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Drawing Supplies

Source: Mainly based on material from fine art painter Stan Prokopenko ( or

VIDEO 1 Drawing Supplies

How to Sharpen a Charcoal Pencil

Main pencil – Conte 1710 B or 2B

But, I also like to use the primo 59B and wolff’s carbon 6B.. And there’s a bunch of other options out there. They’re all slightly different, and the best way to see the difference is to just try them out. They’re not very expensive. The primo and wolff’s carbon feel a bit more like drafting pencils compared to the Conte and so I use them more for linear work. And the Conte is thicker and softer, so it’s easier to be tonal and more painterly with it.

I’m right handed, so I control the blade with my right hand and hold the pencil in my left hand, like this. The first thing I’m going to do is expose about an inch of the charcoal removing the wood. Push the razor forward with the left thumb and control the position and angle of the blade with the right hand. Take off thin pieces of the wood and rotate the pencil. Make sure not to go to deep. If you try to take off all the wood at the same time, you risk cutting into the charcoal. Keep rotating until all the wood is off and there is a smooth taper from the wood to the charcoal. Sometimes there will be a layer of glue still on the charcoal. Chip away at it to remove all the glue.

Now let’s focus on getting the charcoal to the right shape. Right now, the charcoal has these sharp corners towards the top. What we want is a smooth taper to the point. If you have any rough edges or sharp corners on the side, the pencil won’t work properly. We want a smooth taper so that we can use the side to shade smooth tones.

I like to use sandpaper to soften the sides. One of those little ones that you can get at most art stores works fine and fits in a pencil box. I prefer to use these larger blocks from Home Depot because you can clean and reuse them. Medium grit sandpaper works best. Use a forward and back or side to side motion while constantly rotating the pencil.

When you first start sharpening the pencil this way, you’ll probably break a bunch of them. That’s ok. Don’t let it get to you. Take a deep breath and try again. It becomes much easier over time. You can actually get quite fast at it..

Aaand DONT FORGET! wipe off the excess powder. When I come by to help one of my students and they give me a pencil with excess powder on it, i BREAK their pencil in half!

no I don’t actually do that… but don’t forget to wipe! It get’s all over the paper and then you can’t erase it..


First, the paper. I use smooth newsprint when I do studies because it’s cheap and allows you to shade very smooth tones. It’s important that you buy the ‘smooth’ newsprint and not the rough. Nothing wrong with the rough, it’s just that the smooth gets better details. The rough has some texture that breaks up the details a bit.

Before you start the drawing, make sure you’re drawing on a thick stack of newsprint. This provides some cushion and get’s smoother tones when you’re shading. If you’re getting towards the back of the pad, some of the texture from the cardboard will begin to show through.

I do want to point out that newsprint is NOT archival. It will wrinkle and yellow over time if exposed to heat, light, moisture, and oxygen. which is pretty much everything.. So, I use it only for practice in school, when I do studies and film these tutorials. When I want to do a drawing on archival paper, I use watercolor paper and i pick ones that has a soft and cushiony feel. Or I’ll use bristol paper with graphite pencils. I’m always trying out new paper and I encourage you to do the same.


To erase, I like a kneaded eraser because I can shape it to erase large areas, or small details. It also doesn’t fall apart while you’re erasing and you can knead it to clean it up a bit.


You’ll need either a clipboard, a piece of wood, or foam board with clips to hold your paper. Put the pad towards your knees, and lean it against a table or the back of a chair.

Hold the pencil like a paint brush, sit up straight, move from the shoulder, and you’re ready to begin.

VIDEO 2 Drawing Supplies I Use for Longer Drawings

In my last supplies video I went over supplies I use in my videos. Now let’s go over the ones I use for longer drawings intended to be hung at a gallery or someone’s home.

I commonly use charcoal on newsprint paper when sketching and demonstrating. Newsprint is very cheap and an enjoyable surface to draw on because of how cleanly it takes the charcoal. However newsprint is not archival. It will yellow and wrinkle over time. So, if you’re doing a longer drawing that you want to preserve, it’s not a good option. So, let’s go over some archival options.

Graphite Drawings

So, the first option I’m gonna go over is using graphite pencils, instead of charcoal.

Graphite pencils are great! They get you almost a full range of values, you can get a bunch of them with varying degrees of hardness, they allow for very precise detail drawing, and they don’t smudge much.. Most of us have been using graphite pencils since first grade. It’s your everyday #2 pencil. So, we’re comfortable using it.

Graphite works best when using only the tip of a finely sharpened pencil. Since you’re always using the tip, the drawing ends up being very detailed. The medium wants to be very precise, but it also takes a much longer time to shade.

Though you can just use any old #2 pencil to do a drawing, I recommend getting some professional grade tools. When I made the switch I noticed a significant improvement in my line quality and precision.

My favorites are the Staedtler brand. Individual wooden pencils are good, but I like the mechanical even more. I like that it’s slightly heavier and the sharpener that you get for it gets the tip very sharp, and mechanical pencils stay the same length no matter how many times you sharpen them, so you don’t have to deal with tiny little pencils. With wooden pencils you have to rely on access to an electric sharpener wherever you go or carry one of those crappy portable ones. The sharpener for the staedtler mechanical pencil is portable AND it works beautifully.

The whole pencil setup will cost you a bit, but it’s worth it. Let’s go through each item.

Staedtler Mars Technico Lead Holder & Lead Refills

You’ll need a Staedtler Mars Technico Lead Holder. Now this doesn’t hold your regular 0.5 and 0.7 mm lead. Oh no, you’re working with the big boys now. This guy holds 2mm lead! I get the hb, 2b and 4b refill packs. I use the hb for the initial layin and light halftone shading, the 2b for darker halftones and some shadows, and the 4b for the darker shadows.

Lead Pointer (sharpener)

You’re gonna need a ‘lead pointer’, that’s what they call their sharpener. Pull out about 1.5 cm of the lead, put it in the hole and spin! Just be careful not to get too wild with the sharpener because you can break the tip.

Strathmore 400/500 Series Bristol Board

For the paper, I like to use the Strathmore 400 or 500 Series Bristol Board. I prefer the smoothest surface possible, so I look for the words ‘smooth’, ‘plate’ or ‘hot press’. They all basically mean ‘smooth’.

Kneaded Eraser

To erase, I like a kneaded eraser, or as the british call them, “rubbers”. I like ‘em because I can shape them to erase large areas, or small details. They also don’t poop crumbs all over the paper like some others do. And when they get dirty, just knead them to clean ‘em up.

Charcoal Powder and Brushes

Optionally you can add a layer of charcoal under the graphite pencil. Though I do use it for most of my longer drawings, you could manage without it.. The powder is applied with a brush, which I’ll show in the shading video. This allows you to create very soft gradations which are hard to do with the pencil. And it allows you to quickly cover large areas of dark which is tedious to do with the pencil. When you use the powder you blend a lot of your shapes together which can reveal some lost edges. And lost edges look totally awesome in a drawing…

I use this same approach in my upcoming video on shading. Look out for that.

Scrap Paper or Bridge

You’ll also see me using a scrap paper or bridge to rest my hand on. If you’re like me, by the time you’re done with the drawing, the bottom of your hand is completely covered in charcoal. Use this to rest your hand on to keep your hand AND your drawing clean.

Spray Fixative

Once you’re done, you can spray the drawing with fixative to prevent any smudging. If you used powder, I really recommend you fix it. After you spray the drawing, you can draw on top of it, but you can’t erase what you sprayed.

One thing many people dislike about graphite is the shine. When you go dark with graphite it starts to become reflective. If this glossiness bothers you, then consider using charcoal pencils.

Charcoal Drawings

So, a lot of the materials for my charcoal drawings is the same as graphite. We still have the kneaded eraser, powder, brushes, scrap paper or bridge, and the spray fixative. The only two differences are the pencils (obviously, they’re charcoal instead of graphite) and the paper. You could use the same paper for both, but these are just my preferences.

Conte 1710 Pierre Noire Pencils

The pencil I use is a Conte 1710 HB, B or 2B. I like to use the hb or b for layins and shading the light halftones, and the 2b for shading the shadows. If you’re wondering how to sharpen it like that, check out this video which includes a pencil sharpening demo.

Arches 88 Silk Screen Paper

I’ve been looking for a paper that takes a charcoal pencil cleanly without much texture breaking up the strokes, especially when using the side of the pencil to get soft gradations of tone. Most of them just don’t do it for me.“Arches 88 silk screen paper” is the best I’ve found. It has very little texture, it’s soft, and doesn’t fall apart much when erasing. If you’re used to drawing on newsprint this is a good archival alternative

Where do you get this stuff?

Above I have the full list of all these supplies with links to where you could buy them online. Depending on where you live, you might be able to find this stuff at your local art store. But, I don’t know. You guys are watching this video all around the world, so I have no idea about the availability of these where you might be. Hopefully you could at least buy them online and the shipping isn’t too expensive.

praxis | Drawing Supplies