Drawing Materials

There are so many different materials (new and old) for drawing with, that it is worth reviewing some of these. You may find something here you hadn’t thought of trying.

Erasable and semi-permanent drawing materials


Although we usually abandon crayons at some stage during our childhoods, the humble pencil remains a close friend for many of us.

It’s worth experimenting with pencils of various hardness to find the type that suits you best. You will probably find that you keep two or more levels of softer pencils and a harder one for lighter and finer work. The US and European rating system for hardness of a pencil is different. The European system uses “H” to denote “harder pencils, rated from 9H (very hard) to H, and “B” to indicate blacker or softer pencils – rated from 9B (softest) to B, with the HB combination being the standard, everyday pencil. The US system uses “#1” for the equivalent of a “B”, and “#2” for “HB”.

The softer the pencil the easier it is to shade with, but it also produces a coarser application and bluntens more quickly than the harder pencils. To compensate, I recommend working on a finer grained paper the softer the pencil you want to use. But you can also make a feature of a bold drawing on textured paper, and a very soft pencil is ideal for this.

Soft graphite pencils (9B) feel very solid and bold and are great for big expressive drawings and sketches. The downside (and occasional upside) is that they reveal every flaw in the grain of your paper and appear very coarse when used together with finer pencils.


Charcoal can be very messy to use, and art suppliers have compensated by offering charcoal pencils. Like graphite pencils, these are made of a thin rod of charcoal encased in wood or plastic to protect your fingers from the charcoal dust.

However, many artists enjoy the process of drawing with a stick of charcoal as many different marks can be achieved by using the whole area of the stick. Blackened fingers are simply part of the fun.

Charcoal drawings need to be sprayed with a fixing substance to prevent smudging. While these can be bought from art stores, it's often simplest to use ordinary hairspray.


Conté sticks are a charcoal and wax compound which makes them easier to use and slightly more resistant to breakage than pure charcoal. Conté drawings also require a fixative to prevent smudging.


Pastel is available in a few formats: soft, hard, water-soluble, oil, and pastel-lead pencils. The wide range of colours available make this an enjoyable medium to draw with. For best results use a paper or board with some “tooth” to it to capture the particles and give your artwork depth. Soft pastels do smudge easily and require fixing. Again, hairspray is fine to use for this purpose, or you can purchase specific fixer spray for pastels.

Water-soluble pastel drawings can be manipulated with a damp brush to blend colours, while oil pastel drawings can be blended using a solvent or linseed oil. You can also produce some interesting effects by overpainting oil pastel in acrylic paints to fill in blank areas of paper with colour, while the pastel areas shrug off the paint.

Coloured pencils

The coloured pencil medium is becoming increasingly popular due to its versatility and precision. Artists are able to obtain photorealistic drawings due to the huge range of colours and by layering colours. See my review of Painting Light with Colored Pencil.

Permanent Drawing Materials


Drawing with pen can be an excellent way to learn to control your technique, as the marks you put down can’t be erased. Pen can’t achieve the close shading marks that pencil does, so light and shadow representation becomes a precise study of shape and the creation of texture using hatching techniques.

Any type of pen can be used for drawing, but felt tipped and fineliners are the most popular with artists, followed by fountain pens and even old fashioned quills for the fun of it. Ball point works well for redefining animation lines after the colours have been inked or painted in.

Soft pens or brush pens

Brush pens have a flexible tip - sometimes found as a double-ended pen with a hard fibre-tipped pen on one end for outlining, and the brush tip, for shading, on the other. These pens are ideal for the vibrant art of hand-drawn graphic novels, as they offer solid colour in a set palette. Precise shading of colours can be built up by layering.

Chisel-tipped pens

Remember how much fun it was to colour in with highlighter pens? The range of colours available now in chisel-tipped marker pens makes these a useful addition to an artist's toolkit. The chisel point allows for some interesting marks and these pens are fun to experiment with. Chunkier marker pens are great for big, bold drawings.

Some brands also make refills, making replacement of individual colours cheaper.

While the quick drying nature of these pens usually means some inevitable hard edges and overlapped colour, solvent can be used to wet the area and blend the colour more easily. Some brands include blending solvent in their art marker pen sets.

Brush and ink or paint

A brush can also be used to draw with. Before pencils, and even drawing with charcoal became popular, artists would sketch their subject matter with a brush and paint to make a basic plan of positioning and pose.

You might also try using a brush and a water colour wash to fill in some shading areas in a pencil sketch.

Artists using brush or pen for drawings can also make use of splatter techniques to add interesting texture and depth to an ink drawing.

Although to a lesser degree than with pencil and pastels, the tooth of the paper used can also change the effect of the ink drawing, and is worth experimenting with. For heavy fibre-tipped and marker pen use, you may want to use bleed-proof paper which has a coating on the underside to prevent the ink bleeding through the paper.

This article was first published on BellaOnline in two parts in February 2006 and April 2006. © Elsa Neal

For help with specific techniques in these drawing materials, try Art of the Pencil : A Revolutionary Look at Drawing, Painting and the Pencil by Sherry Camhy or All About Techniques in Pastel

and for more inspiration for trying various ink-based drawing media, you may like Sketching Your Favorite Subjects in Pen and Ink by Claudia Nice or Rendering With Markers by Ronald B. Kemnitzer