The emotional rollercoaster I experience in art supply stores can be summarised in one word: greed.
I want every single pen, every brush, every quill, and a sheet of every paper, ranging from crude cardboard to magnificent handcrafted Japanese washi. And yes, I need papyrus. And no, I don’t know what for.
I want it all! Which one should I pick?
Here is how to find your perfect partner in crime.
Selection (the dating phase)
Every drawing tool has its own character, its own virtues and flaws.
Pencils for example have many talents. They can be subtle, yet also bold. We can erase their traces with ease—which also makes them kind of timid and flaky.
Felt pens on the other hand are straight shooters. Once you draw a line it stays there. Felt pens are brutally honest, they expose every mistake we make. Their candor makes them both a clear, rational instructor, and a seismograph of our emotions.
Ink brushes can fill large areas quickly, but they are harder to control. They can be messy and unpredictable. Which makes them all the more exciting.
But no one is as dirty as charcoal, which is known for grand gestures and drama.
The point is: Picking the right drawing tool depends on what you like and what you want to do with it.
But there is one characteristic you might look out for. The great Japanese designer Kenya Hara calls it “emptiness“.
Some tools make things easy for us, but at the same time they restrict our options. For example it is fairly easy to draw circles with a compass, but there is not much else you can do with it.
Other tools however may appear primitive at first. A simple pen for instance is much harder to master. But once you get there, you can draw (almost) anything with it.
We want to pick such a “primitive” or in Hara’s words “empty” tool. Empty tools require skill, they make us grow.
This is the danger of complex software tools. At first sight they seem to offer endless possibilities. They come easy. But more often than not they turn out rather restrictive, and the overabundance of features can choke our creativity. So in case you want to use a digital tablet for drawing, I suggest you pick a very simple graphic software and deliberately limit the features you use.
Exploration (the relationship)
The first thing to do with a new pen is to find out what it does best. Fine liners for example are very good for precise explanations.
But things get really interesting when you come across something at which a tool is not good at. In our example it is hard for fineliners to create areas in different shades of grey. At this point, we could simply start an affair with a different tool, let’s say with an ink brush.
Or: We can stick with our fineliner and push its boundaries!
For example we could explore various hatching techniques.
It is precisely when we hit the limitations of a tool that our creativity kicks in. They are a—more or less gentle—push towards unconventional ideas.
Paper (moving in)
Now that we have committed to a drawing tool, it is time to pick the right home. Paper formats are similar to houses in the sense that larger ones might be more impressive but also harder to maintain.
We must consider the relation between the viewer and the picture. Larger formats can be viewed from multiple distances. They should look good both from a distance and up close.
Also, when we draw on smaller paper formats we mostly use the motion of our fingers and wrist. Larger formats however require the movement of our whole arm.
Whenever we change our paper format we encounter different possibilities and challenges. In the beginning it is easier to stick with one format and then gradually try other sizes over time.
After a while our drawing tool feels like a part of us, it becomes “transparent”. Just like you don’t notice the glasses you are wearing and just see better your pen becomes a part of your mind and makes you think better.
Every pen or brush we choose can become a new superpower, an extension of our mind.
Whenever we set out to learn something new, there is an impulse to go shopping.
But we can’t buy skills.
So when it comes to our perfect drawing tool, I suggest we pick something simple, stick with it, push its boundaries and make it a part of ourselves.
We don’t need more than that.
Having said that, here are some shopping links:
Before you go
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