My Essential Sketch Tools

Today I thought I would share with you the things that I consider to be the most essential tools in my drawing arsenal.

All of these tools are inexpensive and should be easy to get your hands on.


hese are the things that I use for ever single project and probably couldn’t get anything done without.  When I’m at home they are on my desk within easy reach and when I’m traveling, even if it’s only to the coffee shop, I put them in my toolbox and toss them into my field bag, purse or coat pocket so I’m always ready if and when inspiration strikes.

Cretacolor Fine Art Graphite Pencils

Pencils – Good Pencils

I have tons of pencils ranging from Monolith pure graphite pencils to disposable .5 mm mechanical pencils, but I usually find myself reaching for my Cretacolor Fine Art Graphite Pencils in B and F.

The Cretacolors  are, by far, the best pencils I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.  They are smooth, strong pencils that sharpen to a fine point, and they tend to last longer than most of my other pencils.

Additionally, and most importantly to me, I have yet to come across one with large clumps of unmixed clay that scratches my paper. Unmixed clay thoroughly annoys me. It disrupts the artistic flow, ruins my muse’s joo-joo, and pretty much ruins my pencils as I end up having to sharpen them way more than should be necessary.

I like the B and F pencils for basic sketching as they are harder grades that leave lighter marks that are much easier to erase later on.  I tend to use these two up fairly quickly so I keep a couple extra of each in waiting for when I need a replacement.

The Alvin Brass Bullet

If you want a pencil sharpener that gives you an absolutely perfect point AND lasts forever (and ever and ever and ever) then this is the sharpener you’re going to want to run out and get RIGHT NOW! 

Nothing more needs to be said… really.  Just go get one!

The Alvin Brass Bullet

It’s tiny so it goes everywhere, it’s solid so it will last, you can replace the blades (although I haven’t had to in almost a year of use, including Ryan stealing it for his own nefarious pencil sharpening needs), and it’s beautiful.

Seriously, get yourself one of these pencil sharpeners already!

Because Ryan was always stealing this little gem (he even named it Helga) I got him one of his own for Christmas, he calls it Wolfgang. He’s a strange kid.

Erasers – These are Important

I have two erasers, and only two!  I’ve tried several but, honestly, these are my favorites and between the two I don’t need anything else.

Lyra Knetgummi Kneadable Eraser

The first is the Lyra Knetgummi Kneadable Eraser.

I use this eraser for everything from the preliminary removal of drafting lines to shading.  Of the half-dozen kneadable erasers I’ve used, this one seems to be the softest and easiest to mold into the shape I want, which makes it the best in category for shading purposes.  It also comes in a very convenient storage box, making it a particularly good traveling companion.

When removing drafting lines I take a bit out of the box and roll it into ball that I tap repeatedly on the unwanted lines until they are faint.  I call this popping because it makes a nice “POP” sound on artist trading cards.

For larger spaces that need to be erased, I roll the ball over the entire area.  The faint lines that remain are useful in pen and ink drawings as they allow me to see the shape as I’m working but are completely covered by the finished ink work.

I would be lost without my Paper Mate Tuff Stuff Eraser Stick.

This is my all around go-to-guy for erasing.  It’s small enough to fit into the pen slots in my toolbox, the replaceable eraser sticks are thin enough to get into very tight corners, and one stick seems to last forever despite considerable use.   I’ve used a similar brand, but the eraser was too big for my liking and tended to break all the time… so I gave it away.

This eraser has two points that make it shine above all the rest.

Paper Mate Tuff Stuff Eraser Stick

The first, I’ve already mentioned, is that it’s thin (about 1/8 of an inch thick) which gives you great control over the marks you are erasing.  It’s thinness also allows it to wear to a fine point that gets into small areas.  The second thing though is what truly makes it stand out from other , this is a very powerful eraser that doesn’t leave any smudge marks.  It erases so well that you can actually draw with it!

I’m so afraid that they’ll stop making these that I have one unopened in my supply chest as well as about a dozen refill packs just in case.


Micron Pens

Ahhhh, the beloved Microns!  What art supply list would be complete without a few of these beauties? The lines you can make are near perfect, the color lasts forever,  and they write on just about everything. These are an absolute must for me.

I keep a full set of black, from 005 to 08, in my toolbox and I never, ever let my kids touch them… they all have their own.  I also have at least one of every color in my general supply chest, but I rarely use those.

Learn more about Microns and my other favorite drawing pen, the OHTO Graphic Liner.

A Sturdy Little Ruler

I love straight lines, it’s a weakness.

Because I tend to work on fairly small-scale projects I need a small ruler.  I found the perfect thing one day by complete accident.  The Alumicolor Professional Pocket Scale fit all of my most urgent requirements for a ruler and to this day it hasn’t let me down.

Alumicolor Professional Pocket Scale

This is a 6″ triangular ruler that’s divided into 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 decimal parts to the inch which makes it excellent for creating perfectly sized grids no matter what size I need them to be.

Nomadic Tri-Fold Pencil Case

The All-Important Pencil Case

Last, but definitely not least, my toolbox.

The Nomadic Tri-Fold Pencil Case is my hard-working, stuff-it-all-in, go everywhere toolbox.

Nomadic products are so artist-friendly that it’s almost like they were designed with us in mind!

Next to my Wise-Walker messenger bag, the Tri-Fold comes in at number 2 on my Best Things Ever list (which of course doesn’t include living things, that would definitely drastically change the list).

The Tri-Fold makes the perfect artist’s toolbox for three reasons:

  1. It’s really affordable.  You can pick one up for only $16 at, which is the only place in the states where you can get Nomadic products at the moment.
  2. It hold tons of gear for its size.  When you first see it you won’t believe it will hold as much as it does.
  3. Most importantly, everything stays organized and easy to find.

I can pop all of my essential tools (plus quite a few more) into this little guy and they all stay organized and ready to go to work.  The entire package fits into my coat pocket (which admittedly is a rather large pocket), easily stows away in my field bag or purse, or sits on my otherwise disastrously messy desk with a smug sense of pride over it’s perfectly organized tidiness.

I’ve read a few complaints that things fall out because the Tri-Fold doesn’t have a zipper like most of the other Nomadic products do.  Personally, I’ve never had a problem with it. I keep at least two pencils in my toolbox at all times and I’ve never lost one of them, but then I stuff mine so there’s very little wiggle room and I keep my Brass Bullet in the little Velcro pocket so it couldn’t get away even if it wanted to.

The only problem I’ve had is with the single slide-in pocket (where the Rhodia notebook is in the picture).  I keep an extra eraser stick, a small chamois, my Knetgummi, and an eraser guard in there and they do tend to slide out on occasion…  while it’s mildly annoying, I am yet to lose them or even have them fall out of the case.