FAQ – The Tools & Materials Edition

Often the first question I get when I say I’m an artist, is what kind of artist or what do I create. Many times this is an assumption that I paint, which I don’t though I do play around with watercolor and pastels.  But here’s a collection of the tools I do use and how I use them, including my favorite brands. I’ve broken them down into categories:

Analog Tools for Illustration

I begin almost everything with a sketch. Even the original pieces, I will sketch out thumbnails to work out a composition, perspective, or proportion. To do this I have a couple of sets of pencils. Each set ranges from a 2H to a 6B pencil. I carry one set with me, another is in my studio and I have another set that is scattered throughout my house because I tend to sketch anywhere and when I can sneak in some time. I typically use a 2H, H, or HB pencil (depending on which is available) to begin more detailed sketches and later I’ll go back over them with a 3B or 6B pencil. If I’m just working thumbnails I’ll grab whatever is closest as long as it’s midrange. Often I even end up grabbing my kids school pencils. My favorite brand to work with lately are the Koh-I-Noor Toison d’Or graphite pencils. They’re inexpensive, sharpen well, and always feel good no matter the paper I’m using.

Speaking of paper, I use newsprint for warming up, learning and general sketching. I have a cheap sketchbook I use for ideating and thumbnails. I also tend to journal in it since it’s always near me. These I bought 10 of for $1.50 each at Micheals because they were on clearance but I love them because they are 5×8 so small but not tiny, they have dots which is great for creating thumbnails, a soft cover, and will lay flat when opened. I have 3 of these left and I’m unsure of what I’ll use when I’m through them.

I’m not precious with my sketchbooks so I’m also not partial to a brand but I do love my Speedball sketchbook. It’s larger (9×12) and where I’ll do a more detailed sketch for my illustrations. It lays flat and the pencil on the paper always feels good. Added bonus: Speedball is great for screen printing (one day I’ll get back to it) and calligraphy tools and their headquarters is located in my town. There are times I also reach for plain copy paper because it’s easy and I can tape it together if I need to go larger.

And I have another sketchbook that is toned – Strathmore – that I use for charcoal work – both black and white charcoal. I also have a studio journal that is a discbound notebook where I can insert sketches, moodboards, move things around and generally write and draw as I develop collections or pieces.

For illustrations, once I have my final sketch down in the sketchbook, I move on to refining that sketch, so I use tracing paper. I buy it in rolls because I tend to go through a lot of them. Refining those sketches will take typically 8-10 revisions.

Once I have the final final sketch (I’m not sure what else to call it) I will do a proper drawing if I want texture in the illustration. For this, I use a hot press watercolor paper from Strathmore. The feel of the pencil on this paper is beautiful and I know I’ll get every detail coming through when I scan it in to the computer.

Often if I want to work out value or add interesting marks, I’ll also use pens and ink. For the ink I use Winsor & Newton’s Black Indian Ink. I’ll dilute it often in an Arteza water brush pen to get different values. I also use Sakura Micron pens (almost all the sizes), a Pilot 3.8mm parallel pen, and a Pentel brush pen.


Analog Tools for Original Art

For dark charcoal drawings, I use Coates vine charcoal to begin a drawing. It’s so soft, meaning it’s easy to erase and you have to hold it loosely to draw or it may break so it’s fantastic for the undersketch and staying loose. Otherwise I use General’s compressed charcoal and their charcoal pencils but I also use Winsor & Newton’s charcoal pencils as well. I use the Generals more for studies.

For the white charcoal drawings, I use General’s white charcoal every time. And I use the same pens and ink as I mentioned above.

For paper I go between Canson’s 300gsm Colorline and French’s 100lb Construction card stock. They have a very different feel from each other but I love them both.


Digital Tools for Illustration

This is the straightforward part. I use Milanote for moodboards and organizing my work. I work with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for all of my illustration work. Everything begins in Illustrator and most of my work ends up in Photoshop. I use a custom made gaming desktop pc. I’m not a Mac person – used to be until someone recommended trying a gaming pc when my Mac died a slow death and I haven’t gone back because this computer is a beast that is still working well 7 years later. I also have a Microsoft Surface Pro and because I loved it we purchased the laptop version for my husband and another for my girls and they love them too. I have a Canon Pixma printer but it’s time for a new one and I’m researching what will be next.


Tools for Business

Because I can’t just do art all day everyday. I also have to put on a finance hat, marketing hat, and administrative hat.


Planning: I use my planner I created here in a discbound system. I also use Trello to organize my planning, my social media content calendar, my original art, and the myriad of lists I make. I use Microsoft One Note for all kinds of lists – lately I’ve been using it more than my notes app on my phone because it’s easier to organize.


Financials: I have to admit I’m the worst at this job. My husband is much better. I’m so bad, that I was using paper and randomly stuffing that paper somewhere to record financials. Recently he had me move to Excel and Wave. I use Square and Woocommerce (with Stripe) for orders and Wave for invoicing commissions.


Website: I use Siteground for hosting and WordPress to set up my websites. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend WordPress because it’s a beast and can do anything you want but that also means a learning curve. I happened to start using it way back in 2012 before there were so many other options and because it can do anything without limitation I’m still using it. I use Mailerlite for emails and I think that’s it.


Podcast: I use Anchor (though I think they just changed their name to Spotify for Podcasters.


Photos: I use my phone or my dslr camera and Lightroom to edit all my photos – whether on my phone or computer. I use InShot to edit video.

Whew!! I think that’s it! Shoot me an email and let me know if you have questions for any of it. I’m always willing to help and if I missed something let me know that too.

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