If you want to know how to begin drawing, first things first, you do not need fancy materials. To get started drawing; any scrap paper and pen or pencil will do. But if you do want to buy some basic drawing materials here are a few things we’d suggest.
A Basic List of Art Materials for a Beginner
Pencils for beginner drawing
A good all-around pencil for a beginner to start with is a 2B. If later on, you want to do a lot of shading work, consider also a 4B and 6B
Pencil hardness scale
Pencils are graded as numbers and letters. H pencils are hard pencils with the higher the number the harder the lead, so a 9H is much harder than a 2H. Harder pencils are better for technical type drawing.
B graded pencils have softer leads which increase in softness with the number. So a 9B is softer than a 2B. Softer pencils are better for shading.
Drawing pens for a beginner artist
The great thing about using a pen for drawing is it forces you to commit to your line because you can’t rub it out. This means you have to concentrate and look closely at what you’re drawing
Eraser and pencil sharpener
If you are using a pencil you may want an eraser. Go for a white one that won’t mark your page or ideally, a putty eraser as you can mould this into different sizes. You will also want a decent pencil sharpener. Either find a good handheld one or alternatively, these Derwent Manual Helical Desktop Sharpener are great.
Choose an acid-free sketch pad, A4 or A3 is a good size. You might also want a smaller A5 sketchpad that you can keep in your bag when you’re out and about.
A couple of sketchbooks we like:
Great economical cartridge paper sketchbooks. The paper has been treated so it can also take a little wet media. Available in both ring-bound and hardback versions.
A good all-round mixed media sketchbook
And that really is all you will need to begin with, because before you move on to color, you need to learn to draw first. Only then will you need to consider investing in other materials.
Deciding what to draw
Now you have your materials, how do you decide what to draw? Is there something you have always wanted to be able to draw? Maybe you want to draw faces, or landscapes or what about drawing flowers? Whatever the subject, choose that as your drawing theme and stick with it for 30 days. This is helpful because not only will you be able to see your progress over the month, but it also cuts out the procrastination of deciding what to draw. Remember that even if you had a favourite thing to draw years ago, it may not be the same now. I used to love drawing and painting buildings, but now I love drawing faces.
Drawing exercises for beginners
Draw what you actually see and not what you think you know. So, what do I mean by this? When we think of something we want to draw, we have preconceived ideas about what things look like. In fact, when you look closely, it may not be as you thought at all. For example, let’s say you want to draw an eye. A symbol version of an eye is an almond shape with a circle in it and then another circle inside for the pupil. Unless the person is wide-eyed with surprise you probably won’t see full circles of the iris or pupil. Parts may well be hidden within the eye or the eyelid. One way to overcome our brains deciding what something “should” look like is to draw upside down.
Take a photograph and turn it upside down, now attempt to draw it. Your brain will be forced to look at the shapes rather than thinking “I know what an eye looks like”. When you’re done, turn your drawing and the photo back over, to see how accurate you have been.
Blind contour drawing
A blind contour drawing is when you look at the subject you are drawing, but not at your paper. You also keep your pen or pencil on the paper at all times. This drawing exercise teaches you to closely observe your subject. One of the problems, when we draw normally is that we spend too long looking at our drawing, rather than the subject itself. The result of your blind contour drawing is not the important thing, the act of close observation is. That being said you can often end up with really interesting quirky drawings when you work like this.
Non-dominant hand drawing
If you find yourself feeling uptight about drawing and overly concerned with the result, this is a great exercise to try. Simply draw your subject using your non-dominant hand. It removes all expectations that your drawing should be good and so can help you relax a little more. It’s also said to awaken the creative side of our brains.
Negative space in art
Looking at negative space can help improve your art. So what exactly is the definition of negative space? It’s simply the shapes around and in between the subject you are drawing. So for example, if you were drawing a picture of a person with their hands on their hips, the negative space would be the empty area between the arms and the body. Sometimes it is easier to be more accurate by drawing that shape. Check out this video which explains it better.
There are lots of different rules of art composition, but one of the most well known and used is the ‘rule of thirds.’ Draw two rectangles, leave one blank and divide the other into 3 sections both horizontally and vertically. In the blank rectangle, roughly scribble a tree in the middle of it. In the second rectangle draw the tree so its trunk is on one of the vertical third lines. Although there is nothing wrong with the tree in the middle, the tree on a third will tend to look more interesting.
Here is an in-depth article on composition
When you start drawing, start with just outlines and don’t worry about the shading. Once you have got a grasp of outlines, only then think about shading. Choose a photo and look at what is the darkest area (this is easiest if you change your photo to black and white. Print out the photo and then take a colored pencil and draw around the darkest area. Then look for the second darkest areas and outline them. This will help you start noticing the areas of dark and light. You can also now try to base your drawing shading on the areas you created.
Learning to draw for beginners
There are some amazing resources on the web for learning to draw:
Skillshare has classes taught by artists all over the world, and you are bound to find something that suits you – get a free month of Skillshare Premium
Proko has some amazing free tutorials on Youtube and some paid courses. His tutorials are especially great for figure drawing and life drawing
Love Life Drawing
Another resource great for figure drawing is Love Life Drawing they have lots of free videos
Life Drawing Classes
You might also want to consider taking a regular in-person or online life draw class
If you want to learn illustration SVS Learn is a great resource.
- Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards
- Sketching from Square One, to Trafalgar Square, by Richard E Scott
Check out our other favourite art books too
When you start learning to paint
What Medium Should I Use?
There are so many mediums to choose from these days, so which should you choose? The simple answer is, it’s down to trial and error. You won’t know what suits you best, without experimenting.
Some people like to stick to dry media, in which case, soft pastels, colored pencils, or watercolor pencils might be a good choice. But then again, if you prefer a much richer texture, then oil pastels or wax pastels like Neocolor 2 might be for you. However, if you prefer working with paints and brushes, then there is gouache, acrylics, oils and watercolor, to name just a few!
The most common medium a beginner will rush to first, is watercolors. However, believe it or not, this is the trickiest, most unforgiving medium there is! You are better off starting with something like oils or acrylics, which are far more forgiving. if you do decide to go for watercolors you can choose between pans, which are solid blocks of color, or tubes. Tubes mean you can get more intensity of color easier as you can use them thickly, but pans are less messy and cheaper to get started. If you do use pans before you start painting give them a quick spray of water with a water spray bottle. This will prime your colours and make it much easier to get more pigment on your brush.
The drawback with acrylics, is that they dry very quickly and leave little time to blend. However, this can be helped a little with the addition of a slow drying medium. Depending on how you like to work, their quick drying time can be either a blessing or a curse. If you like to work quickly they could be ideal for you, but bear in mind you will have less time for blending before they dry.
People are often put off painting with oils because they have a reputation for being smelly and dangerous to use. This is something that the brand, Gamblin has addressed very successfully, so if oils are your choice, then our recommendation would be to go for Gamblin. Another thing that can be off-putting, is knowing which oil painting medium to use. Whilst it looks complicated, it needn’t be. Here is a simple oil painting mediums guide that explains what each one does.
Gouache is very much like an artist’s version of poster paint. It’s often used by illustrators. It’s water-soluble and can be thinned down with water to be used more like watercolors or used relatively thickly for a creamy “poster paint” like consistency.
There are many different types of pastels in various forms.
Soft pastels come in both stick and pencil form and they are great for getting color down quickly. The downside is preserving them. You can spray them with fixative, but that sometimes dulls the colors. It will help prevent the painting from smudging but not completely.
Oil pastels give a very painterly look. You can also get water-soluble oil pastels which allow blending with water. The downside of oil pastels is preserving them as they never dry and they smudge very easily. You can use fixative, or frame them behind class to help prevent this.
Water-soluble wax pastels like Neocolor ii and Lyra Aquacolor are similar to oil pastels but they don’t smudge as much. They can also be blended with water to give interesting effects similar to watercolor and gouache.
Try out different art mediums
Whatever you choose, don’t give up on it right away if it doesn’t work for you. It can be tricky to understand how different mediums respond, so give it time before moving on to something else
Which Art Brands Should I Use?
You might be tempted to go for the cheapest art supplies possible, to begin with. But, this would be a mistake. Cheap materials can be horrible to work with and not give you a true representation of the medium. Cheap watercolor paper is a particularly good example of this; it will most likely have an undesirable texture and it will almost certainly buckle, even with a light wash.
That said, buying the most expensive art materials would also be a mistake and is not necessary unless you are planning to sell your work. Go for the student quality versions of the well-known brands, such as Cotman watercolors by Winsor & Newton, or Georgian oils by Daler Rowney. These are mid-range art materials and are perfect for learning to paint. You don’t need much, to begin with. Go for fewer tools, but better quality!
If you don’t want to go to the bother of stretching your paper, choose paper that is around 300gms or more, even for practising. This will mean it won’t buckle as much when you apply water. There are different texture surfaces of watercolor paper. A standard amount of grain is called “Not” or “Cold Pressed” and it’s a good surface for a beginner to start with. You can also get “Rough” watercolor paper, this has much more texture and works well for things like loose landscapes. Then there is “hot-pressed” watercolor paper, which is smooth and is great if you want lots of fine detail in your painting.
Choose a watercolor from a well-known brand as suggested above, such as Windsor and Newton and Daler Rowney. You may also find that some big art stores have their own brands, this can save you money, but will need some testing. For example, I’ve found Hobbycraft’s watercolor pads great for practice, but the watercolor paper from “The Works” is dreadful. Choosing a bad paper can be frustrating because it will make your results worse than they should be.
Mixed media paper
Mixed media paper also works well for wet media. If you are just going to be using watercolors, stick with watercolor paper, but if you intend to experiment with different media, mixed media paper is a good all-rounder. It works well with water-soluble media like water-soluble crayons and pencils, ink, pencil, acrylic, gouache and markers. Alcohol markers will bleed through though. So you might want to place a scrap bit of paper in between the next page or go for a specialist marker paper.
Brands we like
- Canson XL – good all-round sketchbook
- Canson Imagine – smooth surface
- Daler Rowney Mixed Media Paper
If you are going to paint with oils, use canvas rather than paper. They usually come ready prepared so you can paint straight on them. Paper tends to buckle, so you may as well go for some budget canvases instead. You can also use canvas for acrylics, however, if you are going to use acrylics, make sure you choose a canvas that has been universally primed and not oil primed.
A basic color palette for painting
Once you are ready to move on to colors, you will need to invest in a basic color palette for beginners. But, you don’t need lots of colors to create art. You would be surprised at just how many colors you can mix with just the three primaries (red, yellow and blue) and a white. You can even mix your own black!
We would recommend taking the time to learn color theory before moving on to paint. Then pick two of each primary, one transparent and one opaque, one cool and one warm
- You can find a guide to color temperature here
- You can find a masterclass demonstrating the difference between transparent and opaque colors here
A Good, Basic Colour Palette for beginners:
- Alizarin Crimzon – Cool, transparent
- Cadmium Red – Warm, opaque
- Cerulean Blue – Cool and opaque
- Ultramarine Blue – Warm, translucent
- Cadmium Yellow Light – Cool opaque
- Indian Yellow – Warm translucent
You might also use an earth color and a white, for example:
- Raw Sienna
- Zinc White (white is not required for watercolor painting)
How to Avoid Mixing Muddy Colours
A common mistake that beginner artists make, is mixing colors, only to find that it has turned into a muddy brown color. This is where knowing when to use transparent and opaque colors can really help. If you want to learn more about this, take a look at this video:
What Brushes Should I Use?
This is a tricky one because it’s down to personal choice. But, do go for a few mid-range brushes, rather than lots of cheap ones. You will need to make sure you use the right brush for your choice of medium.
With watercolor, you can get away with one or two medium-sized, round Kolinsky Sable brushes. As long as they have a great point you can make both fine and broad strokes, without having to buy lots of different brushes. Kolinsky Sable are a great choice since they hold a lot of pigment, reducing the number of strokes required.
Oil painting brushes
For oils and acrylics, you will need something stiffer. My preference is the synthetic fibres, such as the Rosemary & Co, Ivory range, as they have a little more flexibility and bounce, which I enjoy.
How do I Find my Art Style?
This is a common question and one that many beginner artists worry about far too soon.
The fact is, that your art style will develop naturally over time, rather like your handwriting. However, whilst style is not something that can be plucked off a shelf, there are things that can help you to find your art style more quickly.
Take a look at this 60 Day, Find Your Art Style Challenge, to show you how:
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