Tools of the Trade

Some of the world's greatest artists could create a masterpiece with a stick of charcoal and some old board lying in the back of their garage. I recall times when I have traveled on holiday and created bits of art with a ball point pen at the back of a moving bus. While I agree that expensive art tools don't equal good art, I believe that as a professional it is essential to keep your client in mind and from my experience, I can vouch for the fact that they would like the work they are paying for to be delivered in the utmost professional manner. I have graduated from using Student Grade tools to Artist Grade tools and I wouldn't say that it has made my art better looking—no—my technique has gotten better with practice and practice alone but switching up my tools has improved the quality of my finished work. If you were to sell original works or do commissions, Student Grade art tools just wouldn't be cut out for the job since the colors would dull out and the paper would fade, and guess what? Nobody spends hundreds of dollars on a painting that will fade out within the year.

I am often asked what tools I use to create my art and I would be happy to share it with you. The following are from my personal collection. These would make a good starting point but don't be afraid to explore and experiment more to discover what tools work best for you.


I'm unashamedly a paper snob. Canson is a fantastic paper brand when you're starting out. It is inexpensive yet good quality, they are acid free sheets and perfect for beginner Artists. However, I find that the paints dry a lot faster on it. For watercolor illustrations, I use 300 gsm Bockingford Watercolor Paper which I can easily find at Gordon Harris (New Zealand). This paper is Acid and Lignin free and its resistance to buckle with the use of water makes it a stable surface to hold watercolors. I also use Bockingford Sketch Pad for pen art which is 110gsm and ideal for sketching line drawings and pen illustrations. (Find out more about paper weight in my blog How to Pick the Right Paper.) I reserve Khadi papers (made from recycled cotton rag) for more precious projects since it isn't easy to find in store. I love its raw edges and handmade texture. is my secret supply shop when I can't find this paper in store.

Art Pens


I love Staedtler Pigment Liner Pens. They are available in black and come in four different sizes 0.1mm, 0.3mm, 0.5mm and 0.7mm. It is worth investing in a set of four.


I doubt I have bought pencils in a long time but I have a huge collection of them since it happens to be the easiest gift to give an Artist on ALL occasions. Seriously guys, lets switch it up—I like clothes and makeup as well. But let's be real, how great are pencils? I love them—especially the 4h pencils. You can draw your rough lines ever so lightly, draw over the final work with pen and erase the rough lines like they never existed. I think Cretacolor Fine Art Pencils and Staedtler Mars Lumograph are my absolute favorite. I use a set of 12 ranging from 4h-9B pencils. I strongly recommend buying a set and experimenting with the feel of the different grading scales. Some are harder and lighter like 4h while others are softer and darker for instance the 6B or 9B.

Colored Pencils

Colored pencils are a dry medium that are easy to use and relatively cheap. I suggest using a Staedtler set. For blending, I either go for a dry blending option with paper towels and earbuds or use some turpentine for a more watercolor like wash. I find that an easier option is to use colored pencils alongside watercolors. Below is a bit about my favorite watercolor paints.



I use Daler Rowney Artist's Watercolor and I've found them generally reliable in watercolor. Another highly recommended option is Winsor and Newton.


I am personally not too fussed about the brand as long as they feel nice to the touch. I purchase round and flat brushes for watercolor painting and bristle brushes (synthetic hog hair brushes) for acrylic on canvas.

Digital Camera/Scanner

As a designer, you may be commissioned for multiple pieces of artwork or required to have a digital finish to your work. I usually either scan my art at 300 dpi on a home printer if my art is A4-A5 size or I photograph it using a basic DSLR camera before processing it digitally.

Adobe Photoshop

Here is where the magic happens to get a good finesse to my work before it is print ready. You can refer to for some excellent Photoshop tutorials.

So there you have it! Hopefully these are some helpful tools to get you started. You may need some or all of them depending on the project you have in mind. Once again, while I have listed products I highly recommend, I suggest that you keep exploring and trying new products that fit your style.