10 traditional art tools for August

This month, we look at how switching art styles can give new life to your preferred medium. One artist spent a year doing 'small drawings'; we find out what they are and why you should try them. 

We've got a guide to graphite and charcoal drawing and all the materials you need to try it out. And we've gone back to basics with a new book that is a comprehensive guide to getting started in sketching. If you've always fancied getting into art but never known where to begin, this one's for you. 

A book on Vermeer sheds new light on the old master's techniques and private life. We look into Chinese brush painting, an art form that is as much about meditation as it is aesthetics. And Tate Modern has a range of collectables that takes the Japanese kokeshi doll and reimagines it as a famous modern artist. Let's get started!

01. Her small drawings

Focusing on details can teach you to see in a new way

Matilda Tristram's new book, My Year in Small Drawings, is a sketch-diary of the ordinary, the everyday. Tristram is impressed by things often overlooked by artists: tangles of cables, window frames, plant buds. She suggests that by looking at these things more closely, you can learn to see in a new way – an important skill for an artist of any standing.

02. Your small drawings

Try your hand at your own small drawings

If you fancy having a go at your own small drawings, Matilda Tristram has an accompanying sketchbook in which you can do exactly that. The book has by a grid of blank spaces for your own little drawings, which encourages you to "make interesting observations, discover beauty in unexpected places, and create a unique record of the world around you."

03. A new book on Vermeer

New insights from a Vermeer scholar

Gary Schwartz's new book on Vermeer takes a closer look at the Dutch master's instantly recognisable work – The Milkmaid, The Lacemaker, Girl with a Pearl Earring – and asks how he managed to achieve such photographic precision. Schwartz, a Vermeer scholar, offers new insights on both the artist's work and his private life, with paintings that are displayed in full and in close-up. 

04. Arty kokeshi dolls

Japanese kokeshi dolls are a symbol of friendship

This new range from Tate takes the Japanese kokeshi doll – traditionally given as a symbol of friendship – and turns it into a figurine of a famous artist. Among them are dolls dedicated to the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, Spanish expressionist Salvador Dali, and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

05. Drawing for beginners

If you haven't a clue where to start, this book is for you

Something for the novice: "If you have always wanted to learn to draw but lack the confidence to start, Drawing for the Absolute Beginner is the book for you," says artist and art teacher Carole Massey. The book starts with simple lines, circles, squares and ellipses, and moves on to figures, buildings and landscapes. It's a complete drawing course in a single book.

06. Beginner sketching set

This set is good quality but won't break the bank

The Derwent Academy range offers drawing pencils for beginner artists, which include all the features the pros look for: natural wood, quality graphite, hexagonal barrels for better control, and break-resistant strips for a long-lasting point. This top-rated set has six pencils, with varied hardness tips, and it won't break the bank either. 

07. Graphite and charcoal

Improve your texture work

101 Textures in Graphite & Charcoal gives instructions on how to draw common textures and surfaces – everything from sand and water to wood and foliage. Each guide begins with tools and materials required, before moving on to technique, and finally a step-by-step guide. A comprehensive guide to hatching, stippling, scumbling, and blending in graphite and charcoal.

08. Graphite and charcoal set

This set has everything you need to create graphite and charcoal drawings

This top-rated set has everything a beginner needs to get going in graphite and charcoal, but the quality makes it suitable for more advanced artists. It includes: graphite and carbon sticks, erasers, pencil sharpeners, knives, graphite sticks, coal sticks, blending paper stumps, sandpaper pencil pointers  – all housed in a smart little canvas wrap.

09. Chinese brush painting

Channel the spirit of the brush with this new guide

In The Spirit of the Brush: Chinese Brush Painting Techniques: Simplicity, Spirit, and Personal Journey, author Sungsook Hong Setton guides you through the ancient art form of Chinese brush painting. 

"As old and deeply rooted in East Asian aesthetics and meditation as it is, ink painting is credited with influencing the development of Western modern art." Artists from other disciplines will find many of Sungsook's principles can be applied to their preferred mediums.

10. Chinese brushes

These wood and bamboo brushes come in various sizes

We had a root around for a good beginners' Chinese brush set, and this five-piece collection is well-reviewed and good value for money. The brushes are made of wood and bamboo, come in various sizes and hair types, hold ink well, and are kept in a well-made bamboo brush wrap. The long handles are good for a looser, more fluid line.

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