My Tools for Success

When I finally returned to making art, my first project, a series of candid portrait drawings, involved a few simple tools and I believe that it is one reason I stuck with it. It was unintentional but by keeping my materials and subject simple, I set myself up for success (more about that project here).

I used pencil and paper, the same basic materials I used when I first became serious about art as a teenager. I already knew how to use them and there was minimal set up involved.

In the past I wanted to paint, so I bought a set of oil paints and tried to make one painting. In college, I took only the required oil painting classes so the learning curve was way too high.

I didn't do any preliminary sketches or play around with the paint, I went straight in to the final product. There is also a lot of set up and clean up required for oil painting so I couldn't quickly dive in if I had limited time or energy.

I'm not suggesting that pencil and paper will help everyone return to art.

I believe that using materials that are familiar and enjoyable to you could alleviate some of the obstacles to making art.

You may not want to start out with a medium you've never used if your goal is to start a regular practice of making art.

It can be difficult to make art on a regular basis, try to choose a medium that doesn't make it harder. This will mean something different for everyone.

Perhaps you can think back to what materials you loved using when you felt no pressure and just enjoyed the process of creating.

(Share your go-to materials in the comments!)

my art supplies

For me, those materials were:

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A digital camera

I started with the large Canon DSLR that I already had. I began taking it with me when I traveled, but I wanted something smaller, lighter and more subtle.

After much research, I bought a Sony Alpha NEX-5N. If you're interested in the tech's a compact, mirrorless camera that is much smaller than a DSLR camera. It has a large sensor and interchangeable lenses.

I chose it for size and photo quality but also because the screen on the back tilts so I could hold the camera very low and tilt the screen up towards my face. This enabled me to take stealthy candids out in public without attracting much attention.

It's also just a generally great camera that I still use often and is particularly terrific for travel due to its compact size.

You can find the current Sony model on Amazon
(As an Amazon Affiliate I may earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.)


I like soft graphite in order to achieve dark areas so I usually use 6b up to 8b graphite pencils. You may want to experiment with a range of hard to soft graphite to see what you prefer - this set from Faber-Castell includes one each of 8B, 6B, 4B, 2B, B, and HB.

8B is the softest in the set, meaning it makes the darkest mark. At the other end of the spectrum is HB which is the hardest in the set so the marks will be lighter.


When I started drawing portraits, I used an 11x14 inch Strathmore pad of 80lb smooth white drawing paper. It's a good quality, acid-free paper and it's affordable.


A General's kneaded gum eraser is useful for pulling up some graphite to lighten an area. You simply squish the eraser with your hands and press down on the area you want to lighten. You "clean" the eraser by "kneading" it together like dough. These erasers last for decades in my experience!

To erase large areas as completely as possible without damaging the paper, I use a Staedtler Mars white plastic eraser.

I've also come to love my Tombow stick eraser for more precision. It's only a couple of dollars and you can buy inexpensive refills.


You may prefer electric sharpeners but I go for the old school handheld type like this one from Staedtler.

You'll find a ton of other art supplies on the Blick website.

What are your go-to art tools?

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