Drawing Supplies and Equipment

On this "Drawing Supplies and Equipment page" learn about:

- chamois and how they are used

- cutters and how to sharpen a pencil with them

"Let's go shopping!"

- clips and why you need them

- drawing boards and boxes

- easels (standing and table)

- erasers (electrical, pencil, kneaded); how to use them all

- fixative; how and why it works

- lamps and the best type to get

- pads, paper and sketchbooks - what to buy, names to trust

- pencil sharpeners and pointers and how to use them

- "tortillons", scumbles and stumps, and what they are used for


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These are not just little tips and techniques, but a full course of learning how to see, think, and draw like an artist.

Drawing supplies include not only charcoal and pencils; these are completed with a small battery of sometimes rather strange objects, with even stranger names.

Wondering how you are going to understand and know how to use these things? Not to worry! Explanations below.

Le Chamois, or "Chammy"

This clean soft piece of lambskin is used to lift off unwanted charcoal.

Clean chammies quickly become dirty black ones, which are used for shading; indeed, when you sharpen your charcoal, empty the dust into your chammy and work it in to "nourish" it, as the French say.

Chammy lovers generally have a clean and a dirty one on hand.

Les Clips

Clips are useful drawing supplies for holding your paper to your drawing board, or holding your drawing pad open and flat in a breeze.

Le Cutter

Cutters are used for all sorts of little tasks such as getting the plastic wrap off the kneaded eraser or cutting open a packet of cookies.They  also serve to sharpen charcoal pencils.

We begin with a charcoal pencil in need of sharpening.

We put the cutter blade to the pencil, thumb resting on the blade handle, the blade almost flat against the pencil. We are going to expose an inch or two of the pencil lead.

I veeeery caaaaaarefully draw the pencil back against the cutter blade to skim off some of the wood, without cutting into the lead.

Ouf! I peeled off a chip of wood without cutting or breaking the lead. Now I keep doing that...

...until I have about an inch or so of exposed unbroken lead. Why did I do that? So I don't have to keep stopping in the middle of my drawing to sharpen; and so I can set the pencil almost on its side to shade.

Last step. Now I am going to hold it parallel to the pointer and carefully sharpen it to a fine point at the end, rotating it as I sharpen. That fine point will come in handy for drawing lines and details.

Le Drawing Board

This is just a piece of masonite. You can buy them in art supply stores and get them with a cutout to use as a handle, with clips attached to it, and a fancy price tag, or...you can just get a piece of masonite.

Le Drawing-Box

My drawing-box is like a little suitcase made of wood. I have seen more sensible people with ones made out of light plastic, that you can spend a lot for in an art supply store (where it is intended for painting or drawing supplies), or much less for in a hardware store (where it is intended for tools).

Le Easel

Cheap easels can be had, and they are useful when you have a big drawing pad and a long session.

Table easels can also be an interesting thing to have around.

Le Electric Eraser

This pricey little toy is nevertheless absolute genius for adding that tiny spot of highlight to give sparkle to your drawing.  Great to have among your drawing supplies.

Le Fixative

Charcoal is comprised of tiny particles captured in the grain of the paper. The finer the grain, the likelier it is that your drawing will just wipe off.

Fixative is sprayed in sweeping distant gestures (do not soak the paper!) to set the charcoal in place. Needless to say, you cannot make changes to your drawing once you have fixed it.

Le Kneaded Eraser

Malleable, or kneaded erasers are called pain de mie in French, or "soft loaf bread". Long ago, artists squashed up the soft inside part of bread loaves to make erasers, hence the name. Squash them into the shape you want to...


...remove a swipe of charcoal...



...cut a fine line...


...remove a small precise bit of charcoal to add a highlight.


Cleaning is easy as anything - you pull it and knead it...


...folding the dirty bit inside again and again until it's clean. Miraculous!


However, it doesn't work well on anything but vine charcoal.

Le Pencil Eraser

An ordinary pencil eraser should be among your drawing supplies for your pencil work. You can use a cutter to slice off smaller pieces or expose clean eraser. Clean it as well by rubbing it on paper or sandpaper.

La Lampe

You'll need a lamp to put a strong side light on your still lifes and models. A clip model like this one works well.

Le Drawing Pad

The finish of a drawing depends on the type of paper used. For the purposes of learning to draw, I suggest you get a smallish format, easy to take to a museum to draw:

about 11 inches x 14 inches (27.9 x 35.6 cm) or even slightly smaller, or about 9 3/8 inches x 12 1/2 inches (24 x 32 cm).

A few top names you can trust: Canson, Strathmore, Arches.

The larger the grain, the more intense the lines will be, because more charcoal will encrust in the grain. On the other hand, the larger the grain, the hard it will be to put in close details.

Smooth or glossy papers are not ideal for charcoal, since the particles won't have any "tooth" to adhere to.

Fine-grained sketching paper is better for pencil, as shown here; it can be used with charcoal for soft, ethereal effects, but don't expect to achieve any intense contrasts.

Le Pencil Sharpener

An ordinary pencil sharpener for your pencils and your more cooperative (less crumbly) charcoal pencils should be among your drawing supplies.

Le Pointer, or Sandpaper

This strange-looking device is used for sharpening charcoal pencils after you first work on them with your cutter. You can peel off the dirty sandpaper to expose the next cleaner layer.

Le Sketchbook

Just keep one handy. Keep it in your jacket or bag with a pen or mechanical pencil, and draw all the time. Scribble sketches in the café, jot down other people on the subway, catch the movement of that terrier laughing at you. Every day.

Le Tortillon

This is made of twisted paper and serves to not only blur, but even "draw" with once they have become stained with charcoal. When I find the English name for these I will update the website! I used to have an elderly master-teacher who made these by hand out of paper.

Le Scumble or Stump

The scumble, or stump, can work just a few lines of charcoal on the paper into a whole drawing.


Use it to extend a mark...


...to blur...

...to draw a line. Clean it by rubbing it on paper or sandpaper.

Go here to find out about supplies for pencil drawing; go here to return to the general artist supplies page; and go here to find out about supplies for charcoal drawing.

Go from "Drawing Supplies and Equipment" to "Masterwork Drawing Exercises"

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