In honour of Inktober, I decided to write up this post that I’ve been meaning to for ages. People often ask, “What art supplies do you use?” or “What art supplies should I get?” and around this time of year, “What art supplies should I get for my art-loving loved one for Christmas?”
Art supplies are expensive, so choosing the wrong ones for what you want to do is not only heart-breaking, but incredibly guilt-inducing. It’s tough enough to justify a $10 pen you can use.
I once saw a meme that said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that buying craft supplies and actually using them are two different hobbies” and for me that’s true with art stuff. I get immense joy simply from the potential in each paint, pencil or ink well. Which means that when I do have money, that’s where in inevitably goes. It also means that I’ve tried a lot of supplies!
Before I get into my personal list, here are a few things I’ve learned about choosing art supplies:
- Getting the more expensive popular brand is actually often a good idea. I’m always looking for a bargain when it comes to practically everything else, but the difference in price between art supplies usually has a reason. For example, more expensive paint usually has better pigment. More expensive pencils usually cover and blend better. If you’re thinking of trying a knock off, check out reviews online first to make sure that you’re not going to end up completely frustrated. Bad art supplies can actually put you off art because they make art that would otherwise have been good look bad.
- But start with a limited palette. Don’t worry about getting all the colours of expensive supplies. You can achieve a lot with an extremely limited palette, and all of the fancy brands sell singles (even professional artists who can afford the whole range sometimes need replacements). You’ll often hear the advice to start with primary colours so you can mix anything. That’s not bad advice, but I find that the primaries are often too different to create a pleasing picture all on their own when it comes to certain types of media (like copics for instance) and become muddy. If you do decide to get primaries, I’d recommend getting a magenta/pink instead of the red, and a blue that is closer to cyan as dark blue can be overpowering when blending.I’d actually recommend you start with a primary and a secondary that mix together nicely, and then get one colour that is a compliment to those. For example: blue, green and pink. Or orange, pink and blue. Or even blue, purple and brown. If you want to start with a single colour, a nice sepia or warm brown is incredibly versatile, but so is pale lavendar/violet which is a gentle shadow colour that looks striking with black pen and white paper.The more pastel your initial colours are, the more you’ll be able to mix them and build up tones. If you start with bright colours like sky blue and lipstick red, you’re going to end up with some variant of black no matter what you do.
- Try before you buy (where possible). Stores often have testers and they sometimes even arrange show days with brand reps where you can come and scribble. If you don’t have that opportunity, try to find a friend who has the supply you covet. Just because something is popular and high quality doesn’t mean it will suit your style or be comfortable for you to use.
- Don’t be afraid to mix media. There are no rules saying you have to stick to one brand, or even one type of tool for a work. Use whatever you think will give you the best effect. So if you’re on a budget, buy one really nice pen/paint/pencil/whatever and then use it for most of the work and layer over with your cheaper stuff. Kind of like a lead singer and back up dancers.
Now, without further ado, my list!
1. Pentel Aquash Water Brush
I pretty much always have one of these next to me and it’s made watercolour painting a dream. I’ve tried a few brands of waterbrush, but I love the flow of this one. It’s also a dream to use with water-soluble pencils, especially when travelling. You could even do a watercolour on a plane. No need for rinsing water, just wrap it in a paper towel and squirt water onto that towel to clean the brush.
2. Kuretake Bimoji Fude pen
This is hands down the best pen I’ve found for brush lettering and bullet journalling. I use it every single day. It’s got a soft tip that doesn’t fray and a steady ink flow. It’s basically a dream to use and I always feel like I’m in control.
3. Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colours Sketchers Pocket Box
This is possibly the best Christmas gift I ever received. These colours are amazing. You can’t believe how vibrant they are. And the packaging is so super convenient. You can take them anywhere (with that water brush I mentioned), which means you use them all the time. I had no idea how good water colour could look (how good I could make water colour look!) until I tried these.
4. Copic multiliner
The problem I often have with fineliners is that they tips get pushed in or fray, making them useless. The multi-liner has replaceable nibs which aren’t that expensive once you’ve invested in the pen. The ink flow is smooth and reliable, and it’s water and alcohol proof when dry.
A special mention for the more affordable cousin: the Sakura Pigma Micron which is just as resistant for a fraction of the price. If you’re more gentle with your pens than I am, then I highly recommend these. However, avoid the brush pen! It frays so fast.
5. Copic markers (Ciao)
These are so hyped up you can’t be surprised to find them here. Here’s what I love about them: the experience of using them is like painting with silk. It’s a fantastic, soothing feeling that just puts you in an immediate good mood. The colours are vibrant and incredibly easy to blend and they leave no streaks. While they may seem expensive, it’s important to remember they’re refillable. So even though you might balk at laying down $4 – $6 for a single pen, the refill ink is only $5 and it will refill a Ciao up to 15 times. You can also buy replacement nibs. So Copics are an investment. The thing that’s not great about them is that you need to use special paper (you can’t use them in your sketchbook, they’ll bleed through) and they’re not light fast (so you can’t put a Copic picture up on the wall, it will fade).
The difference between the Copic markers is: the Classic does not have a brush nib, the Sketch and Ciao are the same except the Sketch range has more colours and each Sketch pen carries more ink. Another benefit to Sketches is they don’t roll off the desk all the time as they’re a kind of oval shape. However, for me it’s not worth the price difference.
If you don’t live in South Africa, you may be able to find alternative alcohol markers that are cheaper and just as good. We don’t get those here so I can’t comment on them!
6. Ecoline brush pens
These are my favourite water-based markers. The pigment is amazing and they come with free replacement tips. The colours are so bright and cheerful that I often use them alongside the Cotmans for highlights. They’re great for caligraphy as well, although the nibs are a little thick for use in a journal.
7. Sakura White Gelly Roll
For highlights, a lot of people recommend the uni-ball Signo, but I personally find the Gelly Roll to be more opaque and to cope better over textured surfaces, although you’d ideally use it on completely flat, dry surfaces (you saw how I’m rough with my pens, right?)
I’ve recently started using a white Posca paint pen for the more textured surfaces, but I dislike having to press in the nib to get the paint to flow and it tends to blotch if you’re not careful.
8. Pilot FriXion Clicker pen
You ever ink something, make a mistake and wish you had an edit > undo option? Well these pens are that. They look and feel like normal ink, but you can erase them. This is now my default pen for journalling. I’m not sure how the ink stands the test of time, but a year later it hasn’t faded at all. They’re ideal for use with something like Copic that you plan to scan in to preserve in digital.
9. Colleen coloured pencils
These were the coveted, expensive, pencil crayons when I was at school.But compared to artists pencils, they’re super cheap. What I love about them is they’re bright and soft. They blend well, especially with the aid of a blending pencil (clear wax pencil). We don’t get Prismacolor in South Africa, but these are a similar texture (a little more waxy). Another expensive alternative is the Faber-Castell Polychromos which are also wonderful to work with. I haven’t collected them though because I own:
10. Faber Castell Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils
For my 30th birthday, I asked my husband to split the price of a set of 36 of these babies. They’re beautiful.
My previous favourite, and cheap alternative, are the Staedtler Aquarelle Water Colour Pencils, which would be 11 on this list if it had an 11. However, the problem with the Staedtlers is that I found the lead too soft so it would break often and I also found I used up the pencils really quickly.
The Faber Castell lead is sturdy. Where the Staedtlers get their amazing colour pay off by letting you lay down a lot of colour at once, the Albrecht Durers are super pigmented, so you don’t even need to press hard to get rich colours. They also blend really well with or without water.
What are your favourite art supplies? Anything you think I should try out?