spacer

spacerHomeDrawingsPhotographyCommissionsLinksAbout the Artist
AnimalsBirdsPortraitsLandscapesThe WestSketchesMy Tools

My Tools

Pencils

Paper

Blu-Tack



Contact Me
Contact Me

Home > Drawings > My Tools

Pencils

Pencil

I use a Staedtler Mars-780 mechanical lead holders for all my graphite work. I find them nicely balanced, very affordable, and the best feature, they have color-coded caps that are included with the boxes of 12-leads that allow you to differentiate between the various lead harnesses at a glance. I find this an easier method than reading a label. I truly believe that differentiating between grades by color is a right-brained process and allows you to stay "in the zone" while you're drawing. I've even managed to find electrical tape in a range of colors that I use to color-code my other mechanical pencils.

I use a wide range of pencil grades including 6H, 4H, 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, and 4B, however, I mainly use 2H, HB, and 2B for the majority of my drawing. I also use a 6B Tombow pencil for filling in large areas of extremely dark tone on the paper. Tombow makes an excellent wood-cased pencil and is my favorite brand just edging out Staedtler's wood-cased line.

Paper

I am a self-professed paper-junkie and I love trying new types of paper. I have a couple of brands that I have really grown to love and I am always willing to try something new. The most important point to make is, make sure you have a high-quality, fairly smooth, rugged paper for graphite; it needs to take a beating during your hours at the drawing table.

I have organized my mini-reviews in terms of paper tooth with the smoother papers at the top.

Paper Review Recommendation

Strathmore 400 Series
Bristol Smooth

Strathmore 400 Series Bristol Smooth

An excellent all around paper for pencil work. Very smooth, but not "too" smooth. I use this for numerous commissions because of how forgiving it is. It has a pleasant off-white tone which is nice for framed originals. I find myself wishing 400 Series was a bit softer to allow for darker tones but it's a good choice for medium- to light-toned drawings. It is an acid-free cellulose paper giving it a Good archival rating. I would highly recommend this paper to anyone.

Highly Recommended
starstarstarstarstar

Moderately Archival

Arches Hot Press
Watercolor Paper
also includes Bright White

Arches Hot Press Watercolor Paper
A fairly smooth hot press watercolor paper. It has plenty of tooth to hold lots of media (graphite or charcoal). I've tried very diligently to use watercolor papers for drawing but I just can't seem to convince myself that it fits my style of drawing. Many of my artist friends use it to great effect but I just don't seem to be able to get over my dislike of the extra tooth.

I used to use the standard white, but I tried some Bright White and have switched to it for drawings I intend to sell as prints. The brighter white allows me to scan the drawing and still retain the brighter values without getting clipped highlights. I haven't noticed much difference between the texture of the two papers, but I would say that the Bright White has a slightly denser feel than the traditional white. This 100% cotton rag paper is acid free and very archival.
Recommended
starstarstarstar

Very Archival
Fabriano Artistico Hot Press
Watercolor Paper


Fabriano Hot Press Watercolor Paper
A favorite paper among a few of my artist friends. It has what is described as a "buttery" feel when applying graphite pencil. There is significant tooth to the Fabriano which can detract from very fine details and smoother tones unless you switch to 0.5mm or even 0.3mm pencils. Fabriano is quite warm in tone and probably a more natural tone than regular Arches. The Extra White version of Fabriano used to be called Uno and is definitely brighter than the regular version. I use this paper occasionally for drawings with a bit more texture or when I am using charcoal pencil.
Recommended
starstarstarstar

Very Archival
Strathmore 300 Series
Bristol Smooth

Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Smooth

Very similar to 400 Series except it has more tooth producing a rougher effect. I find myself disliking this paper more each time I try it. It is quite easy to draw on but the rough grain is very difficult to eliminate from the finished drawing. I find that I use 0.5mm pencils much more with this paper because of this. It is acid free with decent archival properties. I would recommend the higher grade Canson 2-Ply if you like a rougher paper just because it has a nicer feel to it.

Recommended
starstarstar

Moderately Archival
Canson 2-Ply
Bristol Smooth


Canson 2-ply Bristol Smooth
Very similar to Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Smooth except the paper is firmer. This has a benefit and a disadvantage to it. The advantage is that it layers beautifully. You can use relatively hard grades (H or 2H and even 4H) and establish fairly dark tones by continual layering. The disadvantage, as with any rougher paper, is that it is very difficult to establish perfectly smooth dark tones. You really have to work to get the grain out of your shadows with this paper, more so than either of the recommended Strathmore versions). This is an acid-free paper with decent archival properties. It's a bit tough to find this paper as they make a student grade (see Canson Bristol Smooth above) that is far more readily available.

Recommended
starstarstar

Moderately Archival
Canson Student
Bristol Smooth

Canson Bristol Smooth
Not to be confused with Canson's more premium version, 2-ply Bristol (see below). This paper couldn't be more different from it's cousin. Canson Bristol Smooth is very smooth and fairly soft allowing for very pleasing results with minimal effort. You can establish quite dark tones but are limited in your ability to layer with harder grades as the paper is fairly soft. It has an very, very subtle mottling to the pulp which speaks to its less-expensive manufacturing process but I've never had it affect a drawing so it's not really a disadvantage -- mostly just a feature that a paper geek would notice. I really like the effects I can get with this paper. It is an acid-free paper and is fairly easy to find online.

Recommended
starstarstar


Moderately Archival

Rising Stonehenge

Stonehenge Drawing Paper
Great for colored pencil as well as charcoal. A bit toothy for very smooth textures, but it can be used to great effect for subjects with short hair or with fluffier coats. I used this for a Paint Horse and it gave a convincing texture to the coat. It has an almost fuzzy feeling that can be pleasant to work with as long on you're not trying to draw extremely smooth textures (e.g., glass, marble, etc.) I use this paper in my sketchbooks because of how easy it is to draw on. It is comparable in texture to Fabriano HP (see below), but feels a bit "fuzzier".

Recommended with Reservations
starstar


Very Archival

Strathmore 500 Series
Bristol Plate

Strathmore 500 Series Bristol Plate
very smooth and resilient paper. Great for crisp lines and smooth textures but it can be extremely difficult to achieve truly black tones or to "graft" one drawing section into another because of the smoothness of the paper. Also, there is a tendency for blotchiness in large uniform areas if you aren't very careful in building up your layers very slowly and with minimal pressure. It is necessary to work in multiple layers to get a smooth effect but it accepts darks remarkably well considering how smooth it is, especially if you use 6B pencils. There isn't enough tooth to create multiple dark layers, so you have to be aggressive if you want to go dark and hit it with 6B right off the bat.

Update (Sept 7th, 2010): Due to changes in Strathmore's manufacturing (either their process or more likely their supplier) this paper has undergone fairly significant changes since I started using it just a few years ago. I've received thee different 'versions' of this paper and the most recent is almost like wax paper and very difficult to achieve anything over medium gray. For that reason, I've down-graded the 'Ease of Use' to 2 out of 5 stars and no longer recommend this paper to other artists.

100% cotton rag gives it the highest archival rating available. A good choice for short-haired animals or other finely detailed drawings, especially lighter pieces with little deep shadow.
Not Recommended
star

Very Archival
"Drawing" Quality Papers: I would avoid these for serious drawings, but I think they're great for working out compositions, drawing thumbnail samples, and daily drawing activity. I really like the Strathmore 400 Series Drawing Paper, but it has an extremely off-white tone that can make scanning difficult. It's fine for line work and for non-serious efforts.  

Blu-Tack

Blu-Tack is a wonderful drawing tool discovered for this purpose by Mike Sibley. It's basically a wall putty that you can use for lifting graphite from your drawing paper. When it is used to dab an area of graphite it lifts each layer miraculously from the page without disturbing the underlying details. You won't have as much luck when you try to rub an area as it is so tacky it tends not to lift as well. I still use a kneaded eraser when I want to erase an area with a traditional rubbing motion but when I want to lighten a drawn area or lift graphite without causing harm to that area, nothing beats Blu-Tack. You can buy packs of it through Mike's website -- it is definitely worth a try.

Back to Top

Last Update: September 7, 2010


Copyright © Rich Adams 2006
All Rights Reserved