Best and Worst Art Supplies for Young Artists

There are so many companies that want to capitalize on you being a loving parent who supports your kiddo’s art ambitions.

If you’ve never been an artist, it’s really hard.

How do you buy supplies that will actually push your kid far without spending a billion dollars on Pthalo Blue Mineral Guasch.

I’ve been a professional artist for over 10 years. I’ve illustrated kids books, done commission art for Disney, and have known I wanted to be in animation since I was a little kid.

I’ll share from my experience the things I hear other parents buy (wishing I could have stopped them), and the things that I know are the best:

What are the best art supplies for young artists? Young artists need the following physical supplies:

  • Decent Pencils
  • Sturdy un-glossed paper
  • An inexpensive light box
  • Mid-range watercolor
  • Soft-tip ink pens

What tools does a young digital artist need? A young digital artist needs the following tools:

  • A pressure-sensitive stylus
  • A compatible tablet
  • A drawing program like Procreate

Pencils

Buy this: Believe it or not, those yellow #2 school pencils are great (especially these ones from Arteza). In the art world we call those “HB” (a balance between hardness and blackness)

I’d also grab a softer pencil like a 6B.

If you buy a whole kit (you don’t need to) go for something mid-grade quality like Faber-Castell, Lyra, Prismacolor, Tombo, or Arteza.

Source: Traveling Banana

Don’t Buy this: Pencils that come as part of an “everything you need art kit” usually stink. Also don’t break the bank. If its more than two dollars per pencil, I say don’t waste the money.

Paper

Here’s the thing: when you’re learning to draw, you just need something that holds graphite that you can trash by the pound.

When I was in school they made us buy this stuff called newsprint. My teacher called it “glorified toilet paper.”

The kid-equivalent of that is cheap printer paper. I use a LOT of printer paper to draw. Why? Is it good? No. It’s just so available.

But, to make a quick argument for not-printer paper, here it is:

Sturdy drawing paper holds up to various pencils well, holds the graphite better for shading, and just looks nicer. Plus it can handle paint better than printer paper can.

Buy this: several pads of newsprint for drawing, and a pad or two of mixed-media paper for paint or anything that needs to look nice.

Or, honestly, just buy cheap printer paper, the less glossy, the better. Inkjet, not-bright paper is best because its thin, corse, and meant to hold up to ink.

Don’t buy this: Don’t buy high-brightness laser printer paper. Don’t buy too much premium art paper or too little cheap newsprint. You want to promote the idea that sketches are not precious and there should be thousands.

Light Box or Light Pad

What is a light box? A light box or a light pad is a drawing tool used for tracing and animation. It lets you draw over previous drawings with full view of the drawings under it because the light is shining through the paper.

Why do you need it?

  • Tracing is part of learning to draw. Every good drawing course will include things to trace. Tracing is the equivalent of a ballet instructor positioning your body.
  • Tracing is a regular part of making professional art. I and my art colleagues all trace over our sketches to get clean finished art.
  • Tracing is fundamental to animation. You have to be able to see the last several “frames” you drew all at the same time, and you can’t do that without light behind your paper.

Buy this: Any relatively inexpensive thin light box, like this one.

If your kid wants to practice animation, a REALLY cheap but effective way to do that is to buy an “animation registration peg bar” and animation paper. Then glue the registration peg bar to the top of the light box. All set to animate like a pro.

You Could Actually Stop Here.

Your kid doesn’t actually need anything else to develop extremely important art skills. She/he needs to practice.

Trace. Side-trace. Draw. Trace. Side-trace. Draw.

Reps. If your youngin’ does nothing but practice with those tools they will develop into a great artist.

In fact, it’s probably better to invest your next amount of money into lessons, not more supplies.

Watercolor

Buy this: A small, portable dry-paint watercolor pallete from a reputable mid-grade bran like Faber-Castell that comes with a brush.

Don’t buy this: Anything made by Crayola. Anything less than $10. Anything more than $30. Don’t buy expensive watercolor tube paint. You don’t need expensive brushes. If you buy more brushes though, make sure to get artist quality brushes, everything in the kids section is garbage.

Ink Pen

Buy this: Depending on your kid’s preference you could buy either a set of precision micro fineliner pens, or brush tip pens from a brand like Faber-Castell (I promise, no sponsorship, they just make good mid-grade stuff).

Don’t buy this: Sharpie. Great for signing autographs, not great for linework.

Why Should Your Kid Invest in Digital Art?

Everything can be done digitally.

Digital is so much faster.

Digital is how the majority of the illustration workforce makes art.

Stylus

Buy this: a pressure sensitive stylus designed for artists. The top two brands are Wacom and the Apple Pencil. If you have an iPad 2019 or later, get the first generation Apple Pencil and don’t even consider anything else. Otherwise get a Wacom and know that you’re going to have to get a dedicated art tablet from them as well.

Don’t buy this: a non-pressure sensitive stylus. Anything that looks like a good deal. Those stupid bubble tip styluses. Seriously if you buy something that doesn’t say “x-thousand degrees of pressure sensitivity” you might as well be using your finger.

Tablet

Buy this: Apple iPad 2019 or later. It comes with 1st Gen Apple Pencil support and the Apple Pencil is quickly becoming the industry standard. Otherwise I recommend a Wacom product.

Don’t buy this: I don’t recommend those drawing tablets that don’t have screens. Even Wacom, as much as I like them as a brand, drawing with a Bamboo or similar is very hard.

Art Program

Use one of these: If you’re using an iPad, buy Procreate. Don’t even stop to think about it. It’s 10 dollars and it should be $300. If you’re using a Wacom, pair it with Photoshop. Photoshop is hard to learn but it is one of the industry-standards (about to lose to Procreate though).

Don’t use: Anything free. Anything less than $10. Don’t waste your time with Drawing Desk. Ibis, the Drawing App, Autodesk, or any of these other apps that are a pain you should spare your child from.

In Case You Skipped Right to the End

  • Regular Pencils
  • Regular Paper
  • You need a light box – do not skip this
  • ———— you could stop here ————
  • Art-specific ink pens
  • A small travel watercolor set
  • The iPad 2019 or later
  • The Apple Pencil
  • Procreate (a $10 app)

I hope this helped you not buy a terrible art kit for your up and coming pro artist.

I’m here for you. If you have any questions, DM me. I’m on every social media platform known to man.

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