A well-rounded illustrator is one who can employ a wide range of techniques. However, in order to reach this level of mastery, they often have to spend long hours working on their technique.

Whether you work with a paintbrush, colored pencils, charcoal, oil pastel, or pen and ink, artists are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing drawing materials!

While some prefer to work with oil paints when painting a portrait, others choose colouring pencils.

The drawing tools you use are completely up to you.

So, are you ink or graphite? Here are some drawing tips for those in the dark about their art kit.

Charcoal Sketches

If you’ve just started a drawing course or follow online drawing tutorials, your teacher will have told you about the techniques painters use to prepare for a portrait.

Among these common techniques is charcoal drawing. Charcoal is essentially a stick of burnt wood which produces a black colour when used as a pencil.

Charcoal was one of man’s first tools used for drawing reality on a flat surface, and is still a popular tool, as it can be used to trace an outline as well as for shading.

By experimenting with charcoal, you will see that it helps to create fine details as well as larger ones depending on the way it is used, meaning that you can create striking drawings using just one charcoal pencil.

The are many variations of the charcoal pencil, including softer and harder options that lend themselves to different artistic aims.

In my drawing lessons, some of my classmates would use harder charcoal to sketch out the first basic shapes on their canvasses before committing to using paint. Learning the basics of drawing may seem tedious, but it is always helpful later on.

Charcoal lends itself to realistic drawing as it is useful in sketching the beginnings or portraits as it is a soft material and therefore easy to erase!

However, make sure that you don’t use a normal graphite eraser to do this. To erase charcoal, use an art eraser – this will help you avoid making tears in the paper or canvas.

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Black charcoal is useful for drawing lines which can then be smudged
Charcoal may be messy, but it's its soft quality that makes it great for blending! ¦ source: Pixabay - pixel2013

One of the advantages to using charcoal is that it is far easier to get a good gradient that with a graphite pencil, as it is easier to blend, and so you don’t need to use other shading techniques such as cross hatching. However, if you want clear, sharp lines as when drawing a caricature, you might prefer graphite.

Graphite for Contrast

Are you keen to start drawing comic strips or keep a travel journal in pictures?

What drawing tools are best for these kinds of projects?

The first drawing tool that comes to mind when we think about sketching is the humble graphite pencil.

Its silvery-grey quality and soft texture make it perfect for creating depth and a sense of colour within a piece.

We all remember that even in nursery school, we were taught how to hold a pencil in our hand and use it to draw pictures, picking up vital drawing skills along the way.

The pencil has always been a part of everyday life, but it is often rather underappreciated by those who aren’t interested in drawing. As simple as it may seem, graphite is a fantastic material for drawing, and this is the reason why the humble graphite pencil will always be important to artists all over the world.

Even our prehistoric ancestors used graphite to trace pictures on the inside of caves! Today, graphite pencils come in many shapes and sizes.

This is how they are categorised:

  • 9H to 9B,
  • H stands for ‘hard’
  • B stands for ‘black’ (meaning a softer lead)
  • HB is in-between, so HB pencils are hard and black in equal measure

Different types of lead lend themselves to different types of drawing, so while you may use a hard pencil for architecture or other technical drawings, you may use a blacker one for portraiture.

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Coloured Pencils for Gradation

Getting a new set of colouring pencils is the most exciting part of Christmas for many 5-year-olds, but even if they seem a little infantile as a drawing tool, colouring pencils have an important place in fine art!

Of course, the way they are used by artists is a lot different from the way they are used by children, and so in order to get the most from them, you may have to move away from your current idea of them as children’s toys.

With a quick google search, you’ll be able to appreciate the quality of the art produced using colouring pencils, and realise what they can help you achieve in your own art.

The advantages to drawing with coloured pencils don’t stop at the fact that they are coloured – you can also use them for shading and to create colour gradients. For example, if you’d like to include a red gradient in your drawing, there will be plenty of different shades of red to make this possible.

To get started using coloured pencils, get yourself a set of at least 10 crayons – even if they’re only the basic ones, as they will help you practice your techniques before you invest in a more expensive set.

Coloured pencils are often ignored, as they are too often deemed as a child's tool
The world of colored pencils is fascinating - you can even get watercolor ones! ¦ source: Pixabay - StockSnap

Coloured pencils are a controversial topic in the art world. Why? People disagree about whether using them is drawing or painting.

This may seem petty, but let’s dig deeper.

The technique used for drawing with a colouring pencil is closer to a painting technique. Of course, there are different techniques you can use, but it is argued that since painting reveals the grain of the paper, as does using coloured pencils, coloured pencil drawings are, in fact, paintings. On the other hand, the pigment of the pencil can be weak and let a lot of light through to the paper, making it closer to drawing with a graphite pencil.

The technique you use to draw is completely up to you, regardless of your view of drawing with colouring pencils!

I would advise that if you wish to start drawing with coloured pencils it’s best to start with simple shapes such as an apple, which looks simple, but has a lot of fine details to be drawn.

Once you feel comfortable drawing still life, you can begin to develop your own personal drawing style!

Pen for Originality

We’ve all doodled in the corner of our notebooks at school.

Regardless of whether we doodle out of boredom or a passion for doodling, ink is a great drawing material!

The doodles in your sketchbook could represent the start of something bigger, especially if you’re considering a career in drawing and painting.

There are many professions centred around artistic ability, including illustration, graphic design, architecture, the list goes on!

Although pens are usually set aside in art as a writing tool, they can be incredibly helpful to illustrators and artists, with some works even being created using nothing but a biro.

These drawings are created by using the loop method.

The smaller the loops are, the darker the final picture will be. On the other hand, the larger the loops, the lighter the picture will be.

It’s important to bear in mind that learning how to draw a certain object doesn’t come with a rulebook, and doesn’t have to be traditional. Artists should be creative and find the style that expresses their imagination as effectively as possible.

Inking with a more traditional type of pen using a metal nib and India ink is a common technique for satirical drawings.

Pastels for Gesture Drawing

Pastels are another thing that aren’t just for kids!

Pastel crayons are made from a mixture of powdered colour pigments and a non-greasy binder such as methylcellulose.

You can use pastels to draw portraits, outlines and abstract art
Pastels are a versatile drawing tool ¦ source: Pixabay - SKECCIO

Pastels, like paints and other materials also come in a number of categories. The two most well-known of these are oil pastels and hard pastels. The difference between these two types is that oil pastels are softer and more suited to blending, whereas harder pastels are better for line drawing and creating more detail within a drawing.

There is range of techniques that can be used to create different effects with both soft and hard pastels when creating a portrait, landscape or still life drawing:

  • Hatching: This is where lines and strokes are drawn and varying distances alongside and perpendicular to one another. When hatching with pastels of two different colours, optical mixtures can be created.
  • Light touches:  This technique is used to suggest details (the shadows of a face for example), by applying fine lines to highlight and darken certain areas.
  • Glazes: This technique is used to partially cover one colour with another. Layering tones puts colours contextualises objects and gives a drawing more harmony. Light colours on dark ones accentuates brightness, whilst dark on top of pale makes for greater depth.
  • Fragmentation and dotting: Bold pastels are used to create images from dots. The final image is born from the accumulation of points and lines, without any blurring or blending. It’s not easy to begin with, so stick to two or three colours and remember to step back and take a look at the rendering.

To improve your skills in pastel drawing, try practicing drawing animals which are moving, and try to incorporate their movement into your piece. This doesn’t just include the animal’s movements, but the movement of the grass in the wind, too, for example.

The drawing materials you use to create your art and develop your personal artistic style is down to your goals and preferences as an artist.

Some materials and techniques will suit you better than others, but keeping an open mind and trying out new methods as you progress will give you the best chance of a fulfilling artistic career.

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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.