MATERIALS, General Advice, & TECHNIQUES
I'm often asked about art materials & methods when I share WIP on social media. So I compiled this list of pencils, paper, and other materials I use, with links to where I buy, drawing videos (which include closed captions/subtitles for videos with dialogue), & a bit of general advice...
Drawing & painting media
I work primarily in colour pencil (Faber Castell Polychromos), acryl gouache (Turner), and ink (Sennelier for drawing, Brian Clegg for sketching & workshops - because it's washable & non-toxic.) I use a range of pens and fineliners (including Staedtler, Sakura Pigma micron, Windsor & Newton promarkers.) I use Cotman standard round or designers brushes for painting. My preferred graphite pencils are Pentel P200 series mechanical pencils, and Koh-I-Noor graphite crayons.
The thing I get asked about most when I share images on social media is pencil extenders, so I made a short video here, and here's a list of brands I've tried that don't suck;
Paper & fixatives
I use acid free papers, mostly cotton paper, for most of my commission work (Fabriano Artistico extra white, & Fabriano 4 Liscio 10m roll), and usually stretch it to paint on. A useful paper-stretching video can be found here. For drawing work specifically made for print reproduction I use heavyweight drawing paper or Bristol card. I’m currently testing a range of heavyweight paper brands (Canson, Strathmore, Stongehenge, etc) to replace an old brand which declined in quality (FYI it was Daler Rowney Smooth Heavyweight drawing paper - it absolutely sucks now, don’t buy it.) I use Perfix spray to fix pencil drawing and ink artwork, and use Windsor & Newton varnishes to seal paintings.
Microscopes & Lenses
Useful for examining specimens to draw/paint, and to make beautiful images (aesthetic microscopy is a thing, and I will fight you over that fact), it's easy to get hold of cheap 2nd hand microscopes on Ebay/Amazon/etc. I'd also recommend having a x10 hand lens around if you like looking at plants, bugs, etc. It's also sometimes possible to get 2nd hand scopes from universities or schools when they upgrade their kit, so if you know any teachers/lecturers/technicians, ask them to keep an eye out! Here are some brands/models I use.
Brunel MX2 microscope (ideal for looking at lichens, bugs etc)
Foldscopes (folding paper microscopes that can attach to a phone - ideal for travel/workshops)
L1000A monocular light microscope for histology/slides
My installation work is usually made on custom cut reusable perspex or wood tiles, or paper sheet under reusable giant perspex sheets. You’re generally better off finding a local supplier close to you for reuseable perspex/wood/metal custom cut pieces. I also use hand-dyed card and paper made by one of my collaborators, Scott Mantooth (USA). The artwork I add to the tiles/under the perspex sheets is made using materials described above. You’re welcome to give me a shout if you have any specific questions.
It's hard to talk about techniques without a specific focus, but I'm happy to chat on twitter, and here are some videos of me working that show how I use different media
General advice on making art
[Disclaimer; this advice is based on my experience, but we're all different and your mileage may vary. So please take this advice for what it is - some very general things I've learned that I think may apply to some other artists too. In the end we all find what works for us through trial and error.]
1) Give time generously to your practice
Give your practice all of the time you are able to. It doesn't matter if you only have the time/energy for 5 minutes at a time, or your have 5 whole hours - give what you got to it. I'm mostly self-taught. I learned my drawing skills by drawing on the train, in break-rooms, and even next to my lab bench. I trained myself to draw on moving vehicles, and practiced drawing in the dark. Practicing all the time sounds boring, but it works. Fun fact; I can't feel all my fingers because my spinal nerves are jerks, but that hasn't affected my drawing - because muscle memory. So I believe there's something to all this "practice, practice, practice" malarkey.
My best advice is J U S T . K E E P . D O I N G . I T . Whatever 'it' is - drawing, painting, 3D modelling, dipping your butt-cheeks in graphite powder & shuffling over paper to the sound of "O Fortuna" - do more of it. It doesn't matter if you think your drawings look like they've been made by a hangry toddler on a roller-coaster, or you paint like Frida Kahlo already. Just keep doing your thing as much as you can. You will get better.
2) Use the best materials you can
Don't skimp on the materials you buy, it's generally a false economy - get the best quality you can afford. I say this as someone who's spent way too long drawing in cheap supermarket pencils - you can draw with them, I know I did when I was skint. But if you can afford better, buy better, because it's easier and more comfortable to produce your best work with better materials. When I first started using spendy colour pencils, I used to try and sharpen them as little as possible to make them last longer. This is also a false economy (see the image below drawn in sharpened or not sharpened pencils.) I don't go sloshing expensive paint around needlessly, but trying to be stingy usually backfires on me. Be as generous as you can afford to be with your materials, as well as your time.
3) Practice with a range of techniques & materials, but don't be pushed into things you don't like because someone tells you you *must*
I think it's important to experiment with a range of different media and methods, and different techniques often compliment each other. If your great love is ink drawing, learning sculpture might help you understand how light and shade fall, for example. Experienced artists still benefit from expanding their practice, trying new materials, and discovering new techniques. Everything you try adds up to make you the artist you are. Learning a range of skills will also come in useful if you make a living out of art - you never know what you'll be asked to throw into a workshop. Knowing collage as well as drawing and microscopy (yes microscopy is an art form, fight me) has helped me many times.
BUT... holy crapweasels, don't let anyone tell you you "have to" paint this way, or you "must only" use traditional media. Eff that all the way into the sea and back again, along with the idea you can't be scientist as well as an artist (yes hello, hi, artist-scientist here.) You are not failing as an artist if you don't use or can't afford any particular media, method, or piece of equipment. Art school is not the only way in. Oil painting is not the only one true painting method. If you can't physically apply some techniques, that's OK! You are not intrinsically ~wrong~ if you don't like watercolours, or if traditional paper leaves you cold. Digital drawing is not lesser. And so on with all my NOPE. Yes, it's good to have a range of skills and try new things. No, you do not always have to mix your paint a certain way etc etc, please get in the sea with that.
OK that's the closest I've got to sage words. Below are some images of my materials, drop me a line if you want to ask about anything I've mentioned (except the bit about drawing with your butt-cheeks, I made that up.... I mean, *someone* must have tried it, but I sure as heck ain't googling it.) To see more from my studio & get monthly art from me, join my Patreon.