My Favorite Illustration Tools

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is what type of illustration tools I use. While I make a habit of trying new supplies on a regular basis, I return to the same favorites again and again. This is a list of the tools I’ve been buying for years - my go-to staples. If you want to purchase anything from this list, my favorite places to buy art supplies are Amazon and Dick Blick.

Strathmore Mixed Media Paper Earlier this year, I did a paper study on my Instagram story. I bought a variety of watercolor papers from Dick Blick, and tested them out individually. Ironically, the cheapest paper was my favorite. It was the one I’d been using for years. This paper is super thick, smooth, and a nice bright white. I love how it has a little texture, but not too much. It retains the perfect amount of water. As a bonus, this paper is sold by the pad (in a variety of sizes), so I don’t need to trim it down like most high end watercolor papers that are sold by the sheet. The pads also make it very transportable when traveling.

Winsor and Newton Gouache I’ll be honest - I haven’t tried too many types of gouache because I haven’t had to! I LOVE this brand, and I have no intentions of switching any time soon. These pigments are so vibrant, and I love the way they go onto paper. If you haven’t tried gouache before, you definitely should. It’s my favorite medium because it creates really clean work, and layers nicely. I love how you can add water to dried up gouache, and reuse it again and again. These tubes of paint aren’t cheap, but they are very concentrated and last a long time.

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Here is a list of my ten favorite shades, in order of frequency of use:

  1. Permanent White (I usually buy the 1.25 oz size of this)

  2. Lamp Black (I usually buy the 1.25 oz size of this)

  3. Flesh Tint

  4. Cadmium Scarlett

  5. Viridian

  6. Gold Ochre

  7. Raw Umber

  8. Ultramarine

  9. Gold (Metallic)

  10. Sepia

    *I don’t recommend buying the beginner’s sampler packs of paint. You end up paying a lot for colors you don’t like or need. Look up the shades your favorite artists use, and start with those.

Simply Simmons Brushes I’ve tried a lot of different brushes, but I return to these every time. They aren’t expensive at all, compared to higher end brushes I’ve purchased in the past. They hold up really well, and I like the way they handle paint.

Here are the brush sizes I like best, in order of frequency of use:

  1. Spotter, Size 10/0 (Great for controlled detailing)

  2. Flat Wash, Size 1/2” (Great for background washes)

  3. Round, Size 8 (Great for filling in larger areas)

  4. Flat Shader, Size 8

  5. Round, Size 2

  6. Filbert, Size 2

    *As with paint, I don’t recommend buying a sampler brush set. Start with a few brushes you think need, and go from there.

Micron Pens I use these tiny little pens for detail work, and to sign my illustrations. They last forever, and layer over gouache well. My favorite pen thickness is 005. This is the only one I buy now. I’ve tried different colors, but black is my go-to.

Faber-Castell Dust-Free Eraser (w/Mechanical Pencil) This is the only new addition to the list. A lot of illustrators use light boxes for their work, painting over sketches. I just use mechanical pencil and eraser to sketch out my work. I then paint over it, illustrating as I go. I’m sure a lightbox would produce cleaner results, but this method feels the most natural. That’s why it’s important I have an eraser that doesn’t make a mess my paper. I used to buy Prismacolor erasers, but this one is much better, leaving less dust (as promised). It also erases the pencil lines really well.

Martin Airtight Watercolor Palette This is a must-have for vacations. It’s leak proof and air tight. You can load up your colors before you leave town, and they won’t be all over your luggage when you arrive at your destination. I love that I don’t need to bring my tubes of paint with me.

Moleskine Watercolor Sketchbook These sketchbooks are THE BEST. I love using my sketchbook to test out new techniques, or as a travel companion. The black leather cover is so sleek, and I’m a big fan of the landscape 5x8.25” size. The paper thickness, texture, and off-white shade are perfect. I’ve done my homework, and I’m convinced these are the best watercolor sketchbooks on the market.

Vintage Containers I had to add this to the list because it’s an integral part of my illustration process. I love my vintage ceramics. I use an egg plate like this for my paint palette. I found it for less than $20 at an antique shop. I also use a milk glass cup like this for my water, and a long bowl similar to this to hold my paint tubes. You can find interesting ceramics on Etsy, or in vintage shops. It makes the painting process feel so special, and I love the added bonus of buying eco-friendly.

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