The 10 best tools for illustrators this January

This month we're returning to traditional drawing and sketching tools.

Thanks to a reminder from Peter Simon about the importance of keeping your 'traditional drawing' skills sharp, I decided to dust off my old school tools, including my best pencils, and create some character sketches. Overall, it was nice to get away from the digital tablet and feel the paper against my hands.

Put your tablet down for five minutes and feel some paper against your hands. Illustration courtesy of Tammy Coron

So, with traditional tools in mind, let's see what we have for January's picks for illustrators:

01. Kimberly Graphite Drawing Kit

This kit has everything you need to get started with pencil drawing

The Kimberly Graphite Drawing Kit by General's has everything you need to get started with pencil drawing. This set contains 10 Extra Smooth Graphite Pencils with assorted degrees (525-8B through 525-4H), one eraser and one metal sharpener. While I personally don't use the included sharpener (see #8), there's no reason you can't.

02. Pentel Graph Gear 1000 Automatic Drafting Pencil

Take control of your illustrations with this brilliant mechanical pencil

I'm a huge fan of the Pental line of mechanical pencils. I use both the 1000 and 500 series; although the 1000 series does offer a few extra features, including a more comfortable grip. The 0.5mm variety is what I use when doing precision line work. For example, working on the eyes. That's where this pencil really shines.

03. General Pencil Multi Pastel Pencils

General's multi-pastels are perfect for both beginner artists and professionals

Although I mostly work with greys, there are times when I need to add some colour. That's when I use my General's multi-pastel pencils. They're smooth, apply colour evenly and are perfect for both beginner artists as well as the professionals.

04. General's 33-Piece Classic Charcoal Drawing Set

This set of quality charcoal pencils won't break the bank

Speaking of greys, if you're looking for quality charcoal pencils that won't break your budget, General's has a nice set. This set includes eighteen pencils, twelve drawing sticks, one sharpener (which I use only with these pencils) and one eraser. As an added bonus, this set even includes a drawing pad. Sweet!

05. Artist Gum Eraser

A good eraser can make the difference between a good drawing and a great drawing

Another General's pick: the gum eraser. Let's be honest, a good eraser can make the difference between a good drawing and a great drawing. While the price tag is a bit high on gum erasers, if you plan to work in pencil, owning one of these is important.

06. Mead Academie Sketch Diary

This Mead Academie sketchbook is one of author Tammy Coron's favourites

There's really not much to say about this sketchbook other than it's one of my favourites. I enjoy the spiral binding almost as much as I enjoy being able to pull out pages easily thanks to the perforated pages. 

The only drawback with this sketchbook is the white paper (I prefer off-white). Luckily, drawing with charcoal solves that problem rather quickly!

07. Global Art 48 Pencil Case Steel Blue

This smart canvas case holds up to 48 pencils

Now that you have all these pencils, you'll need some way to store them. I like canvas cases, and this one holds 48 pencils. It also has enough extra room to store my erasers and pencil sharpers. The best part: I can take this with me anywhere I go.

08. KUM Wood Cutter 2-Hole Pencil Sharpener

Keep your pencils sharp and in shape with the KUM pencil sharpener

There's no bigger buzzkill than a busted pencil tip — except maybe a cheap pencil sharper. When you use a cheap sharpener, you run the risk of breaking the point during the sharpening process. With the KUM sharpener, that risk is significantly reduced, if not eliminated entirely.

09. Pencil Drawing Techniques

Master the art of pencil drawing with this excellent resource

Not really sure where to start with pencil drawing? This book explains everything you need to know. It includes excellent instructions, exercises and great examples, including a section on coloured pencils.

10. Facial Expressions: A Visual Reference for Artists

And finally, if you're creating your own characters, which is what I was doing this past weekend, having a collection of facial expressions is handy. There are many resources available online and in print. This is just one example.

So there you have it. Everything you need to get back to the drawing board — literally.

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