I thought it’d be fun to share some of the traditional art materials I use and give a rundown on pros and cons for them. And also to work on my product photography skills.
I use graphic pencils for a lot of work. For my 13th birthday, a friend got me a set of Koh-I-Noor graphic pencils, and that opened up my eyes. I’d used charcoal before, but I don’t like charcoal. Not my thing. But pencils? Totally my thing.
- comes in varying hardness from about 10H (although I only have up to 5H) to about 10B (I have up to 8B)
- keeps a point, versus charcoal that won’t keep a point well
- easy to work with
- inexpensive as compared to other mediums
- sort of a gateway material–start with these, then eventually move on to other, more challenging materials
- can be used anywhere and easily transportable
- teaches the importance of contrast, light and shadow
- easy to draw details and textures with
- one of the least picky mediums when it comes to paper
- graphite smears over EVERYTHING
- requires Fixatif spray to finish something and keep it from continuing to smear everywhere.
- the softer pencils (like 2B-8B) get progressively harder to erase and will leave ghost lines no matter what. Once you put it down, it stays down.
- inconsistency between 6B-7B causes 6B to be a dark and shiny coloration versus 7B and darker which take on much more charcoal like consistency. They don’t blend together.
I actually prefer Staedtler graphic pencils, but I will use other brands if nothing else is available to me. And for paper, I usually use Strathmore paper, which is readily available most places.
Why do I prefer Staedtler? I just like the way they feel. Also because I tend to get a smooth and consistent line from them. Sometimes pencils will get those weird catches in the graphite, and I’ve never encountered that with Staedtler. They don’t break as easily as some of the others I’ve worked with.
For working with pencils, you’ll want:
- a kneedable eraser
- a nice regular eraser (I use Staedler plastic erasers and LOVE them)
- spray Fixatif (I use workable fixatif)
- a good pencil sharpener
I started using color pencils when I was 12. Nice color pencils, I should say. I wanted Prismacolor pencils and have had the 48 set plus whatever I bought open stock. Prismas are wax based for the binder (what holds the pigment), which comes with it’s own set of complications versus the SUPER nice color pencils which are actually clay based (Caran D’Ache).
- very blendable, and easy to build up depending on pressure
- working with graphic pencils first will make working with color pencils a lot easier
- a mostly smooth look but still having texture
- keep a point nicely
- can be melted with turpenoid/turpentine like watercolor pencils and water.
- not picky about paper
- fairly transportable if you get a pencil case for them
- don’t get all over your hands like graphic pencils do
- wax based ones like Prisma will build up a film over time that you can wipe off, but it’s annoying
- they break a lot
- not erasable
- they don’t always have the smoothest texture and can get those weird catches in the lead
For working with color pencils that are wax based, like Prismas, you’ll want:
- to always sketch out what you want to draw in just a regular pencil first, since you can’t erase color pencils
- turpenoid/turpentine to melt them if you want, and some decent paint brushes to apply it with
- spray Fixatif once you’re done. You don’t need it, but it does help prevent the colors from rubbing off on other things over time
I used to hate watercolor paints, because I’ve always been terrible with them. But then my sister introduced me to Dr. Ph. Martin liquid watercolors, which is what I’m going to talk about specifically.
- bright, intense colors
- can be dried out and reconstituted (although not all colors reconstitute well)
- act more link inks than watercolors, adding a lot of permanence to the color so layering them is much easier
- beautiful, consistent coloration
- mixes of color will striate to create cool effects
- salt creates a different kind of texture with these paints because they soak into the paper at different rates
- a much faster medium to work with than any kind of pencil or charcoal, though they do require adequate drying time
- smooth, silky coloration
- color pencil, pastels, and inks can easily be layered on top of them
- transparent color, so anything on the paper underneath will show through
- you can easily use only 3 brushes (or even 2), cutting down on costs. A wash brush, and a detail brush.
- easy to clean up afterwards
- intensely picky about paper (I use Fluid watercolor block and LOVE it.)
- act more like inks than watercolors, adding a lot of permanence, thus you only get one shot at getting it right. Water will not pick all the colors back off the paper, even when you’ve just put it down. Though some will come up, especially blues.
- colors don’t soak into the paper at the same rate, causing striation that you may not want
- humid weather makes working with any kind of watercolor a pain in the butt and can double or triple drying times.
- Dr. Ph. Martin watercolors aren’t super portable, although you can take them places if you’ll have a table and water.
- expensive (although in the grand scheme of how much nice inks or watercolors cost, these are actually inexpensive especially considering the quality).
- finicky to work with. Takes a lot of practice.
- requires sable brushes. No other kind will work with watercolors well.
- water warps paper, so you have to stretch it first with a water wash.
- they come in glass bottles. I’ve never broken one because I’m super careful with them, but they are breakable. (The other day when at Blick, I was looking at them and one fell out of the shelving it was in and I was so terrified it was going to break, but I was lucky in that it landed on the rubber stopper top and sort of bounced and fell over.)
Things you’ll want when working with Dr. Ph. Martin liquid watercolors:
- cold pressed watercolor block (a block lays flat so painting is easier and you don’t have to stretch the paper first) (I use Fluid, pictured above, and both my older sister and I prefer it over any other kind of watercolor paper)
- paper towels
- clean water
- sable brushes (can be synthetic sable, but they must be sable brushes) (I have only 3 I use, pictured above)
- a paint palette
If you want to know more about watercolors, Becca Hillburn uses them all the time and you should be able to find reviews on different water colors other than the Dr. Ph. Martin ones that I use on her site.
My favorite medium, and it has been since the first time I touched them at 16. While I don’t work with them nearly as often as I’d like simply because of the time and money they require as compared to any of the other mediums I’ve mentioned, they always come first in my heart when it comes to materials.
Working with oil paints is extremely different for every artist, as every artist picks a different way to use them. This means it’s kind of hard to give a rundown on them, but I’ll talk about my experience with them.
- long drying time, meaning you can leave something and come back hours later and still be able to work on it. This also makes blending 100x easier than with acrylics. (as this is listed as a pro, it should be easy to figure out why I hate acrylics, which have a rapid drying time.)
- thick texture, or alternately thin, depending on mixture with turpenoid/turpentine.
- not as picky with brushes as watercolors, although still kind of picky. You don’t want super soft brushes, but neither do you want super bristley ones.
- not water soluble, so getting wet won’t hurt them.
- they feel like heaven to paint with.
- a very forgiving medium
- not picky about the surface. You can paint on board, canvas, lots of things.
- can cover large areas very quickly
- painting thin over thick causes cracking. (whoops…..)
- they smell. also, don’t decide you like a guy after the both of you have been painting for 12 hours straight without the greatest ventilation.
- they take a long time to cure.
- some colors are translucent and some are opaque. you have to keep track of this. Permanent Azalean Crimson won’t show up on black very well because of this.
- again, expensive.
- they will get everywhere. Don’t eat while painting. You will know the moment you’ve ingested paint because it will make your sandwich taste horrible. Although, if you’ve only gotten some paint that was on your hands onto your food, you’ll survive just fine. They’ll also stain your clothes, so wear a paint apron.
- not portable.
Personally, I use Windsor-Newton (Winton) paints. They’re one of the big brands, and I’ve used a few other brands because people have gifted me those paints, but I personally will only buy Winton paints and use those if I have a choice. What you need varies for how you use them, but here are some basics:
- paint palette and foil (to cover the surface for easy cleanup and also so you don’t stain everything) (also to cover the paint when you’re not using it)
- medium hardness brushes
- turpenoid (the stuff I use is pictured below)
- a jar where you can put turpenoid and clean your brushes in
- dish soap to clean your brushes afterwards (Dawn works best, I’ve found)
- paper towels
- palette knife
- painting apron
- easels are nice
So there you have it. Those are the things I work with most often, aside from now I use Photoshop a ton. But traditional mediums will always be my thing. And oil paints will always be first in my heart when it comes to art stuff.