I think a lot of people with art practices probably go through periods where there love a technique and tool for a long time and then later abandon it all together a few months later. Or maybe that’s just me. My practice has also been very intuitive and experimental. In and out of my art, I feel most alive when I’m learning and trying new things.
Unfortunately for me, this has led to a large body of work but little cohesion within it. Personally, that is not a downside for me. Professionally it is. Most clients and buyers want to know what they’re getting when they hire you. If your work is all over the place stylistically, this is hard to do. In 2017, I sought to nail down a specific signature style to my art and illustration, and part of that was nailing down a process, after much deliberate experimentation.
I still involve as much experimenting in my process as possible, but I try to keep my signature style in mind whenever I do this. Here’s the tools I have recently settled on.
All of the images below link to where you can purchase them on Amazon.
- Alcohol Ink Markers
This is probably old news to a lot of you, but these things are amazing. It is like pure, vibrant, unadulterated color in these things. I tested the waters at first to see if I liked them with a cheap brand on Amazon. They were surprisingly great! And they are significantly better than other cheap-o brands I tried later. After I tried them, I went on to order them for every library the art program in Philadelphia I worked for was located. Our patrons loved them, and a couple of professional comic book artists who taught workshops also sung their praises.These are the same ones we used:
I recommend following my lead; purchase the cheap set and figure out which colors you like the best. From there, find matching duplicates of a higher end brand like Copic. Copic markers are hands down the best – but they are $5-7 each. Fortunately, they arerefillable. Because of this I’ve heard they are cheaper in the long run than other high end brands like Prismacolor. I’m slowly replacing all of my cheaper ones with Copics as the Artify markers run out. Most art supply stores will allow you to test markers before you purchase them. The Artify color numbers do not match up with Copics, so I’d recommend bringing in swatches of the colors you’d like to replace and testing Copics that look close alongside them. If you’re lucky enough to live near a Dick Blick or similar large art supply store, there is a ton of selection. Michael’s and A.C. Moore might be able to get you buy, but not very well.
You can also purchase Copics online, but it is hard to know what color you’re getting without testing it. You could also just purchase a large set though, if you have the funds.
- Tracing Paper
I run through this stuff like nothing. I used to buy the pads of it, but found a lot of discrepancies in the paper quality. Of course tracing paper isn’t going to be high quality, but I’ve found the rolls of it have a lot less dimples and creases in it.
Also, I’m going to let you in on a secret of how I get the vibrant, watercolor-like washes in my work. It’s not watercolor. It’s alcohol ink markers on tracing paper. The transparent quality of the paper also makes it less absorbent. Most paper would absorb the ink, but with tracing paper, the ink sits on top and creates watercolor-like effects. Give it a shot and let me know what you think. I discovered this by chance and it’s influenced all of my work since then.
- iPad and Stylus
I’m a new convert to this world but I have to say, it is AMAZING. Technology has come so far and so fast. There is something to be said for working on paper with physical materials; it will also be the food of my soul. That said, working commercially and for tight deadlines the iPad is great for digital painting and drawing. Most people who work with one have an Apple Pencil and an iPad Pro.
Well, I’m still using my old iPad Air and a cheap stylus I got off Amazon.
Even with these, “inferior” options I am genuinely impressed by the quality of the pieces I’ve been making.
I spent a lot of time scanning and then editing my pieces for editorial clients; I’ve literally cut that time into a third. It has also tripled the amount of doodling and sketching I do in a day. It’s easier, it’s more convenient, it requires no consumable materials.
- Journals and Sketchbook
My journal system deserves a post of it’s own. I’ve adapted a system of Bullet Journal for my own needs. I’m going to write an entire post about how I do this very soon, but it is very similar to the one I’ve linked.
If you’re not familiar, a Bullet Journal is essentially a DIY planner that you layout and design based on your needs. There’s a ton of information about different layouts and structures you can make online. The best course if you’re interested in trying it and is trial and error. The layout I used when I started is much different than the one I use now.
Since using this system, I feel like my brain is finally somewhat clear (sidenote: I have ADHD so I may struggle with this more than you might).
I carry my bright red Moleskine everywhere I go. It’s small enough to fit in my purse but large enough to write comfortably in. I’m very fond of Moleskine’s brand of orange-ish red, but of course these are available in lots of colors. If you don’t carry a purse, there’s a smaller size as well. And larger sizes!
I use it every morning. I make a thorough list of tasks and goals the beginning of every month, week and day, and a subsequent series of reflections. It helps me hold myself accountable. It helps me dump all the crud that’s floating around in my brain onto a paper and reorganize it all based on priority and if it really even matters to begin with.
I use my Moleskine for plans and structuring, and I use a separate, larger journal for something author Julia Cameron calls Morning Pages. Julia Cameron wrote The Artist’s Way which is essentially a practical guide to becoming more creative. It’s very structured and acts as a class. She stresses the importance of keeping Morning Pages. Most of the book wasn’t particularly useful for me; most of the exercises were things I already do in my life as an artist. I think it’s more geared towards non-artists allowing themselves to be vulnerable, try things and fail. I think most artists and creatives are pretty used to that sort of thing. That said, Morning Pages were something I took from it and ran with. It’s only been about a month since I’ve started, but so far I’ve written them every morning for the past 35 days.All there is to it is you write 3 pages every morning of whatever is on your brain. You don’t read and review it; in fact, you don’t read it every again if you can help it. That ensures that when you write, it is purely an exercise of meditation. There is no future-you and other reader judging the writing. If you were to read it, it would probably be near jibberish or the ramblings of a crazy person.Similar to my Bullet Journal, it acts as a brain dump. It helps me sort through difficult emotions. I have already grown and learned so much about myself and my art. I can’t recommend trying it enough. For me to be able to commit to a daily routine, I must love the tools I use. I write with Pilot Precise V7 Rolling Ball pens and use a Fabriano notebook.
And then I carry a third book on me: my sketchbook. I struggled for a long time to find a sketchbook with pages that didn’t bleed. I tried a RENDR sketchbook and I haven’t gone back. The pages DO. NOT. BLEED. at all. If you’re working with alcohol ink, that is very important. Plus, I really appreciate the minimal styling of the cover and that it’s hardbound.
- Water Crayons
These are so cool. I first discovered them when I was backpacking through Europe and loved the convenience of them. You can draw with them and then use any moisture and it creates a watercolor effect. You can play with it to still keep some rough crayon texture in your work, too. I’ve only ever tried Caran D’Ache ones — I haven’t felt the need to venture. They’re buttery, vibrant and respond to moisture immediately.
These are great for convenience as well, and I usually use these partnered with the water crayons and colored pencils. Instead of having to have a separate cup with water, the water is stored in the handle of the brush. If you’re painting on the go, it is a relief to not have to think about carrying a cup and water with you. And it’s much less messy with less potential to spill. I’ve seen these at art supply stores and Michaels for about 6 x’s what I paid for them on Amazon. Maybe the ones they carry in store are a higher quality, but so far I haven’t had any issues with mine and I’ve been using them for months.
- Holbein Gouache
Lisa Congdon recommended this brand on her blog so I thought I’d try them out. They are amazing. Very matter and very vibrant. I tried them while I was in art school, but wasn’t impressed by the colors. I believe I just got the set of primary colors. If you don’t plan on using colors beyond that, you’ll be fine. But if you want some bright colors, it is impossible to mix. I grabbed a bright lime green and nearly neon pink and was converted to the world of gouache.
- Signo Uniball White Ink Pen
It’s a truly opaque white pen that you can use to write and doodle on darker colors. It is the most opaque white ink pen I have found so far.
- Gelly Roll Pens
Gelly Roll makes a great white pen as well, if you can’t find the Uniball one. All of their light colors are very opaque. You’ll find this to be essential if you’re drawing with pens on top of dark colors – opaque reins supreme.
- The last tool I use frequently; Google Image Search. What would any of us do without it? I guess there was once something called a reference book?