Over the years, I've tried many different kinds of drawing pens, pencils and papers. I'm the type of person who reads through hundreds of Amazon reviews and digs up other artist's recs, always searching for the right fit. It makes me so happy to find that perfect drawing tool! So I wanted to share my recs based on this experience.
Below are my current favorite drawing pens, pencils and tools. I try to keep it to a very trimmed-down curated set that is simple but good quality. Since I paint digitally, I do not get into paint recommendations here, but I'll do a separate post on my favorite digital tools.
Photo of some of my favorite things.
* Note: Photos below are from Amazon. Links will open a new tab to the product. This post is not sponsored in any way, just my personal preferences.
I really enjoy drawing with a blue pencil. It's actually my default drawing pencil. For some reason I feel I visually "think" better in blue than in grey. This one draws especially smooth and is erasable.
These pencils were originally used by animation artists because the color doesn't show up in certain types of scans, so it was easy to sketch and then ink over. I don't use it for that purpose, but it is still a nice base layer.
When I do need to use a graphic pencil, these are hands down the most beautiful and enjoyable pencils I've used. They're not cheap but I think they are totally worth it, especially because they tend to last a long time for me.
They are made out of genuine incense-cedar and have a removable eraser system. The lead is soft, smooth and draws wonderfully.
Occasionally, I enjoy sketching on toned paper (more on that below). These charcoal pencils are great for practicing shadows and light. In general, I like Prismacolor a lot for their colored pencils.
Amazon only carries a large set of these, which is good for those who need a full set (the kneaded eraser is nice for charcoal). However, I didn't need all of that so I bought a four-pack with three blacks and one white. Here's a similar product by Derwent, though I haven't tried it personally.
A good sharpener should not be so hard to find! I've gone through several that just break my finer leads and drive me nuts (I'm looking at you, Staedtler sharpener).
This Palomino Blackwing sharpenner is legit. It has two sharpeners, one to cut just the wood and one to cut just the lead. This is great for when you want to have a longer leader for sketching. It also seems to prevent the annoying lead breakage problem other sharpeners have. It is totally worth the $11 just for the prevention of headaches.
You probably know the frustration of a bad eraser. Ripped paper, smudged lines, ruined drawings, just plain doesn't work. These both work great!
I actually use the Muji click eraser (you can see it in my photo) but they don't sell it on line for some reason :( You can get the same eraser but in the traditional block eraser form though. I use the Staedtler Mars eraser, mostly because it works well and has lasted forever. When it finally runs out I'll probably get the Muji or MONO block.
I also really like detail erasers. They're good for when you want to erase just a part of your drawing (whether a mistake or to create a negative space) without messing it up. There are eraser shields for this purpose too but I like using these.
These pens are magical!!!! I love them. I didn't believe it at first (I remember those lame erasable pens of yesteryear), but these really, truly erase. There's a rubber on the cap that you use as an eraser, and there is NO eraser dust and it comes off clean. Of course there are still indents on the paper, just like with erasing a pencil mark.
I do all my final inking digitally so my pens are for sketching. Sometimes I'll ink a bit of my blue pencil drawings to get a sense of how it would look more finalized. It's kind of amazing because this pen doesn't really get erased by the blue pencil eraser and vice versa, so you can kind of erase one without erasing the other (although it's not totally clean, so not ideal for final pieces).
I have both of these and enjoy both. I really can't recommend one over the other, and they're both well-regarded. I have a slight preference for the Micron pens because they feel every so slightly smoother in my opinion.
The sets give you a nice range of thickness. I personally tend to use 0.3 and 0.5 the most, so if you just want to buy a couple I'd recommend those.
I can say I tried the Staedtler's versions of these pens and do not recommend those.
I still remember longing to won Prismacolor Markers as a child, and when I finally bought my first set as an adult I felt so happy! At $3-$5 per maker, they are not cheap, but they really are a huge step up from the Crayola markers you used as a kid. You can color and blend to very smooth results.
Start with a 12 or 24 set, depending on your budget. I would then recommend buying individual colors or sub sets (e.g. warm/cool greys) from your local art store on an as-needed basis. I use a ton of neutral and blue-toned colors, so getting a huge set with neons and reds would be a waste for me.
I have some Copic markers too, but they are notably more expensive than Prismacolors. I am a little OCD about having my markers all match, so it bothers me to just have a few Copic markers. I don't think it's worth upgrading my whole set since I don't color with them that often, but if you're just starting your set or not OCD, give Copic markers a try! They both color very well, but I think the Copic coloring ages a bit better on paper.
As mentioned above, I do really like Prismacolor for their pencils. I don't use colored pencils in my work very often, but I have a set of Prismacolor pencils that have lasted forever and always work very well when I need them.
As with the markers, I'd recommend starting with a 24 or 36 pack and then add the individual colors that you find you need as you get more into drawing.
Update: My notebooks are now available here!Shameless plug because I actually believe in it: I am putting together my ideal sketch/notebook because I have been unable to find the perfect one on the market. Believe me, I'd rather just buy a ready-made one. I sold out of my original notebooks but I'll have a new one up soon.
My ideal sketchbook:
Has smooth, medium-weight drawing paper. Basically the right balance between not having pages thick enough to not show through, but also lightweight and economical since it's just sketching.
Is sized for easy carrying. For me, this mean sized at about 5x7"- 6x8"; it's ideal to have a sketchbook always on-hand and I'm not going to do it with anything larger.
Is spiral-bound. This is a rare example of where I give in to function over form. I don't think spiral-bound is the prettiest but it's function greatly outweighs the non-spiral bound sketchbooks in my opinion. It can lay completely flat and also wrap around to work on just one side when I'm in a tight space. It's also easy to tear out pages without creating gaps. And anyway, it's not bad-looking by any means.
Has some convenient extras built-in. It has pockets to hold loose papers and includes some marker and toned paper for experimenting.
Finally, it looks good! I like a clean cover and overall nice design. A sketchbook is something I touch and use all the time, so I want it to feel good. And hey, I need to take pictures of this thing! :)
I don't particularly like the Canson covers, and they don't have any bells and whistles, but they are at least spiral bound and the paper is good. Oh and it's affordable. I figured I should link to at least one non-biased option!
You might be surprised I didn't mention Moleskine on here. I love the look of Moleskines but honestly their latest notebooks have a thin paper than I do not like to draw on, whereas the art paper is too thick. And again, the spiral-bound thing.
Toned paper is great for sketch studies of light and shadow (e.g. using graphite and a white pencil), and also just gives drawings an overall cool look to it. You can get it in both tan and grey tones but I prefer the tan a little more.
This Strathmore one has very smooth and nicely weighted paper. I use this for the sketchbooks I make. Note this is for graphite, colored pencils, and charcoal, not for any liquid mediums.
This is a great product for protecting your drawing and preventing smears. You just spray it on a finished drawing and it won't smudge, great especially for charcoal drawings.
I have the matte Prismacolor one but this one has better reviews so I'm linking it here. It's the same product.
I believe you get what you pay for, but there's a balance to avoid spending more than you need for your level. For me, I've tried the budget to luxury options, and usually find something in the middle works best for me.