Tools of the Trade
There are numerous tools you'll need in your drawing kit, many of which you'll already have hanging around your home. Some of these items, such as erasers and sharpeners, are essential, while others are nice to have or are extras. You'll probably want to get some type of bag (an army surplus shoulder bag is inexpensive and works well), or a box (a fishing tackle box is a good option) to hold your drawing kit, so that everything you need is at hand. If you have a large collection of materials, using a small portable storage unit or an empty set of shelves saves valuable table space when working.
Keep a sketching kit ready to go. A bag like this one from an army surplus store has handy pockets to organize supplies.
You will need two erasers: a soft white plastic eraser (a good one will be less likely to drag fibers from your paper) and a kneadable putty eraser. The latter are sold in small squares, wrapped in plastic (don't confuse these with rough, hard gum erasers). Kneadable erasers can be squished to a point to erase small areas, and when the surface is dirtied, can be folded over for a clean surface. Abrasive ink erasers are also available, sometimes attached to a white eraser, but can be damaging to the paper and are of limited value. Household removable poster adhesive such as Blu-Tack is excellent for lifting off graphite pencil.
A standard pencil sharpener does the job just fine. Using good-quality pencils with centered cores and a sharpener with a good, straight, new blade will help avoid breakage. You may prefer to use a craft knife to sharpen pencils, especially charcoal ones. This must be done with great care! Turn the blade away from your body and hold the pencil with your fingers behind the blade. Firmly drag the pencil backward against the cutting edge, levering your thumb on the back of the blade. This minimizes movement and the chance of accidental cuts.
Take responsibility for your health and safety. Many drawing materials are harmless, but some may not be. For example, a dust mask is necessary when working with pastels, and the pigments in some colored pencils and most pastels are toxic. Check with your art supplier for information about specific products, and store all art materials and equipment away from children.
Craft Knives and Scalpels
In addition to sharpening pencils, blades are useful for spot erasing, incising, and sgraffito (scratching) techniques. Please take extreme care with these! A new scalpel blade is so sharp that you can give yourself a nasty cut with a careless wave of the hand. A craft knife is a bit safer, but must also be handled with care. A small craft knife with snap-off blades allows you to get a fresh point when it blunts. Always use appropriate supports when cutting, sheath the knife after use, and keep away from children.
When blending or smudging pencil or charcoal, use a blending tool rather than your fingers so that you have finer control and to avoid fingerprints. You can use a piece of cloth, chamois leather, or a blending stump. Stumps are sometimes called torchons, from the French for “cloth” or “duster,” but are usually referred to as tortillons, from the French for “twist,” as they are traditionally made from tightly rolled paper—though the manufactured ones are usually compressed paper sticks.
A small hog-hair brush (the stiff-bristled kind used for oil painting) can be used to spot-remove excess charcoal or pastel before erasing. Use a large, soft brush, such as a hake (a Japanese watercolor brush), or even a makeup brush, to lightly flick away particles and debris from the drawing. For ink washes, a medium, round, synthetic brush is perfect (such as a Number 7 Round Taklon). You may want a larger brush for bigger work.
You don't need to fix pencil drawings, and most artists don't like the way it alters the drawing. Fixative is essential for charcoal drawings; otherwise, the charcoal won't stick to the page. Don't use hairspray, which is acidic. Choose a reputable brand of workable fixative. Workable fixative is preferable to varnish, as you can continue to modify the drawing after using it.
A cardboard folder for holding loose pieces of sketch paper can be purchased, or made from an appliance box. Use bulldog clips to hold your drawings securely during transport, otherwise they slide down and become buckled and creased. At some point you will want to get a plastic folder, as chemicals from cheap cardboard can seep into your paper during storage, diminishing archival qualities.