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The Arts For Life Guide to Art Materials

June 3, 2020 | By Annie Rogers


You’ll want to use paper that is made for whatever art material you are using on it. An inexpensive sketch pad is a great place to start. 

Watercolor paper is thick so it will be stable when it gets wet. Typically, it has a “toothy” or rough texture in order to ‘hold’ the paint in place.
Brands: Canson, Strathmore, Jack Richeson

Drawing paper is usually thinner and will hold up well when you’re using markers, pencils, or crayons. Copier paper makes fine drawing paper.
Brands: Artist Loft, Strathmore 

Cardstock is nice and thick and works well with permanent markers and thicker paints like acrylic and tempera. It has a smooth surface though, so it doesn’t work quite as well with watercolor (which it usually just absorbs) or oil pastel (which needs a little more resistance.) 
Brands: Bristol, Canson


Pencils come in a graphite scale. A #2B pencil is the typical pencil you use in school. The H on pencils tells you it’s hard graphite while the B is softer and black. The higher the number of either is harder (lighter) or softer (blacker) the pencil will be. For example an 6B will create dark shadows and a 4H is good for lighter shading. If you are doing a lot of pencil drawing and shading it’s best to get a drawing pencil set. If you just are using a pencil to sketch for other mediums a general #2 will work just fine!
Brands: Ticonderoga (for #2s), Sargent Arts for drawing sets. 

Colored Pencils 

Colored pencils are good for coloring small places, detailed coloring books, and detailed drawings. They are not good for coloring in large spaces or large-scale projects (try markers or oil pastels instead.)
Remember to keep them sharp! 
Brands: Not all colored pencils are created equally. If you want to blend and shade try Prismacolor. They are expensive but are much nicer to work with.
If you’re just starting, Crayola
pencils offer quality at a lower price. 


Markers are good for a wide variety of projects, including any project where you need BOLD colors.  Markers often come in different sets: neon, bright, metallic, neutral colors, etc.

Broad and Chisel Tip  markers are good for coloring larger places.
Brands: Crayola, Mr. Sketch

Fine Tip markers are good for outlining and more detailed work.
Brands: Sharpie, Crayola Supertips

Brush tip markers lay on like paint and are good for filling in medium-sized areas with color.
Brands: We love Tombow

Water-based markers are odorless and safe. They aren’t permanent and can be used for many projects. They often have a watercolor-like quality when when you add water. They can tear paper easier if too many layers are applied. 
Brands: Crayola, Mr. Sketch, Tombow 

Alcohol-based markers are mostly permanent and dry quickly. They won’t bleed so are good to mix with watercolors for outlining.
Brands: Sharpie, Prismacolor, Copic

Solvent-based markers are often used for poster making and craft projects. They usually have a really strong scent and aren’t the best for kids.
Brands: Chartpak


Pens are usually good for drawing, coloring fine details, patterns, doodles and decorative work. They are not good for coloring in large or even medium-sized spaces.
There are A LOT of pens out there and it takes a while to find your favorite! Find what works for you.

Fineliners have extra-small points for very detailed line drawings or coloring in very small spaces. Ages 7+.
Brands: Staetdler, Sakura, Sharpie Extra-fine

Felt tip pens are almost like markers. They come in a variety of widths and offer bold color.
Brands: Papermate, Bic

Gel pens are paint-like; they have thick ink that lays down smoothly even on dark-colored paper.
Brands: We love Sakura Gelly Roll Pens. 


Crayons are good for coloring small and medium places, creating resists, and for use with young children. 
Brands: We love the Crayola mini twistables- no need to sharpen and easy to clean. Super Crayon brand is great for a splurge. 

Oil Pastels

Oil pastels are good for coloring large spaces, blending, drawing on dark paper, and for use with watercolors. 
Brands: We love the Sakura Oil Pastel sets and the Sargent Art Gallery metallic set. 


There are many different types of paint– it can be overwhelming trying to figure out what kind is best for your project. . If you’re just starting choose a more affordable brand and work your way up once you figure out what you like. 

Watercolor paints are good for use on paper, almost exclusively. That said, they probably offer the most versatility of any paint. They are easy to clean up, and good for all ages. A great starting paint. 

Watercolor Sets are boxes with circles of dry paint in a variety of colors. Sets are great for easy clean-up! 
Brands: We love Sargent Arts or Crayola for beginners and Pelikan watercolor pans for the next step up. 

Liquid Watercolors are super-bright, premixed paints that come individually in bottles. 
Brands: Watercolor Magic, Blick

Acrylic paints are good for painting on paper, canvas, cardboard, wood, or other crafty things. They offer super bold colors and a smooth finish when dry. They dry quickly and can be cleaned and mixed with water. BUT they are permanent and will stain clothes so they are not great for very young children. 
To get started you’ll need red, yellow, blue, black and white- you can mix all colors from these.
Brands: We love Liquitex Basics for beginners and Liquitex soft body acrylics for more advanced artists.  

Tempera paint is a semi-thick, brightly-colored paint with a matte finish that is good for use on paper, cardstock, posterboard, or cardboard. Temperas mix well and stay true to color. They can be cleaned and mixed with water. The washable varieties are great for use with any age, but if it doesn’t expressly say it’s washable, it will more than likely stain your clothes.
Brands: Crayola (washable), Prang

Tempera Sticks are a no-mess alternative to liquid paints. They offer rich, bold color and dry instantly on paper.
Brands: Kwik Sticks, Playcolor 

Tempera Cakes are also no-mess and offer just a little more opaque layers of color than watercolor sets.
Brands: Prang, Jack Richeson 

Oil paints are thick, oil-based paints that dry very slowly. Since oil paints are often made with chemicals and need turpentine for clean up we don’t recommend them for kids. 


There are many different types of brushes for each type of paint and many different shapes and sizes. Generally you want to use a brush that looks like the shape you want to fill. 
For general painting, use a small or medium round brush. For large spaces and backgrounds, use a medium or large flat brush.

Watercolor brushes have many thin bristles and are made to hold water.

Acrylic brushes are denser and more firm to hold the thicker paint.