Artists love art supplies! Illustrator and author Cleo Papanikolas shares the 10 supplies from the art store (and other places!) that she can’t live without!
1. Go-To Drawing Pencils
My go-to drawing pencil is a Staedtler Mars HB. It doesn’t smear much when I paint over it. When it starts getting short I use a pencil extender and a little handheld pencil sharpener to get the most out of each one.
If I’m working on harder paper like Bristol or writing in my notebook I reach for the luscious Blackwing. I erase a lot and use a white eraser, no particular brand but all different sizes. I sweep the eraser dust into my lap trying to keep it off my desk and out of my paint.
I’ve gone through quite a few crank-style pencil sharpeners. Electric sharpeners stop automatically just before the pencil gets really sharp, which is why I don’t use them.
2. Just One Paper, Cut to Fit
I used to buy a lot of watercolor blocks. I still love them and have a large collection of the heavy boards from the back of the blocks. Now at the art store I buy Arches Hot Press paper in large sheets and cut it to a size that fits on my scanner. I tape the paper to backer boards with washi tape.
My desk pad is not from the art store but from Ikea. Sometimes when I coat my paper with acrylic medium I don’t tape it down. Instead, I cover the whole thing quickly going off the edges and onto this desk pad. Because it is plastic the paper doesn’t stick to it too badly and as the paper dries it shrinks back down uniformly without wrinkling or having to do the regular watercolor paper stretching routine.
3. Tracing Paper
Canson tracing paper is pretty clear. I also use the yellow canary paper just because I find it so aesthetically pleasing. I use tracings to arrange compositions, move, flip, and resize images that I then transfer to nice paper and redraw with good line quality.
4. Matte Medium
I coat my paper with acrylic matte medium (usually Liquitex or Golden) before I paint – this allows me to easily remove gouache from paper.
After I get my pencil drawing finalized I apply two coats and let it dry. Because the paint doesn’t soak into the paper it makes uncontrolled tie-dye effects as it dries. Some people love that, some hate it. I can also spray water on a washy area and dab it with a towel to make a speckled effect.
5. Gouache Paints
This is a new palette that I just set up. I work with mostly Winsor and Newton paints. Up until now I’ve kept to a minimal palette consisting of a warm and cool tone of each of primaries, some earth tones, white, and a few extras. I work with gouache and like to mix most of the colors for my paintings myself.
Recently I’ve been making color chart posters so I bought a bunch of new colors. It will be interesting to see if my paintings look different with three times the colors in my palette as I’ve previously used.
6. No Loyalty in Brushes
At the art store, I shop for brushes by feel, looking for something that is not too soft nor too springy. It has to have a short handle and bonus points if it is wide, to ease the hand cramp. I’ll use a few rounds varying between size 0 and 6, and a couple of flats for dry brush applications. I also use a wide brush for applying acrylic matte medium or background washes.
7. Paint “Remover”
Sometimes, it is just as important to remove paint as it is to apply it. I’ll often use a basic paper towel. But better than that are the blue shop paper towels, and the best is an old tee shirt rag cut into a nice maneuverable blotter. For detailed removal, I use Q-tips or “Thin Cotton Swabs” pictured here on the top that are available at Muji.
8. Wetting and Drying
This little glass pudding cup is my brush washing water container. I prefer a wide, low container so the handle doesn’t get wet when I rinse – and that annoying bead of water that runs down the handle and into the bristles during a delicate moment happens less frequently.
Whole Foods doesn’t sell this kind of pudding anymore but you should go out and try as many puddings as you can find until you get the perfect cup! The blow dryer and spray bottle are in constant rotation as I keep the paint on my palette wet and dry the paint on my paper.
9. Clear Bags
I put most of my finished illustrations in these Flap Seal Bags. My flat files are stuffed pretty full and I move art around looking for lost pieces frequently. The gouache on top of matte medium remains removable forever.
This way I can handle the art roughly, spread it out on the floor, tape it to the wall, or send it off to clients without damage.
10. Google Image Search
My supply that doesn’t come from the art store at all is visual inspirations and references from Google Image Search. I use the references that I find in several ways:
+ I combine several different images to make my sketch. Rearranging all the elements.
+I don’t copy any recognizable style or famous images. I also only draw from photos not other drawings.
+I also make a rough sketch from the image I am referencing but then put it away. Finishing the drawing out of my head allows me to emphasize the things I find important.