less than should you want to depict a realistic drawing of a battle.

The Cost of Framing a Portrait…

or anything else you draw.

After all of your investment in drawing materials and art lessons; learning how to use negative space to highlight your subject… guess what?

Unless your medium is online drawing, you should invest in a quality frame to display your work.

And, why not? Doesn’t your particular brand of realism deserve display?

It should come as no surprise that, the larger the frame needed, the more expensive it will be.

You can trim your cost by selecting a metal frame – suitable if your art follows the style of contemporary artists; or a less ornate wooden frame.

In either case, you should opt for an intermediary between the frame and your two point perspective: either a marie-louise or a passe partout.

These are a type of mounting that subtly highlight your painting and help protect it.

For oils, it places a barrier between frame and canvas; for oil pastels or mixed media, it keeps your work off your frame’s glass cover.

You might know that professional framers, artists onto themselves, are notoriously close-mouthed about the price of framing artwork.

However, most offer free quotes: take them up on that! Request several, and then choose the best price.

Now, you have a general idea of what it take to pursue art as a vocation, or just as a pastime.

Unless you are unusually gifted in the field, it will most likely be of no use to watch art videos.

Why not take online drawing lessons? Or sign up for an art instruction class at your local community centre? With Superprof you can find drawing courses London, art classes in Bristol or Sketching lessons in Glasgow. The world is your oyster!

You can learn shading techniques, how to add texture to your portrait painting; everything from crosshatching to caricature.

Once you have masted the basics, you can move on to more complex, exacting work: drawing the human form, accurately draw hands, and even toss out a Chibi Totoro!

Surely, you don’t need anyone to tell you what to draw…

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