My Favorite ARt Materials

All in one place, with links! Here is a list and little bit of commentary on my favorite art materials, folks! If you are taking part in the Layers of Color Workshop starting in April, this is a great reference. You don’t need to rush off and buy anything though. My advice would be to grab some basics and then read the posts/watch the videos. If you see a technique, tool or material you think looks awesome, go for it! But you likely won’t want to try absolutely everything you see. Listen to your gut and just work with the items that excite you!

I’ve broken it down into parts bc i work lots of different ways. Hopefully, this will organize things nicely.

Drawing & Sketching

Paper – i sketch on printer paper all the time. Cheap and readily available. It’s nice when it’s not precious. You sorta feel more free to be imperfect. i also keep proper sketchbooks of all kinds, none better than the rest to me. Now, for artwork, i am more specific. For sketching portraits, i like Canson Mi Tientes paper or Strathmore Bristol. i use the Canson in mid-tones for chalk & charcoal facial portraits. It has a light weight but nice texture for the portrait to give it a very timeless appearance.  The Bristol is good for slicker, modern, fun ink drawings and doodles. It’s smooth vellum surface takes smooth ink lines and vivid color from markers, colored pencils very well.

Pens – i use Pigma Micron pens and Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens for all my ink drawings. i use all the nib sizes, but love the teeniest ones best for my intricate doodles. The brush tip is great for adding line weight when i do cartoons.

Pencils – Oh lord….i like pencils a lot. i use mechanical pencils for my sketches because i like a constantly sharp tip. i buy them at Staples in bulk, because they are always disappearing from my office! For finished artwork, i use Derwent Graphite pencils. i have this set and use almost every hardness when i do a shaded portrait. i start with a super sharp H and work my way up to the softest 6B for adding depth. It’s a great set if you’re into shading. I have the big set of Prismacolor colored pencils. My favorites get replaced individually when i can’t hold the nub anymore. i keep them in these handy cases. Last set of faves is my Derwent inktense pencils. They are water-soluble and full of color! Imagine drawing a whole picture, then being able to go back and make your colored pencil drawing look like a watercolor painting…yeah, kinda like that.

Miscellaneous – i always keep tracing paper on-hand, for tracing off nice clean images from my messy sketches. i also keep little swatches of it under my drawing hand when using graphite or pastel so i don’t smudge it all up. i also can’t live without my lightboxes. i have a laptop-sized one with a curved edge so you don’t dent your paper by leaning on it accidentally. And i have a huge tabletop one. i transfer drawings with it, i use it when i’m watercoloring letters so i don’t need a pencil outline….love it.


Paper – i keep cheaper brands on hand for quick studies and sketches, but i will admit to preferring Arches and Fabriano papers for any finished work. They are pricier. i wince when i buy them. But the way they take color and allow you to lift color….oh man, you can really tell the difference. It’s like magic. i love the toothy look of cold pressed papers. i feel like they really scream WATERCOLOR! But the velvety refinement of hot press is nice sometimes too. i always remember my art teacher telling us that we should imagine an iron….if it’s cold, it won’t get all the bumps out (cold press = bumpy paper)…if the iron is hot, all the wrinkles come out (hot press= smooth paper). i also watercolor right in my sketchbook all the time. i just don’t do any floods of water which would overly warp the pages. A little warping is ok : )

Paints – ummm….i sort of collect watercolor paint. So maybe i should just share my absolute faves? For dry pan sets, i like this 36-pan set by Talens Angora and this 24-pan one by Koi which is good for travel. For intense color, i add in bits and bobs of other stuff like dyna-flow fabric/textile paint, liquid watercolors from Dr. Ph Martins and Derwent Inktense water soluble pencils (also mentioned above). i don’t use tube watercolors very much anymore, but they are fine too! Lastly, i like to do overlays with white and other semi-opaque colors a lot, so i have a nice set of Holbein Artist’s gouache handy. I have whole set of colors in tiny tubes because you don’t need much! Then i have a large tube of white because i use it a lot. (loosely translated, Gouache=opaque watercolors)

Brushes – i like these brushes by Kuretake for travel or for watercolor sketching on the couch or in bed….places i don’t want a jar of water cramping my style : ) Their handle is actually a water reservoir that you access by squeezing. My kids think they’re fun. But i have a zillion traditional brushes too and prefer round or taper brushes most of the time, sable bristles or synthetic. Proper watercolorists like flat brushes for color fills, i think…but i rarely use mine. i also really like itty bitty detail brushes and also liner brushes that have long, bendy bristles for loops and lines.

Miscellaneous – Keep lots of paper towels handy. i fold 2 or 3 and tuck the edge under my water jar. Always lots of blotting going on! Blue painters tape is always handy to me also. i always muck up my paper with traditional masking tape, so the blue stuff saves me wrecking my paintings. Masking tape is stronger though, so use what you like.


Canvas – i like artist canvas in the deep profile from utrecht. i use squares 90% of the time. i have no idea why! i am just drawn to them. i DO buy bulk packs of low profile cheapo canvas from the craft store to mess around on when i’m experimenting or working with my kids. But honestly, you can’t really mess up a canvas. If you hate your painting, just paint over it! So i say get the size/depth/quality you like and go for it.

Paints – Acrylic paints – another obsession. Plan to take a bit of time when you are building up an arsenal of acrylics, because it’s easy to go broke! i buy a couple every time i’m in the art store and then do bigger purchases online at blick or utrecht. 80% of the time, i use fluid (or soft body) acrylics. They are the consistency of heavy cream. i use Golden and Liquitex. i do own heavier body acrylics that hold their shape more (in tubes). i have craft store brands,  student grade brands, and also Liquitex BASICS, Windsor & Newton Galeria and Amsterdam. But i mostly just use these to lay down broad areas of color for backgrounds, especially on large canvases. i don’t like to build up texture, just not my thing, so the fluids are my go-to. Last thing! Paint pens. Liquitex acrylic paint pens and Montana paint pens (smaller nib sizes) are great if you are not so steady with the liner brush and want to add doodles and thin linework to your paintings.

Brushes – For backgrounds, i like big, soft, fluffy round brushes that really hold a lot of paint and blend well. For mid-layers, i generally use 1/2″ to 1 1/2″ flat brushes – filbert(rounded) or square bristles. For top details, i use liner brushes and smaller, long-handled filberts most often. These are all preferences based on the shapes and strokes i like to make. But lord knows you should experiment and use whatever feels good to you. There are 8 gazillion brushes out there! If i could only have 2 brushes, i’d want my 1/2″ filbert long handle and a #6 round brush short handle.  But thank goodness that’s not the case! : ) i generally like soft synthetic bristles or soft natural bristles like sables. But natural, stiffer bristles are nice sometimes when i want to do a bit of texture-y/scratchy brush work.

Miscellaneous – i love my grey paper palette. i HATE cleanup, so paper palettes are my favorite. Tear off your mess and toss it. The grey kind helps mix dark and light color values bc it gives you a perfect middle tone to compare to. Again, paper towels! A good adjustable spray bottle like this. You can mist your canvas surface to keep paint moist and help mix colors. you can spray a stream of water to cause drips. You can mist your palette to keep paint from getting a skin. i love having this rolling cart to hold paints and this rolling table for my other side to hold my palette and water bucket and brushes. Is lighting a supply? Because you really need good light. sit by a window if at all possible. My electrician husband has also hooked me up with all kinds of extra lights and i have a full spectrum Ott light from my sewing days that i use on particularly dreary days too. It’s not an artist’s light, per se. But i find it really useful.

Additional must-haves in my studio: TV! i like to watch crime shows and sitcoms while i paint. Music usually makes me feel too lonely. i know….i am weird! If it’s a nice, sunny day and my windows are open, that’ll be the exception. Those days are so cheery to begin with, music is ok ; ) A chair. i also think this might be weird? i almost always sit at my easel rather than stand. Camera and tripod; i take high res photos at background and mid-stages of my paintings. Then i use them when i make digital art later as fills and textures. Work smarter, not harder, people! Multi-tasking is my middle name.

OK! i think i listed every darned thing. If i’ve left you with any burning questions, please ask and i’ll amend the post!

Hope it is helpful!




  1. says

    I love that you shared all this valuable information with us. Thank you so much, a definite heads up for supplies for your class. Love reading it all… Have a great rest of the week!

  2. Jackie says

    Wow! How unbelievably helpful! Thank you for this! So thoughtful to have all the links. Really appreciate your time doing all of that.

  3. says

    Great post! It’s funny that I too prefer to be listening to the tv or have something on Netflix on my iPad when I’m painting rather than music…I’ll do music every now and then but sometimes I feel like I can’t “hear my thoughts” if I’m listening to music, ha! but if listening to the radio, “This American Life” from NPR is my favorite! Thanks for sharing your paint markers favorites. I’ve been using markers for outlines in my paintings for a while and started using Posca Markers recently, but I feel they die too fast. I’m going to try some of the ones you suggested for sure.

  4. says

    I am kind of with you on the music and my husband has a radio show (all music!). I told him I can ‘t listen to it regularly because so much of the music makes me feel so sad. I prefer tv too, so I am heavy into Netflix or I’ll watch online classes. Thanks for the info on your favorite supplies, I keep seeing the Ikea cart and I have to get one.

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