My Creative Toolbox
Throughout my artistic journey (aka since I was old enough to hold a colouring pen) I’ve had all sorts of creative supplies in my arsenal - from felt paper and crayons to brush pens and watercolours. Now that the weekends spent with papier-mâché and stick-on-gems are over (cry) I tend to have a slightly more limited array of tools and resources that I turn to on a regular basis - which of course, always includes a good cup of tea.
This week I created a mish-mash lettering/photo montage to show off my ‘go-to creative toolbox’, inspired by Lauren Hom’s weekly #homwork tasks, and thought it would be a great idea to expand on this in a blog post. Plus, I have wayyyy more tools that I couldn’t fit into the picture so this gives me a chance to give them some credit!
Pencil and rubber
Where else to start? I may have missed these out of the picture, but nothing beats your basic sketching materials. Honestly I tend to be pretty unbothered when it comes to brands and types. My work never stays in pencil form and as long as the rubber does it’s job in removing it, I’m happy. Plus, these are two things that are far too easy to lose for me to worry about too much.
Now for where I’m picky. I love a good fine-liner as much as the next person, and I make sure to always have a range of pens in varying widths in my arsenal, but at the end of the day my favourite type of black pen for illustrating is a classic ink rollerball. My favourite is the Pentel Liquid Gel Ink Pen in 0.7, which has the perfect size and easy flow on the paper for some great, intricate illustrations. I often get them in bulk so that I have them floating about the house, there whenever I should need them.
I have the Tombow Fudenosuke brush pens in both hard and soft for lettering, and although they take some getting used to, these are great pens for creating some beautiful looking lettering. Another favourite of mine also comes courtesy of Tombow - their Dual Brush pens are a MUST for people looking to get into lettering. Not only are they super easy to write with, but are water-soluble, meaning that when you add water they spread. This allows you to either use them as watercolours (just add water with a brush once you’ve drawn with them, or even draw on a plastic surface, add water, and use them as paint), or blend your lettering using a bit of water for some gorgeous two-tone lettering.
Another type of brush pen I keep in my toolbox is the Artline Stix collection. They come in a large pack of various colours for a pretty decent price, and allow you to create some gorgeous lettering, mainly due to their ability to produce darker and lighter shades depending on how hard you press - hello ombre lettering! The brush tips are pretty solid so take some getting used to if you’re used to Tombow, but are super easy to control.
Finally, you may spot the small brush pen in my picture which is not labelled… this is an Aqua Pen, which allows you to fill it with water and then use as a paint brush - great for diluting watercolours, inks, and particular water-soluble brush pens. Again, great for use when blending.
I love adding a bit of shimmer to my artwork which makes metallic markers pretty important to me, hence why I’ve tried out quite a few of them. My favourites are made by Sharpie, and although they don’t tend to last too long, they’re pretty inexpensive so I’m happy with them.
I don’t tend to do an awful lot of painting (mainly due to me being pretty crappy at it) but often I like to add colour to my drawings, for which I have a small Windsor and Newton pocket set. These colours are wonderfully pigmented and give a great range for such a small set, so are perfect for me.
My all time favourite. I used to use an awful lot more of this stuff when I was at school studying art GCSE, and it’s still my go-to for painting due to its versatility and ease of use. I don’t paint anywhere near as much anymore, but I’m not ever getting rid of my collection.
Another thing that I’m pretty indescriminate about, I tend to buy brushes only when my old ones are no longer usable. As long as they glide nicely on the paper, I’m happy.
I’ve had these inks in my collection for as long as I can remember, and I honestly wish I could share where they are from because the rich colours are gorgeous. Someone brought them home for my mum from a holiday years ago, and apart from when I accidentally knocked one over (but we don’t talk about that) they seem to be lasting forever.
Notebooks and Paper
The tiny brown book seen in the picture is my trusty handbag notebook (hand-illustrated myself, of course) which comes with me everywhere, in case of a strike of inspiration. I use it to jot down quotes I’d like to letter, sketch out illustration ideas, plan out blog posts, and brainstorm all sorts of other plans.
I have a gorgeous Pink Flamingo notebook from the Little Journal company, which not only features an abundance of dotted pages (which are also numbered - with a key at the start of the book) but also space to test pens, a stencil, and even some motivational quotes. The paper is 100gsm which is just right for a notebook - not too thick that they don’t turn easily, but thick enough that the pen doesn’t show straight through - and it has a great overall feel.
Moleskine Creative Cloud Connected Notebook
This notebook could technically fall into the ‘tech’ portion of this blog post, as it allows you to convert any black and white drawings to vector images using an app on your phone - something which is incredibly useful for a digital designer like me. It’s super easy to sketch out a drawing in the notebook, capture it, and then transfer it into a relevant software for further editing. A great way to bring the material and digital worlds of design into one.
I prefer to letter on watercolour/sketch-pad paper than anything else due to the thickness and quality of the paper. I’m not particularly picky on the brand or type of paper, but always make sure to have a range of sketchbooks and pads in varying sizes in my art supplies.
My key device when it comes to digital work (and therefore most of my work). Paired with some of my favourite apps (more on those later), nothing beats this piece of tech when it comes to digital illustration. I started off with digital drawing on a Microsoft Surface pro just over a year ago, but switched after a couple of tries on the iPad in the Apple store, and it’s the best decision I’ve made. The intuitive Apple Pencil and the way it interacts with the device makes it feel as though you’re truly drawing on paper.
Another great tech investment after a couple of years with Microsoft, this laptop is perfect for use with Adobe Creative Suite and other useful software. It manages more programs at once than I could possibly need, all with uncompromising speed and performance. Plus the overall look and feel of the laptop with the intuitive Mac interface makes it a perfect fit for me.
Although this is used more in my general daily life as opposed to as part of my creative toolbox, the iPhone is key for photos, recording, posting and research. Using Apple products throughout all of my creative work means I never have to worry about compatability or transferring documents - everything is available and synced when I need it. I also use my iPhone camera/screenshotting feature to create my ‘swipe file’ - my digital scrapbook of works I like and use as inspiration.
Tripod and iPhone stand
Too big to fit in the picture, these two tech accessories have proved invaluable to me when recording my process.
What. An. App. I bought my iPad Pro to use almost exclusively with this app, and it sure is great. A must-have for any artist, illustrator, letterer or designer, this app is used widely within the design community by amateurs and professionals alike. After using the app for nearly a year I am still learning new features, and the team behind the app are always developing it further. I could go into all sorts of details about what you can do on Procreate but I feel like that would take a whole blog post in itself - ha!
One thing I can’t neglect to mention in this post however is Procreate’s ability to import custom brushes. Although I know this is a feature of most design softwares it’s a feature which has become most useful to me on Procreate due to the ease of access to these brushes through pages on social media, such as Instagram. Some of my favourite digital brushes I’ve discovered and added to my arsenal are The Pigeon Letters’ Brush Pen, Chalk Brush set by Ian Barnard, and Illustration Grids and Shapes from Stefan Kunz. However, what really takes the cake is the Grid and Letter Builder sets by Ian Barnard and Stefan Kunz, due to how much they have upped my lettering and typography game when it comes to drawing letters and arranging compositions - would highly recommend for anyone who is doing a lot of lettering pieces. Plus, the brushes can be used across a range of softwares including Photoshop and Illustrator, so would be great tools no matter what software you’re comfortable in.
A software I taught myself to use in the summer after my first year at Uni, Illustrator is essential for any designer due to its wide range of features and ability to create vector (scalable) images. Great for creating professional work, particularly for my logos and illustrations.
A key software for any creative. I wish I could say I knew my way around Photoshop like many other creatives my age, however I tend to reserve the software simply for photo editing and sometimes creating mockups.
I started using Sketch once on my internship at Eurostar. At only a fraction of the price of the Adobe suite it makes a great alternative to the software, although it is mainly designed for wireframing and UI design, and even animation prototyping. I have used it, however, for creating illustrations and graphics, although those looking for a higher level of control may find it more beneficial to use Illustrator. For a beginner if you’re looking for a solid piece of desktop design software with a simplistic design, or for someone who is doing mockups or wireframes for interfaces, this software is key.
Another iPad app, this inexpensive app is made for creating hand-drawn frame-by-frame animations. Great fun if you want to step up your illustration game with a bit of movement. Yes, sure, the interface looks like it was made in the 90s, but all the key features are there and it makes for some great hand-drawn motion graphics.
Adobe After Effects
Again, a software used mainly for animation. This is a program I am still getting to grips with really, and have only used mainly for adding subtitles to videos and for simple animations, however I am learning more about the software all the time and intend to be able to create more complex animations in the near future. An essential for anyone interested in motion graphics.
Other Adobe software
InDesign and Premiere Pro are other programs I’ve used in the past, however due to the nature of my work they rarely get opened on my laptop. I’ve also been reading up on Adobe XD, and am planning to give this a go in the future, based upon the fact its features and functionality seem to be similar to that of Sketch.
The Ultimate Guide to Brush Lettering
I learned everything I know about brush lettering from this book by Peggy Dean. It goes through initial exercises for getting used to weight, faux calligraphy, styles, flourishes, composition, potential projects… but my favourite aspect of this book is the fact that it gives you a whole bunch of different options for each letter and number, from which you can pick your favourites and adapt them to create your own lettering alphabet. Would absolutely recommend this book for anyone who is thinking of starting lettering, it’s just fabulous.
Steal Like an Artist
An absolute must read for all creatives, in this book Austin Kleon abolishes any fears you may have (which I certainly did) about copying/imitating your idols’ work - credited of course - in order to practice and build your own styles. A brilliantly written book with some great quotes and illustrations throughout. I also have his book Show Your Work which I haven’t gotten round to reading yet, but have heard some great things about, as well as the Steal Like an Artist Journal, which has some brilliant prompts for when you’re stuck in a creative rut.
Style your Brand
I got this book by Fiona Humberstone for Christmas, after stumbling upon it on Amazon and adding it to my list on a whim. Since then I’ve been addicted to it! Even if you’re not into branding like I am, it gives invaluable insights into colour psychology and seasonal design attributes, typography, and even into business - especially nailing down your vision and goals. Seeing as I’m wanting to pursue a career in branding in the future this book is like a bible for me, with information on building a creative brief, logo design, and more. I’ve still got a bit more of this book to read and can’t wait to see what else I can learn from it - although in a way I’m dreading the end!
How to Draw Modern Florals
This book by Allie Koch is a must-buy for anyone who is interested in floral illustrations. With step-by-step instructions on a wide range of florals, as well as leaves and composition tips, there’s loads to learn from this book.
The Art of Lettering
Extraordinary Hand Lettering
This is another great resource book by Doris Wai to have in your arsenal, if only for its recommendations for art supplies. I’ve not had the book long so haven’t had a chance yet to try many of them out, but with suggestions based on various mediums to draw/write on (such as glass, wood, and chalkboard) I can’t wait to give them a try.
So there we go, that’s my creative toolbox - it’s pretty well filled! Having been so passionate about art since early childhood, and focusing on it so much more so over the last couple of years, I’ve had plenty of chance to build up a reliable array of tools. I am still always looking for the next great tool, whether it be a good white paint pen (I really need one of those), new plug-in for my design software or even a new piece of tech Kit - so if anyone has any suggestions, go ahead.
On a final note, my iPad Pro is my favourite tool ever. End of. If you don’t have one yet, get one - you won’t regret it.