Favourite Tools

I keep updating this post because my preferences change over time, but this is the stuff I use and keep rotating around depending on my mood.

Faber- Castell 9000 series pencils. These are very reliable tools for sketching, and the most buttery, well made wooden pencils I’ve ever used. They smudge a little less than the blue Steadtler Mars Lumograph pencils, and also tend to run a little finer, a little harder, and a little lighter than those. Anything harder than 2B is just too scratchy and light for me- 3B is great for versatile sketching, though the softer grades are good to have on hand for darker, even smoother tone.

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Steadtler Mars Technico 2mm clutch pencil. I have the black and silver one, and I’ve come to really, really like it used with Steadtler’s 4b lead refills. Steadtler’s 4B grade has always been my desert island pencil because it’s so versatile. In a quality 2mm clutch pencil like the Mars Technico, it becomes even better. You can choose how much of the lead to have sticking out so it’s easy to flip the pencil and cover larger areas for shadows and then flip back again to the tip for detail. Clutch pencils stay the same weight and length over time unlike wooden pencils, and you don’t have to worry about sharpening them as much. Every last inch of graphite can be used, and the hatched metal grip is nice to use.

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Pentel GraphGear 1000 0.7 and Rotring Rapid Pro 0.5 mm mechanical pencils. I grew up doodling with mechanical pencils, and tried a whole array of them when I was in Edinburgh. These two models are among the best that money can buy. They both have retractable tips so won’t tear holes in your pockets or pencil cases, and are safer than non- retractable ones. The Pentel is has a pretty silver finish with blue accents, and the Rapid pro is matte black with a red accent. They’re both built mostly out of metal and will last decades, if not a lifetime of use. Some of the best lead refills are Pentel Ain Stein and Uni Nano Dia, but these are much harder to get ahold of in India than in the UK, and the Steadtler refills at my local store work well enough- no complaints there. The Rapid Pro is a bit heavier but also very well balanced, and really excellent for fine sketching.  Since I do a lot of boards, these pencils are great for that and they also scan well. They’re also both good looking instruments, which believe it or not can help make a good impression when you’re sketching in front of clients. Metal bodied tools are more durable, more environmentally friendly, and look and feel better.

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Faber- Castell Aquarelle Watersoluble Pencils. These were a really interesting find at my local art store. I have a set of 2B, 4B, 6B and 8B pencils (and an HB but I never use any HB pencils). You can run over the pencil lines with a water brush for a very watercolour-ish effect, and you can water-ize an entire area of graphite till the lines become indistinct and it’s just a beautiful grey wash. The 2B is light grey for subtle value, while the 8B is nearly inky black in its darkness and depth. Derwent also makes something like this, with Light, Medium, and Dark options, and those are good too.

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Koh-i-noor Hardmuth 5.6 mm metal Clutch Pencil with Cretacolor refills. I specify metal because I used to have a cheaper black plastic lead holder that I thought was good value and lighter and easier to use in the hand until one of the plastic ‘teeth’ snapped off, rendering the poor thing useless. Luckily I’d enjoyed the pencil enough to get an all metal version from Koh-i-noor before I left the UK, and this one seems a lot sturdier. It’s quite heavy, but you get used to it. Cretacolor’s 5.6 mm lead refills come in an interesting range; there’s standard graphite which I wasn’t into because my 2mm clutch pencil can do that. What stands out is the option to use this lead holder with pastel, chalk, and charcoal refills. The ‘dry’ chalky variety are much better than the oil- based ones in my opinion as they are softer, much easier to smudge and blend, and don’t have that shiny sheen. I haven’t tried the dry sanguine yet but I do have the charcoal and light sepia leads and they’re pretty awesome to use on all kinds of paper. The white chalk is excellent because it means you get to work on toned recycled brown paper, which is always fun. The 5.6 mm when sharpened to a fine point can be used to add details, although I haven’t checked how well it erases.

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Copic Markers. I can’t believe I went so long dismissing these as overpriced felt tip pens. Copic markers are amazing- once you use them you see what the fuss is about. They have a chisel tip and a fat brush tip (I prefer the latter), and layering strokes ups the opacity. It does take a bit of practice to get used to, but they are so, so good for quickly defining shadows and tone in sketches. For storyboards, especially, they’re incredibly useful. All you really need for sketching is a couple of grey tones which is what I use, but for more polished illustrations, other colours would be handy. Remember that Copics are alcohol- based markers, so not all pens will be compatible with them. Most fineliners should play nice with these, though, certainly Copic’s own range. Also remember that they’re likely to bleed through on thinner paper and even mark the next page- so it’s always a good idea to put some scrap paper underneath.

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Steadtler Pigment Liners, Uni Pin Fineliners, and Copic Multiliners. All three are waterproof, Copic- proof, and of good quality for sketching and inking. 0.5 and 0.3 are great sizes for sketching, and 0.7 is good to have for larger sketches and thicker lines. Anything under 0.3 is too fine for me personally. Maybe the 0.1 for really tight details.

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Platinum Cool and Preppy fountain pens. Preppy fountain pens were my exam pens during university- super reliable, affordable fountain pens with steel nibs, that write well and never skip, and need no more maintenance than standard gel pens. My Preppy is now filled with Platinum Brown ink, a reddish brown great for sepia sketching. Like other water- based inks, you can run over it with a water brush and bleed the lines for a soft, light coppery wash. Platinum Cool fountain pens are higher end, mid range models that write and sketch very well. Their nibs have a bit of flex to them for more expressive lines. Both pens provide a tactile feel on paper and give more feedback than, say, a Lamy fountain pen, but this makes them somewhat easier to control. They can both get a bit scratchy and thin at times, especially when I neglect them, but soaking and rinsing them works every time.

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Water Brush (any brand). Water brushes are a lovely little invention. They have a synthetic bristle tip and a hollow plastic barrel to fill with water. I use them for activating water-soluble pencils, watercolour pencils, and bleeding water- soluble ink lines for a grey wash.

myPaperclip Notebooks. These are a local homegrown brand in the same vein as Leuchhtrum notebooks. I’ve used a ton of sketchbooks and notebooks over the years, and my preference has always been smooth, thin ivory paper. Snowy white blank pages can be a bit intimidating. These Indian notebooks actually compare reasonably well to their European and American counterparts. Sure, some of the premium touches are missing; no faux leather softcover, no elastic band to keep it secure, and no ribbons for bookmarking which page you’re on, no inside pockets for storing bits of loose paper. But the main talking point of a sketchbook is the paper quality, and there this doesn’t disappoint. It doesn’t take fountain pen nibs quite as well as a Leuchhtrum, but takes pencil and other dry media better. Erasers tend to erode the surface of the paper and spoil it a bit, even good quality erasers, but that’s just incentive to learn from your mistakes and not erase as much.

However, a high white paper sketchbook brings out the best in coloured mediums. Any sketchbook from a decent brand will get the job done, really- Derwent, Daler- Rowney, Seabright, etc. You don’t have to spend fortunes on an -er- certain much touted European make to get good quality paper.

I know I’ve rambled on and on about tools and materials but really, at the end of the day, even a broken, charred twig and any kind of flat surface will do when the itch to draw comes upon you 😉

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