I am always looking for the perfect paper on which to draw. All of my drawings are completed on 100% rag, acid free paper of archival quality. I have narrowed down the kinds of papers to a few mainstays, but occasionally I order a new paper to play with. The following papers are those that I consistently use and recommend.
Stonehenge: This is my go to paper for pencil drawings. It is smooth with lovely texture and just enough tooth. it is soft and buttery to work on. However, blending is difficult, and it is somewhat unforgiving when it comes to reworking and erasing. In my experience it also does not accept charcoal very well. Large washes expose a regular pattern that looks unnatural.
Strathmore 500 series bristol board: Strathmore 500 series bristol comes in two textures, plate and vellum. Plate is so smooth it almost shines. This is the preferred surface of many photorealistic graphite artists as you can achieve super smooth blending, and it has superior reworking capabilities. I have used it and it works for some applications, but it has almost no tooth making dark darks nearly impossible. Vellum has a bit too much tooth for me. Sometimes I like to work on a rough paper and when I want to push the pencil this is a good choice.
Museum board: Not a drawing paper, museum board is made to mat and frame art with archival quality, but it nun-the-less delivers many qualities of a fine drawing board. I like the tooth and weight of this surface. It blends fairly well and reworks better than Stonehenge. I have yet to try charcoal on this paper, but I suspect it will accept it well. The surface feel is different than other papers, and it takes some getting used to.
Hot press watercolor papers. Arches and Fabriano make quality papers. Arches has a bit too much sizing and one must be gentile when blending. The texture and tooth are great though. Fabriano is a company I am just getting to experiment with. I see a lot of potential in this surface.
Canson: Canson makes a wide variety of archival papers. I have used many and they all work well, but they just are not my favorite. Occasionally I will use a Canson paper for charcoal drawings.
Sketching papers: finding sketching paper is much easier to find. When archival quality is not needed inexpensive sketching papers are abundant. I often use Strathmore 400 series drawing paper to sketch on. It is acid free and it will last a long time, but I don’t trust any paper’s longevity that is not 100% rag. It is a warm cream color and has great texture. When initially drawing a line composition to be transferred onto the final paper I go with newsprint or tracing paper.
Transferring papers. I create my own transferring papers using tracing paper and stick graphite. Commercial transferring papers have too much saturation and come off too dark. I want as light a transfer as I can get away with.
Staedtler Mars Lumograph: I have long used these graphite pencils in varying degrees of hardness from 5h to 8b. I generally stick to a palate of 2h, h, b, 2b, and 3b.
Generals Kimberly: I have recently begun using these pencils and find them to be excellent. They seem softer than the Mars Lumograph pencils and come off darker. One new discovery is the Kimberly 9xxb pencil. It is the darkest graphite I have come across, and I can achieve effects that I previously had to accomplish with charcoal, but the 9xxb melds better with the graphite where charcoal and graphite have to be incorporated carefully to look right.
I use four kinds of charcoal: Powder, vine, compressed pencil and carbon pencil. A jar of charcoal powder will last nearly forever, and you can make your own with some fine sand paper and a vine or pencil. I use a paintbrush to dry brush shading with powder. Vine is natural sticks, usually of willow that have been carbonized. Vine can be easily erased and is good for layouts and some effects where compressed charcoal would be too harsh. For compressed pencils, I use General’s Primo euroblend charcoal. It is dark and has the right amount of binder to make sharpening easy. When I need a little bit more hardness I choose Wolff’s carbon pencils. While not pure charcoal, I use them in many of my charcoal drawings.
I use primarily kneaded erasers and occasionally a firmer mechanical eraser.
Stumps and tortillons: These are tightly rolled paper tools that are specifically designed to blend graphite. They work, but they are not my preferred blending tool. I do however, use them occasionally.
Chamois: For sturdy papers that hold up to reworking, chamois work great for blending. They pick up more graphite when you blend than other tools, but when I use chamois I lay many layers of graphite over one another blending each layer until I get the depth of saturation I am seeking. I do not recommend chamois when drawing on hot press watercolor paper, it sticks to the sizing and pulls it off.
Small paint brushes: The more I use brushes to blend the more I like them. They do not over blend which is what I am often looking for. I want my work to look like a drawing, not a photograph. Allowing just a little of the pencil strokes to come through is a great effect that is difficult to achieve with any other tool. I use a small inexpensive angled taklon or sable brush.
Tissues, cotton swabs, etc.: All these work well for many artists, I just don’t use them.
Stylus: When you need a fine pure white line to depict effects like stray hairs or fur, the simplest way to get the desired effect is with a stylus to indent the paper. I use everything from dulled sewing needles to toothpicks and icepicks depending on how fine a line I want. Once indented, you’re committed. Be sure you want that line where you put it. There is no turning back.
Ruler: Is it cheating? a long perfectly straight line is impossible freehand. Use the tools you need to get the effect you want.
Acetate: This clear plastic like sheet is great for making grids with a fine permanent marker that you can use over and over without damaging the picture you want to enlarge.