You want to make art. You are a beginner, or you are getting back into making art after not for an extended period, you need an art supplies list that won’t have you buying every extra little art material at the store. If you answered yes to this very exciting scenario, take my hand and I will lead you down the path to finding the basic art supplies you will need.
After I give you the 5 essential art supplies every artist needs, I will break down the other art supplies into different lists according to medium. This is where you decide what materials you want to focus on first, or if you want to buy all the supplies, set up a dream studio, and play around and make art all the live long day.
Related: Don’t miss my post on the best online art supply stores.
Very Basic Art Supplies List
Okay, so this is a basic art materials list for beginners. If you are just dipping your toes into making art, these are the materials I suggest you really can’t survive without. If you are buying these supplies as a gift for someone, you will be their favorite person in all the land.
Every artist needs a sketchbook. Not every artist will use their sketchbook on the daily, although many do and post their amazing creations on Instagram, and the rest of us freak out at their brilliant talent. A sketchbook is necessary to:
- Practice techniques
- Jot down art ideas
- Visually work out a piece of art before committing it to more expensive material
- Loosening up your art muscles and art brain
- Daydreaming and doodling
2 Drawing Pencils
Even if you are not focused on making hardcore pencil drawings, as an artist you will appreciate drawing pencils over yellow school 2B drawing apparatuses.
Good-quality drawing pencils are a joy to use, glide over your paper like a song, and will last for sooo long if you don’t drop them on the ground and break the precious graphite inside. More on choosing the best drawing pencils.
Basically, most artists will enjoy using drawing pencils in their sketchbook sometimes, even if they mostly use ink for drawing.
3 Drawing Pens
I consider drawing pens an absolute must for every artist. From inking your pencil drawings, to sketching in your sketchbook, or just doodling because doodling is important for every artist, drawing pens are one of the top-used art supplies out there.
If you are just starting to make art, grab a set of drawing pens with a few different sizes of tips, and you will soon see which sizes you gravitate to the most. You can then buy single drawing pens in just those sizes as you go through them.
Get inspired by these pointillism artists.
4 Pencil Sharpener
Yep, this is on the must-have-art-supplies list because without the best pencil sharpener, you will go mad. Seriously, how infuriating is it to re-sharpen your pencils over and over again due to a shoddy pencil sharpener?
A good-quality pencil sharpener is not expensive, but makes all the difference in the world to the points of your pencils. You will want a different pencil sharpener depending on which kind of pencil you are using. Read about the best pencils sharpeners for artists.
I keep feeling like I should say, “NO, REALLY, YOU NEED A GOOD XXXX” with every art supply I list now, because pencil sharpeners and erasers don’t seem all that serious, but these two items are amongst a little group of supplies I have that changed my art life when I found the right ones.
Erasers are not all made the same, and if you are using some pink pearl eraser on your drawings, stop it right now. Just stop. Sheesh.
You’ve probably seen those white drawing erasers that have a little bit of blue cardboard around them. These are what you want, and if you also enjoy kneaded erasers, do it up, but these white erasers are cheap and brilliant, basically erasing everything you can think of. That is an example of art hyperbole.
More Art Material Lists
So now that we have the very basics taken care of, let’s explore some of the next items on the old art supplies list that you can choose from. I’m going to start with painting lists
Watercolor Painting Supplies List
I am going to list the 4 basics you need for watercolor painting. Once you have played around with these, you can add the extras like masking fluid or mediums, but you most definitely don’t need them at first. Watercolor is an easy art material to get started with!
Watercolors are kind of awesome. You can use them to make lovely, translucent washes, or layer them in a more controlled, illustrative manner. They are a perfect paint to experiment with for beginners or more established artists.
I think the fact that they are so easy to clean up, re-wettable, and so handy in their cute little pans (tube watercolors are another beast), they are almost the perfect paint for all artists. One caveat: you must use a quality watercolor! Don’t make me come smack those Prang watercolors out of your hand.
Watercolor paper comes in hot press (smooth) and cold press (that classic watercolor paper texture), so whichever you prefer the look of is the one you should choose. Or experiment with both and see for yourself.
I was torn between recommending watercolor paper here and mixed media paper, because there is truly a paper for every art medium. In the end, though, I think if you have watercolor paper, you could also use oil pastels and inks on them, or whatever wet or heavy medium you want to try. Watercolor paper is nice and thick and can take whatever you throw at it.
When you paint with watercolors, you want a soft brush with which to soak up lots of delicious paint and lay it down on the paper smoothly.
Natural bristle brushes are generally better quality than synthetic, so if you are going all in on getting the best watercolor supplies, by all means go this route (look at sable brushes).
If you are just testing watercolor to see if you like it, opt for synthetic paintbrushes, as these will be less expensive than natural hair brushes. You can find some good-quality options and put more of your money into the paints.
With either brush type, start with maybe 2 round ones and 2 flat in a mid-size. These will give you the opportunity to experiment and see which shapes, sizes, and paintbrush materials you like best.
For watercolors, I like using a plastic palette. You can mix your colors on the flat areas and reuse them even after they’ve dried. Plus, it’s easy to clean off the surfaces with a wipe or moist paper towel. If you do opt for a tube watercolor paint, you can squeeze some out from each tube into the little wells on the palette.
Acrylic painting Materials List
So, like I just dropped a little hint above by calling watercolors ‘almost the perfect paint for all artists’. I think acrylic paints are actually THE perfect paint. They are so versatile it hurts, and with a little experimentation, you can do a zillion things with acrylic paints.
I implore every single person on this planet who has any interest in art to try acrylics. I could write a thousand more words right now about my love for acrylic paints, and I feel that it is a definite no-brainer #1 paint on the art supply list.
Golden and Liquitex are my 2 go-to acrylic paints. I use the heavy body artist acrylics, but these can get pricey quickly. If you are just starting out, opt for a small set of paints to practice mixing colors and getting a feel for how the paints work.
If you are on a super duper tight budget, or want to introduce acrylic paints to kids, go ahead and grab Liquitex Basics. They are a student-grade acrylic paint, which means they are less expensive. But of course this also means the quality is lower – cheaper paints have fillers added to them to extend the paint, but you won’t get as much pigment. This is true with any cheap art supply, so keep this in mind when deciding on your art supplies!
Canvas or panels
Canvas has to be on the art supplies list because you need something to paint on with the acrylic paints I just talked you into buying. Whether you choose canvas panels, canvas pads, or stretched canvas, I think every artist should experience painting on canvas.
Of course, if you find that you prefer to paint on a sturdier surface, gessoed panels may be more to your liking. You can chose flat panels that are smooth or canvas-textured, or you can buy cradled panels that are basically like shallow boxes you hang on the wall.
Alternatively, you can use heavy paper to paint on with acrylics, you just need to put a few layers of gesso on it first.
Hey, how about some paintbrushes to paint with? I think paintbrushes are usually a good idea when paint is involved. So you really don’t need to buy a whole set of brushes if you’re starting out and wanting to experiment with paint, you can literally just buy 2 sizes and play around with them.
Acrylic paint does need a sturdier brush than watercolors. They need to hold the thicker paint and still bounce back into shape after cleaning. Again, you can choose natural or synthetic bristles, but I don’t feel that one is better than the other in this case.
I have found that either a glass slab palette or freezer paper (or palette pad) are the best for when you are painting with acrylics or oil paints. (You can use these for watercolors, too, but I prefer watercolors on a plastic palette.)
Colored Pencils List
Colored pencils are an amazing basic art supply if you are more into drawing than painting. You will still get the ability to use alllll the colors in your art, but in a neater, more controlled way. if you do decide on colored pencils, you don’t need the giantest set of them, but you do need enough different colors so you don’t feel limited. You can layer colored pencils to mix the colors to an extent, but unlike paints, you can’t mix them up in unlimited ways.
Not to sound like a broken record, but ya can’t use cheap colored pencils and expect to get anything good out of the situation.
Colored pencils come in a range from horribly icky to amazingly saturated and superior quality. Needless to say, the super-best colored pencils are damn expensive. (And damn worth it, if you are a major colored pencil drawing fan).
For most of us, a middle-quality colored pencil will suffice for starting out, as it will give great results and plenty of pencil for experimenting and learning as you work up to the shmancy pencils.
Pencil Sharpener for Colored Pencils
You definitely do not want to use your regular old pencil sharpener for colored pencils. Read more here about the best pencil sharpeners for artists, but essentially you want a shorter tip than with graphite pencils, and a sharpener that you can adjust.
Paper for Colored Pencils
Colored pencils like a little tooth to their paper, and how toothy you get is a matter of preference. If you like a lot of texture, go more toothy!
You will also need a little heft to the paper so when you layer and blend your colored pencils, you won’t tear through. The pad I link to above is awesome to use with colored pencils – Stonehenge is some of the best paper for artists. You can also choose a less expensive version like Strathmore.
To keep this post from getting overwhelming, I’ll stop with these art material lists for now, but do subscribe to my email updates to get notified, because I’m always writing new posts on art supplies!