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Pencils are a stick of graphite mixed with clay in a wooden holder. Varying the proportions makes the lead (early pencils used lead instead of graphite) harder or softer, and pencils are graded accordingly. Take care not to drop pencils on a hard surface; this will shatter the lead, making the pencil useless.
Graphite sticks are thick pencils without the wood, and are graded in the same way as pencils. They are probably easier to use, not requiring sharpening so often. Extra-thick graphite sticks are also available.
Charcoal It looks like a burnt stick;
it is a burnt stick. It is probably the earliest material used by the first
artist and itís still hard to beat. Charcoal is made by burning willow twigs or
vines in the absence of air so that they carbonize rather than bursting into
flame. Willow charcoal comes in sticks of three different sizes - fine, medium
and thick. The only difference is the diameter of the stick; fine sticks may be
useful for details and fine lines, thicker sticks are excellent
for covering a large area of paper quickly and easier to hold (you will
spend a lot of your time picking up your charcoal from the floor).
Kneadable (putty) Eraser can be rolled or kneaded to shape to lift off very precise areas of pencil or charcoal. Use a dabbing or rolling motion rather than rubbing, which will smudge. After long use the eraser will become clogged with charcoal dust and will no longer work; it must then be discarded. A kneadable eraser will also work with graphite pencils.
Erasers Any good-quality pencil eraser will do to erase pencil drawings, but over-use of an eraser is not encouraged. It is better to work over the drawing until the lines are right then re-draw it. Using an eraser may damage the surface of the paper, leaving it rough and spoiling the effect of the finished work. This is a serious problem if watercolour washes are to be used on the page. Work up your drawing on separate paper then trace the finished design onto watercolour paper. Always use a kneadable eraser to remove pencil lines from watercolour paper.
Bulldog Clips are used to attach your drawing paper to a drawing board. They will need to be as big as possible to hold it securely. You may prefer to use masking tape.
Drawing Paper There are many different papers available, and the only way to discover which ones you really like is to try them out. To begin with, however, a pad of cartridge paper is adequate for drawing in pencil or charcoal. Avoid very cheap paper with a shiny surface (e.g. photocopying paper) as it will not take charcoal well. Buy A2 size paper, or larger; anything smaller will cramp your drawing. An excellent, comparatively inexpensive general-purpose paper is the blue-covered "Como" brand pad, which is suitable for all drawing mediums and for watercolour or acrylic painting; unless you want to use oil paint, you will not need to buy any other paper. (Oil painters see note on oil painting paper, below)
Drawing Board There are various drawing boards for sale, most of which are heavy and expensive, but may be just what you want in your studio. For general purposes, however, your board need only be a piece of Masonite or craft board cut slightly larger than your drawing paper. Cardboard is not suitable as it is not rigid enough; plywood and chipboard do not generally have a smooth enough surface. Your board must be thick enough not to bend, and be quite smooth. If using a board that has been painted make sure all brush-strokes have been sanded out. Even tiny nicks or lumps (like bits of sticky tape or blobs of paint) on a drawing board can show up in your drawing, so always have two or three sheets of paper under your page.
Coloured Pencils are not just for primary school. They are a convenient and expressive medium favoured by designers and illustrators. They should be sharpened and cared for in the same way as blacklead pencils - the only difference is that the graphite "lead" is replaced with various pigments mixed with wax binder. The better the quality, the more intense the colours and the smoother the application. Different brands are harder or softer; good quality pencils can be bought individually, so you can buy one or two of different brands to decide which you prefer. Soft pencils are good for colouring large areas; hard ones will hold a point well, and are good for fine detail. The drawing below is in coloured pencil.
Soft, or Chalk Pastels, are sticks of pigment with just enough gum arabic to keep them together. When rubbed on an abrasive surface they leave a layer of pigment and many layers of different colours can be built up. Pastels are very simple to use because of their immediacy; they can be smudged together, colours can be mixed, and a broad range of effects can be achieved. A basic set of twelve colours is plenty to begin with.
An old oil-painting brush is very useful for blending pastels or for dusting off excess pigment when revising part of a pastel painting.
Place a towel on the floor under your easel. When you drop your pastels (as you inevitably will) this will stop them shattering on a hard floor or rolling under awkward bits of furniture. It will also protect your carpet from pastel dust. You may need a very large towel.
Oil pastels contain wax and linseed oil to stop them smudging. This makes it difficult to mix colours together and limits the range of effects possible. However, they are very cheap, come in vivid colours and can produce some striking pictures. Artistís quality oil pastels are much softer and have more intense colours than cheaper brands.
Drawing Paper suitable for pastels must have plenty of tooth, or roughness, to hold the pigment. Cartridge paper can be used, but is too smooth for good results. Pads of pastel paper in various colours are available and very useful, but it is easier to begin on white paper. The blue-covered Como pads are a good, inexpensive paper for beginners. You can buy single sheets of many different papers; the best thing to do is try out as wide a variety as possible and decide which you prefer. Extreme artists use wet-and-dry sandpaper, which is lovely to work on but they go through a lot of pastels.
Ruler, compass, eraser - you only need the standard primary school variety. Borrow a compass from your childís maths set; you probably won't need it again.
Brushes - good quality brushes are essential. All watercolourists dream
of incredibly expensive pure sable brushes, but these are not necessary when
youíre starting out. N.A.M. series 700 synthetic brushes are ideal, and there are some excellent nylon (Taklon) brushes available. The sizes given here are only a guide; you need not have exactly these sizes so long as you have one large brush and a smaller one.
Caring for watercolour brushes
Watercolour paper (300 gsm): The notes about pastel paper apply here, too. There is a mind-boggling variety of watercolour papers on the market. You can buy blocks and pads of watercolour paper and you can buy individual sheets. For gouache, your Como pad is as good as anything. GSM is the unit used in measuring the thickness of paper - 300 gsm means it weighs 300 grams per square meter. Photocopying paper is 80 or 90 gsm.
Watercolour Palette or several old saucers. Plastic watercolour palettes are very cheap. Even cheaper are ice-block trays. You probably have some lurking in the back of a cupboard. Or you can pick them up for 50Ę from an Op Shop. Make sure theyíre white; coloured ones will make it too hard to see what colours you are mixing. For gouache you can also use a flat palette - a plastic plate, the lid off an ice-cream container (white, of course) or a piece of white Laminex will do. There is no such thing as a palette that is too big; every palette is too small.
Gouache (pronounced goo-arsh) is
similar to the poster paint you may have used at school. It is very easy to use
and favoured by designers and commercial artists.
Acrylic paint is a relatively new material, developed in the 1940s. The pigment is bound in a synthetic polymer which dries indissolubly. Artistsí quality acrylic paint comes in the same range of colours as oil paints and can be used in the same manner, but is thinned with water rather than oil or turpentine. This is one advantage; another is that it can be used on almost any surface, paper, canvas, board etc. with a minimum of preparation. It handles in a similar way to gouache (see above) and dries almost as quickly, but a drawback is that once it dries on the palette you have to mix up a new batch if you need that particular colour again.
Because they do not require volatile solvents, acrylic paints are often used in preference to oils, particularly in painting classes conducted in a confined space. The lessons learned in using acrylic apply equally well to oil paint, and the equipment required is just the same - brushes, palette knife, rags. You can use oil sketch paper or heavy drawing paper, and will need only one container, for water.
Although you can mix acrylic paint with your brush, it is better to use a palette knife - see the note in the oil painting section below. You will probably find a large, flat palette similar to that used for oil painting (see below) easiest for acrylic painting. To overcome the problem of mixed colours drying too quickly on your palette, make a wet palette. Use a paper palette or a large piece of greaseproof paper resting on a folded wet towel in a flat tray (large flat baking trays or kitty litter trays are good). This will keep your mixed colour moist and usable for much longer.
There is a range of different additives you can buy to modify the handling behaviour of acrylic paint - retardants will slow the drying time, allowing you to blend colours and keeping the paint on your palette usable for longer, and various gels let you build up impasto. Experiment with these to find out what you can do with them.
Canvas board This is a piece of cardboard with canvas glued on one side. Although the cardboard tends to buckle, canvas boards have the advantage of being ready to paint on with no further preparation. You can also buy pads or individual sheets of oil-painting paper, which is excellent for practising colour mixing and for your painting exercises.
Turpentine is used both for thinning paint and for cleaning paintbrushes. Pure turpentine is preferable to mineral turpentine, mainly because it smells better, or you may prefer the odourless solvent available from artists suppliers. Don't get talked into buying cute little bottles of expensive solvents or painting medium; you will need at least a litre of turpentine for some serious brush washing. Use of other mediums is beyond the scope of these notes, but you can introduce them as and when required.
Dipper A dipper is a small container for clean turps or other painting medium. You can buy cute little ones to clip onto the edge of a palette, but they are generally too small to dip your biggest brushes in. Once you begin to find out how you want to paint, you may find one useful. Itís cheaper and easier to use a small cat-food or baked bean tin. Make sure itís thoroughly clean and dry and youíve hammered down any sharp edges your tin-opener may have left.
Large screw-top jar or a 600 ml capacity enamel bowl (for used turpentine and brush washing). If you are attending painting classes you will need both; the bowl to wash your brush in while painting, and the jar in which to carry your dirty turpentine home again. You can use a large jam tin instead of a bowl. See the note above concerning edges.
Oil painting brushes Once again, buy good quality brushes. Cheap oil painting brushes are too soft and the bristles begin to curl and spread after the first use, or, worse still, fall out. Oil painting brushes are more robust than watercolour brushes, but should always be cleaned well after use and carried and stored with care. Watercolour brushes can be used for oil painting, but will not survive very long, and once you have used them for oil paint they can never again be used for watercolour. Round oil painting brushes are available, but I generally find the flat ones are more useful- a good range is at least one each of sizes 2, 4, 6 & 10 . You should, however, try using a round brush; you may like it. Oil painting brushes are numbered in the same way as watercolour brushes - small number = small brush.
Palette knife A palette
knife is used to mix paint on the palette. It looks like a small spatula, with a
flexible metal blade which may or may not have a zig-zag bend in it. You need a
palette knife with a reasonably large blade. A painting knife has a
diamond-shaped blade with a slender stem. To all intents and purposes they are
interchangeable, but a palette knife is stronger. Painting knives are designed
for putting paint on canvas and the blade will snap easily if roughly handled.
Plastic palette knives are incredibly cheap, but generally brittle and seldom
survive their first painting. Lately, however, there have been some better ones
around that seem to be more flexible and last longer. You might find plastic palette knives better if mixing acrylic paint on a "wet" palette (see above).
Palette an oil painting palette must be flat as you mix up large quantities of paint. It must also be large - the absolute minimum size is 30cm square. There is no such thing as a palette that is too big. Any flat, solvent-proof white surface is good. A piece of white Laminex or Perspex is ideal; many students buy cheap glass cutting boards which will do, but are generally a bit small. If you buy one with roses or dolphins on it you will find the back is plain white and a nice smooth surface for mixing paint. The little plastic feet come off easily, and with energetic application of a paint scraper so does the picture, if you can be bothered. If you buy a craft-wood palette you may have to rub plenty of raw linseed oil (from your hardware shop) into it before use or you will find it absorbs the oil out of your paint, and it can be difficult judging your colour mixtures on the brown surface. The tiny little oval palette you see in pictures is practically useless. Donít even accept one as a gift. In an absolute emergency you can open out an empty milk carton and use that, but you will find it frustratingly small and it will slide around on the table. The same goes for the disposable paper palettes you can buy, although they can be handy and you can have several in use at once.
Oil paint You need red, yellow,
blue and white, as with gouache. Artists quality oil paints are preferable, but
well-known brands of student quality colours can be used. The main difference is
that student colours contain more fillers so the colours arenít so intense. The
expensive part of paint is the pigment. Oil paints are labelled with a number
from one to four. Series One pigments are the cheapest, and include ochres and
earth colours; Series Four pigments are the most expensive and include all the
really good colours. Avoid boxed sets of oil paints with tiny little tubes like
watercolours. They are a waste of money as you will use an entire tube full of
paint in about four brush-strokes, and will have to buy a larger tube of white
before you even start.
Newspapers and rags are indispensible when oil painting. You are forever having to wipe your brush; itís a good idea to have plenty of newspaper under your palette, not only to protect table/benchtops, but to give your brush a quick wipe as you go along. You will need both rags and paper when cleaning up at the end of the session.
Some things you may find handy as you go on are
Conté is similar to pastel, but a bit harder. It comes in a nice variety of browns and greys and is beautiful for drawing. It behaves very much like charcoal, but the reddish colour is softer and very attractive. You can get some good effects on light brown paper; use white conté to put in highlights at the end.
Felt-tip pens come in different
thicknesses - Pilot and Artline are the most common brands, and you can get a
very fine point. They are excellent for quick sketches and can be used in
conjunction with washes instead of using a pen and nib, but be aware that not all inks are waterproof.
Pen and nib - another old but still
excellent drawing implement. A soft nib is easier to use than a very stiff one.
After you have been using one for a while it gradually wears to suit your
individual style. The trick when using a nib pen is not to put any weight on it;
dip it into the ink just as far as the top of the little hole in the middle,
then let it glide across the page. Take care of nibs; they are easily damaged
and itís annoying when a disaster befalls your favourite and you have to
break in a new one.
Ink comes in many varieties. Indian ink is permanent, waterproof and light-fast and is the most commonly used. There are shellac-based drawing inks in a range of colours, and there are some good acrylic based black drawing inks as well as the special inks designed for use in drafting pens. Chinese ink comes in a solid block. To use it you need a ceramic palette or a special ink-stone. You can buy boxed sets containing ink, stone, brush rests, an ink pot, goat hair brushes and several sheets of rice paper. Put a few drops of water on the inkstone then rub the end of the ink block on it. Add a few more drops of water as needed. The longer you work the ink block on the stone the more intensely black will the ink gathering at the end of the stone become. All inks can be diluted with water to produce lighter tones.