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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Penick

My favorite art supplies

Students in one of my classes asked recently if I would recommend my favorite art supplies. I use what I think is a sort of eclectic mix of materials, and I do NOT always insist on the best out there, but I do really care a lot about materials and I have used a lot of different things.

So here is a list of my favorite materials right now. It may give you some new ideas and I'd love to hear what YOUR favorite art supplies are, too. [The items featured in this list are in no way influenced by manufacturers. I am not receiving any sort of bonus for recommending certain products.]

There is a PDF linked below if you would like to download it for reference. 

Enjoy and happy art-making!



Watercolor paints:

Windsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Paint Sketchers’ Pocket Box Half Pan Set is a nice starter set. Sennelier makes a nice similar size set, too. But you may enjoy yourself with an even less expensive set.

If you want to splurge and buy some terrific watercolors, I love both the German brand Schmincke but also a small San Francisco company called Case for Making. They both make pan watercolors (dry “cubes” or “pans” of watercolor, as opposed to tubes of paint). Case for Making sells them in sets or individually. I like to have at least 14 colors, in a small case. The colors can be replaced individually when they run out.

Acrylic paints:

I am VERY unfussy about the quality of my acrylic paints because I use them predominantly to either make painted paper or to paint backgrounds. That said, paint with a very metallic or shiny surface can be distracting, depending on what you are doing, so I like Blick’s small bottles of matte acrylic paint. I also buy those bottles of craft paint at Michael’s (yes, I do), because the lighter weight paint can work very nicely when doing things like gel plate printing.

Permanent ink pens:

Sakura Pigma Micron come in different tip thicknesses and in different colors; I usually have some black and some dark brown ones on hand. They will not bleed if you paint over them, which is nice.

Paint pens:

Posca Acrylic Paint Markers are really good quality paint pens. Although they cost more than some others, you can buy them in sets as small as 8, and good art supply stores usually sell them individually, too.

Gel pens:

I really like the quality of Sakura Gelly Roll Classic pens. They come in sets, but you can also just buy white, which is my favorite to use in layered works.

Watercolor pencils:

Derwent Inktense are super vibrant watersoluble ink pencils. Just add water and your pencil lines look like paint. These are bright, but sublte, so a little pigment goes a long way. Good art supply stores usually sell these individually, as well as in sets.


I discovered Tombow markers and now they’re really all I like. They come in sets and they have two tips: a brush tip and also a fine tip. They are water-based (so they smear with water), which allows you to blend colors, too. The brush tip means that you can use marker but apply it so that it looks more “painterly”. Again, these are often sold individually, too, in good art supply stores.


I use cheap-to-medium-grade brushes, nothing fancy. I like to have a real range of small/large/flat/round brushes.

Water-filled brushes:

The Niji Waterbrush (and other brands) is a brush and water containers in one, twhidh makes these great for traveling and for working where the possibility of spilling a cup of water is an issue. You just fill the handle with water, squeeze it a bit to get water onto the brush, and clean it by wiping on a paper towel.


I use all kinds of paper, but I most often use pads of Canson XL Mix Media Pads. The paper is heavy enough to support watercolor and acrylic paint, but not so thick that it becomes hard to use in collages. I get larger size pads and then cut sheets up when I want smaller size paper.

Bound sketchbooks:

Moleskine “Art” series is my favorite.

It has thicker paper although not ideal for watercolor.


There are many good alternatives but I usually use ModPodge matte (yellow label) liquid glue that I apply with a cheap brush. I also use glue sticks, especially when traveling. UHU Stic (yellow packaging) is a good glue stick.


Oil pastels:

There are a bunch of brands of good oil pastels, but the ones that I have used are by Holbein. I like having even just a few oil pastels on hand. They are great for adding texture and layering color over paint and/or collage.

Water-soluble oil pastels:

These are different from regular oil pastels. Like watercolor pencils, once you touch the color with water, it spreads and blends easily. Mungyo, Prima, or Portfolio brands would all do the trick. You may even have fun first experimenting with Michael’s affordable house brand.

Water-soluble crayons:

Caran d'Ache Neocolor II Artists' Crayons are fun. They are soft enough to smudge with your fingertips, yet much firmer than oil pastels. And with lots of pigment, light colors can cover dark. They can be used dry or add water and the marks that you make turn into vibrant color “paint”.

China marker:

Made by Sharpie, this waxy white pencil writes on anything and gives a nice textured mark for layering in mixed media pieces.

Sumi drawing ink:

Permanent/waterproof (when dry), any brand of Sumi ink will give you a very dark black ink to use straight or diluted with a brush. A small bottle will last you a long time.

Acrylic drawing ink:

I like Daler Rowney but also Liquitex Inks. They are thin and so give a more fluid line than paint, but have a lot of pigment (bold color) and are waterproof and permanent when dry. A little goes a long way.


I use white (not clear) acrylic liquid gesso. Liquitex is good. Gesso is a surface primer, and I use it to prepare vintage book pages but I also use it to tone down the intensity of elements in collage or mixed media pieces.


A brayer (or roller) can be used for many things, especially for printmaking with carved linoleum or carved rubber stamps. I use mine to spread paint thinly when making sheets of painted paper, and when using a gel printing plate. I prefer the 3-inch soft rubber kind, and I use the Speedball brand with a metal roller-holder … but smaller or larger, or all-plastic construction, or even hard rubber will still work, too for what I use it for most!

favorite art supplies
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