Here are the materials you’ll need to do the initial exercises. Once you get further through the exercises, specifically into the value exercises, you will need more, but this list will keep you going for the first few weeks of your new regular practice habit.

Get all of the materials listed below together during your first week of just opening your sketchpad and you’ll be ready to go for week two.

Some of them will be obvious to you, some you might already have.

Stuff You Need at the Start

Pencil Exercises

A range of graphite pencils, at least the following: 3H, B, 2B, 6B. It won’t hurt you to have a few intervening ones too. That’s the minimum you’ll need. If you have a personal preference that’s fine, I use Conte:

Fine sandpaper for sharpening. Get a few sheets. You’ll be using it a lot. Any standard hardware store will be fine for this.

A good putty rubber (kneadable eraser).

Sketch pad. Obviously there’s a huge choice and personal preference will play a big part here. I like the Canson recycled pads for general exercises:

Sharp knife. I use a Stanley knife. I find ordinary craft knives too flimsy.

Charcoal Exercises

Soft willow or vine charcoal, fine sticks. I use Coates or Windsor and Newton for most exercises but any similar charcoal will do fine.

Optional: better quality charcoal. You can use more expensive charcoal if you like. Especially for later exercises, I’ll say when I think it’s a good idea. for the initial exercises, you’ll be going through a lot of it so the cheaper stuff is better. But if you really want to spend the money, you can get:

Fixative. The best I’ve found is Lasceaux, but Sennelier and Windsor and Newton are good too.

Brush and Ink Exercises

If you’re anything like me, these materials will be new to you and they’ll take some getting used to. I strongly advise getting hold of the recommended paper and ink for the ink exercises. Using different paper and ink is fine but may give very different results.

If you can’t get a recommended paper, or if it’s too expensive for exercises (it often is) try other kinds of papers. The main properties you need in the paper is absorbency, but not so much that the ink bleeds and can’t be controlled, and preferably translucency, so that you can use the paper for tracing. These two properties are hard to find together except in sized or semi-sized Chinese painting paper.

It’s much harder to make hard and fast recommendations for the brushes. I use a medium goat hair brush, an all-rounder intended for calligraphy and painting. They call it goat hair, but it’s actually sheep. If you can, I’d recommend trying a few different ones out and seeing what works best for you. By the way, the ‘wolf hair’ ones aren’t really made from wolf hair. They call weasels ‘yellow wolf’ in China, it’s weasel hair.

Chinese brush

Chinese or Japanese ink

Chinese or Japanese Paper

Get sized or semi-sized. It’s possible to work with un-sized papers, but the ink will bleed and spread as fast as you put it down. Sized or semi-sized papers allow for much more control when working slowly.

  • US: The best source I’ve found so far is They have a lot of different types of paper, and I’ve tried most of them. Only the sized papers are really appropriate for the kind of practice we do here. I would recommend the Glass paper. It’s not too expensive ($7 for 12 18″ by 27″ sheets, at time of writing) and works well. Sized Shuen Cicada is also a good choice, although much more expensive ($12.50 for 5 54″ by 27″ sheets). There’s not much difference in feel between the two, I’d go for the glass paper.
  • UK: Sidewinder have a great range of papers, sized, semi sized and un-sized, and have great customer service. My personal favourite is the King Wu semi sized. It has the best combination of properties I think. Tu fu is good too. The sized papers are a little more harsh, but still very good for our practice. Clearwater sized Xuan is good sized paper, but feels slightly hard, dry and crinkly compared to the semi-sized papers. It’s hard to flatten since it comes in a roll and tends to retain its shape. Icy Xuan is similar in feel to the Cicada xuan.
  • Canada: No source yet for sized papers. Please email me ( if you find a good one.

Fine tracing paper.

Two small pots – one for ink and one for water.

Ordinary kitchen roll. Plenty of it.


If you don’t already have one, I’d recommend getting a decent table easel. Here’s a few ideas:


Amazon (UK)


You can get by without one just fine. But having your drawing surface angled slightly towards you does help I think.

Drawing board. I just use pieces of MDF cut to size from my local timber merchant.

Stuff You Can Get Later

If you keep going through the exercises, you’ll need a few more materials as the exercises move into painting and get more demanding. Don’t worry about these for now, you’ll get plenty of notice in the exercises themselves when you need to think about expanding your range of materials for the next batch of exercises.

You’ll need a decent stand-up easel. If you don’t have one though, wait until you’re sure you’re going to persevere with the exercises before getting one.

I’d recommend a simple ‘H’ frame easel like this:

Oil or acrylic paint

You’ll need to decide whether you’re going to work in oil or acrylic for the painting exercises. Acrylic is much easier to work with and to clean up after, but oil is better because the values don’t change so much when the paint dries. But either is fine.

The exercises will have lists of the colours you’ll need for them as they come up. To begin with, you’ll only need:

  • Titanium white
  • Ivory black
  • Burnt Sienna

I would also strongly recommend getting hold of the Munsell Colour Student book. It has a value scale in it which will be very useful for the more advanced value studies – as well as a lot of very useful information on how we perceive colour.

Back to Exercises