SHARING: Advice about Art Materials by Katherine Tyrrell


Learning about art materials   
My philosophy is that it is good to share and we all have something to learn.   I've learned about art materials in the past from many different artists whose recommendations I valued.  You may learn something new from me. 

Advice about art materials  
This is the approach I follow and essentially represents my advice to others.
  • Be an intelligent consumer and learn about the art materials you use
  • Aim to buy good quality art materials.  These normally indicate that they are designated artist standard and/or have archival and permanence qualities and/or meet relevant international quality standards (where developed).
  • Be discriminating and check manufacturers' claims.  The reality is that not all art materials are the same and not all materials meet internationally recognised quality standards. 
  • Find good and reliable suppliers for preferred brands - the brand that is easiest to find isn't always the quality I want.
  • Find out what does the job and works for me within my budget - the best is not always the most expensive.
  • Share your experiences of different art materials with your fellow artists - that way we can all learn from our collective experience.  You can read my product reviews on Making A Mark Reviews

Scroll down - and on this page you will find
  • Details of the art materials and equipment that work for me and which I use - both at home and while travelling. 
  • Links to the "Resources for Artists" information websites which I've developed - which provide a wider perspective on different media, art supplies and equipment, techniques, subject matter and the art business.

My Art Supplies - art materials & suppliers I use

 Media and associated tools

Supports (Paper / Board)

Original artwork for sale is completed using light fast and archival quality artist materials.

Whether I'm using pastels or coloured pencils, my approach tends to be the same

The look of a piece can depend on the type of support. 

Work completed on smoother surfaces tends to be coloured pencil only and less 'sketchy' than work completed on more abrasive surfaces. 



My 'workhorse' pastels are now Unison pastels - made in the UK. 

Other brands of soft pastel that have been well used in the past (see left) include

  • Rowney, 
  • Sennelier,
  • Schminke and
  • Rembrandt.

I always use an abrasive support which include:
  • Sennelier La Carte (previously known as Rembrandt and Frisk pastel card - used for a lot of my paintings
  • Art Spectrum Colourfix board - in various colours, and
  • Wallis Board
 See my site Pastels - Resources for Artists for more about the different brands and their different characteristics and qualities

Coloured Pencils


Various brands of coloured pencils are used, including
  • Faber Castell Polychromos;
  • Lyra Rembrandt,
  • Caran d'Ache Pablos and
  • Talens Van Gogh - artist
  • Sanford Prismacolor / Berol Karismacolor (no longer available) /
  • Derwent Artists Pencils

You can see my pencils laid out here in their Derwent Pencil Wraps (see below)

Coloured pencil paintings are completed on a variety of media:
  • Arches, Fabriano or Saunders WaterfordHP - usually 300gsm.  Arches blocks are especially useful when travelling as the block replaces the need for a drawing board.
  • Art Spectrum Colourfix board
  • Wallis Board - in white or belgian mist
  • Canson Mi-Teintes paper - various colours
  • Ampersand Pastelbord is very nice indeed - it just needs a UK supplier and it would be perfect!

 See my site Coloured Pencils - Resources for Artists for more about different brands and their different characteristics and qualities including information about lightfastness
See my site Paper and Support - Resources for Artists for more about the different kinds of support I use

Watercolour Pencils

I use Talens Van Gogh Watercolour Pencils

 I have a small Pentelbrush with an in-built water reservoir for use with watercolour pencils

Pentelbrush with in-built water reservoir

Art Boards
5mm Foam Core provides an excellent lightweight support when travelling. I usually have a piece cut to the size of the bottom of my suitcase.  As a rigid support it means I don't need a heavy portfolio to protect paper while travelling.  If you take two sheets you can protect your paper from damage by other items in your suitcase


In my sketchbooks I use:
  • pen and ink
  • pencil
  • coloured pencils
I mainly use two types of sketchbooks (see below). 
See how I use them here.
Read more about them here.

 See Travels with a Sketchbook - Resources for Artists for more about the use of sketchbooks by travellers and artists in the past and the present day.

Daler Rowney black hardbook sketchbooks

For nearly 20 years I've used black hardback Daler Rowney sketchbooks and have them in different sizes.  My favourite is the large A4 size which is excellent for large sketches.  It contains a pale creamy white bond type paper.  Each page is perforated near the binding making it very easy to either remove pages or to fold a page to enable easy sketching across a double page spread (making an image of approx. 11" x 18").  This paper is absolutely brilliant for use with coloured pencils. 
Warning:  The paper really does not like water at all.  Using even a limited amount of water with watercolour pencils generated wrinkles.  Take a look at the effect on my sketch of Sydney Opera House when I used water on the reverse!

Moleskine sketchbooks
Moleskine sketchbook (large)I started using a Moleskine sketchbook at the end of 2005 and find them very easy to carry around.  There are two sizes - a small and a large.  I have both but prefer to use the large version.  The main advantages for me are:
  • the sketchbook has a hard back but lies flat very easily.  Working over a double page spread is not a problem.  This gives an image 8" x 10" when using the large sketchbook
  • The heavy weight paper in the Moleskine sketchbook is ideal for coloured pencil
  • the folder on the inside back cover is great for saving tickets and other records of my travels
Watercolourists should not that this sketchbook does not like watercolour - and that there is a separate watercolour sketchbook available (pink wrapper).

Pen and Ink
I mainly use three different pens (see below) for pen and ink drawings.  Pen and ink work is executed
  • either in sketchbooks (see above)
  • or on very smooth drawing paper eg Bristol

 See Pen and Ink - Resources for Artists for information and advice from various websites for artists using pen and ink. Topics covered include information about pen and ink brands and associated products and tips and techniques for working with pen and ink.
Pentel G-TEC-C4 gel ink rollerballThe Pentel G-TEC-C4 gel ink rollerball in either black or brown (sepia) ink is my pen of choice as it has a 0.4mm point which produces a beautiful 0.2mm fine line. In addition the ink does never ever gets messy on the page.  It's brilliant for sketching in a sketchbook.  You can read more about this wonderful pen here.  It's diffiult to find and I buy masses of them every time I come across them.  See Cult Pens below if you want to order a supply.

 Rotring Art PenEarly pen and ink drawings were done using a Rotring Art Penwith an EF (extra fine) nib with Rotring Drawing Inks (black and sepia). 
It's a very nicely balanced pen which uses ink cartridges (various colours) but it can be converted.   There is a choice of five calligraphy nibs as well as fine and extra fine sketching nibs. 
Read more about it here.  I understand that these pens may not be produced anymore.

 Edding 1800 pigment ink pen
I'm experimenting with the Edding e-1800 Profipen. This is a high-tech fibrepen with metal-framed round tip.  It comes in 4 stroke widths and uses water-resistant, lightfast pigment ink, colours 001-004.

Graphite and Pencil


I use a mix of:
  • mechanical drawing pencils
  • Pentel or Faber Castell drawing leads and
  • Faber Castell Pure graphite drawing sticks
Battery powered
eraser pen
Jakar battery powered eraser penI absolutely LOVE my Jakar battery powered eraser pen.  Read more about this particular eraser in this poston my blog 'Making a Mark'. Also read about my technique for drawing using this eraser and see pictures developed as a result here and here.

Tuff Stuff eraser
for abrasive surfaces
Recommended to me by Diana Ponting, this Tuff Stuff Eraser stick by Paper Mate is absolutely perfect for erasing pastel on an abrasive surface.  It gets right back to the original surface.

Blu-Tak - for erasing
Blu Tack is very effective at removing coloured pencil marks from paper.  It is a reusable adhesive which can be molded to different shapes - such as cylinder shapes (for rolling) or 'spikes' for dabbing at very small areas.  This is not a material suitable for fast and easy erasure of large areas but works well at removing marks from smaller areas.
Blu Tack is readily available in the UK (but not in the USA).
Pencil sharpeners
I use hand operated, battery powered and electric pencil sharpeners (see below for more details). 

I recommend using battery or electric sharpeners for anybody who has arthritis or who suffers from tenosynovitis in their hand/arm as I do.  You too can have pencils with needle sharp points like this!

Hand Sharpeners with containers for pencils shavings
The advantage of this Prismcolor sharpeneris that it contains all the shavings and is designed for coloured pencils. 

I prefer my Faber Castell 'Grip' hand sharpener which also has a slot for colour pencils!

Prismacolor pencil sharpenerFaber Castell 'Grip' pencil sharpener 
Battery powered pencil sharpener
Panasonic KP - 4A battery powered sharpenerMy Panasonic KP - 4A battery powered sharpener is amazing.  It has
  • a revolving sharpener like big electric sharpeners and consequently is capable of producing produces needle sharp points. 
  • a removable shavings compartment
It used to go with me on all my travels - and usually attracted an audience - however it has recently died (probably due to overuse!) and I need to get a replacement!  A battery powered sharpener which looks almost identical to this is available in Staples stores in the USA.

(It appears this is now discontinued - which is very sad!)
Electric pencil sharpener
Jakar 5151 mains powered electric pencil sharpener I have a Jakar 5151 mains powered electric pencil sharpener which is suitable for graphite and good quality coloured pencils up to 8mm thick.  Read more about it here.

It has a couple of safety features. 
  • It won't work if the shavings receptacle is removed
  • it also has a safety cut-out which prevents over-use when sharpening lots of pencils one after another.
Tips:  If it ever stops producing nice pointy pencils the chances are you need to empty the shavings receptacle!  Feeding it a soft graphite stick (all graphite/no wood) for lubrication once in a while keeps it happy.  If all else fails it's possible to purchase a replacement spiral cutting tool.

Drafting Brush
The waste products of erasure and sharpening coloured pencils need to be removed to avoid spoiling a paper. 
I use a Drafting Brush (sometimes called a Drafting Broom) to clean paper when using coloured pencils. 
A 2" paint brush of decent quality is a good substitute (and is easier to keep me in my tubs of pencils).  Wiping a freshly sharpened pencil through a brush after sharpening removes all small shavings.

Drawing Aids
There are various aids which can make drawing 'en plein air' or otherwise a little bit easier

Derwent Pencil Wrap
I have a number of Derwent Pencil Wraps which are invaluable when travelling - you can see them in the picture near the top.   The wraps are made from tough canvas and have leather look trim and a secure closure.  This means it lies flat when in use and rolls up for travelling (and is also very light).  Inside it has individual compartments to hold and protect up to 30 standard-size pencils.

Value scales
This grey scale and value fiinder by the Color Wheel Company is excellent for being to surround an area to check out what sort of value it is and then whether I've managed to achieve the right values.

Color Wheel Company: Grey scale and value finder
Val-U-ViewerVal-U-ViewerAs recommended to me by Sally Strand

This provides a very good basis for both identifying a crop of an image and assessing the correct  strength of the values that can be seen. 

Read more about it in my blog post here.  This contains a link to the website of the chap who makes them.

Viewfinder - rule of thirds
This viewfinder is by Teaching Art Ltd - but they don't seem to make it anymore.  It's used much less since the advent of the digital camera and large viewfinder but this still comes out with me on plein air trips. 
The viewfinder includes a clear plastic window (which doesn't scratch) which is 2.5 inches wide and 1.75 inches high (which gives is a 10:8 ratio).  It's also clearly marked with lines for the 'rule of thirds' to help with compositions and finding the 'sweet spots'.  It's possible to create and print one out using good quality perspex. 

Viewfinder - for scale
Some people measure with their pencils - and while that's great for simple scenes, I find this viewfinder with a grid very helpful for any scenes which might have a a complicated structure - particularly buildings.  It helps me to check which lines are really vertical and which ones have got a distinct lean.

Scale finder
Sketching Chair
- Phillips Folding Chair
My Phillips Folding Chair has a lightweight metal frame and strong canvas seat and back.  The folding mechanism is very easy to work.  It is excellent for travelling.  I've had two travelling around the UK and the world sketching and painting in the last 20 years or so.  I only had to get the second as the first went AWOL after it was left behind on a luggage trolley by mistake at the end of a 26 hour flight!
  • They are very difficult to get hold of. Click the imageof me sat on my first chair next to Lake Bedugal in Bali to find the only place I know which sells them.
  • The chair always has to go in the hold of the aircraft and very often has to go to a separate desk to be checked in at airports.  It's adviseable to allow a little extra time for drop-off and pick-up.
  • Get a very strong bungee cord to hold it together while travelling
  • Always label the chair very clearly with its own luggage label when travelling.  My latest chair has now done more miles than I have.  I've never had a problem in the Far East - but in the USA it tends to take a diversion to other destinations and only arrives at my intended destination about 24 hours after I do.  I think the tubular metal frame (which is extremely robust) is what causes the problem and raises suspicions amongst airport security staff.

Blacks Compact Stool
Blacks Compact StoolThe stool itself is sturdy.  The seat fabric is tough and is not going to tear easily.  It's also a decent size.  I'm not small nor lightweight any more and it's big enough for me and comfortable to sit on for a while (although i'd rather than my chair for a long perio of sitting).  There are rubber grips on the end of the tripod which means it doesn't slip on slippery surfaces.  This compact stool comes with its own cover which in turn has a strap which allows you to put this over your shoulder.
 See Art Equipment - Resources for Artists for more details about various items of equipment.

Links to suppliers - UK


Paintworks Art Materials
Based in Hackney, in East London, this is the UK main stockist for Talens.  Van Gogh pencils are available from open stock - I know because this is where I get mine from!
Heaton Cooper Online Catalogue
great for pastel supplies - both pastels and supports.  Supplies always arrive very well packaged
 L. Cornelissen & Son 
A great traditional art shop inbetween the British Museum and Tottenham Court Road.  Mail order.
Green & Stone
Larger than Cornelissens but in the same tradition - down the bottom of the Lings Road in Chelsea
 Jackie Simmonds - pastel artist and the UK's main supplier of Wallis paperCult Pens - supply Pilot G-TEC-C4 drawing pens and a wide range of other pens and pencils for drawing as well as writing.  A very helpful company who know even more than you can read about on their very helpful ebsite
Links to suppliers - Paris
The very traditional art shop - specialising in pigments, pastels and pencils - at 3 Quai Voltaire is very convenient for those visiting the Louvre or the Musee d'Orsay
 See My favourite art shop - Resources for artists for links to reviews and slideshows of the shops
Links to suppliers - USA
San Clemente Art Supply Store, San Clemente, California. 
I used this store during a pastel workshop in California (see my blog post about this).  This store had virtually everything I would ever want to buy plus extremely friendly and helpful staff!  If you ever visit say hello to Patti from me!
Charette Retail Art Store in Woburn Massachusetts
I visited this store in September o6 (see blog post) and was very impressed with the range of supplies they carried in store. 
The website seems to have changed and I'm not too sure what's happened to the store - but worth finding out if you are in the area.
 Dick Blick in San Diego, California. 
Another very impressive art store - I wish the ones at home were more like this.