Over the years I've had the good fortune of having been able to indulge in a lot of different pens, tools, programs and books. Below you'll find a series of products I've used and have enjoyed (or at the very least, that people I greatly respect have recommended to me).
Courses by Uncomfortable
The material here exploring the fundamentals of drawing are always going to be available for free - but moving forward, I'm eager to take the opportunity to expand into other topics in which I feel I have something to share. I'll be doing these through individual, standalone courses, in partnership with Stan Prokopenko's "Proko" platform.
The Science of Deciding What You Should Draw
Right from when students hit the 50% rule early on in Lesson 0, they ask the same question - "What am I supposed to draw?"
It's not magic. We're made to think that when someone just whips off interesting things to draw, that they're gifted in a way that we are not. The problem isn't that we don't have ideas - it's that the ideas we have are so vague, they feel like nothing at all. In this course, we're going to look at how we can explore, pursue, and develop those fuzzy notions into something more concrete.
Those things you write with.
Drawabox-Tested Fineliners (Pack of 10, $17.50 USD)
Let's be real here for a second: fineliners can get pricey. It varies from brand to brand, store to store, and country to country, but good fineliners like the Staedtler Pigment Liner (my personal brand favourite) can cost an arm and a leg. I remember finding them being sold individually at a Michael's for $4-$5 each. That's highway robbery right there.
Now, we're not a big company ourselves or anything, but we have been in a position to periodically import large batches of pens that we've sourced ourselves - using the wholesale route to keep costs down, and then to split the savings between getting pens to you for cheaper, and setting some aside to one day produce our own.
These pens are each hand-tested (on a little card we include in the package) to avoid sending out any duds (another problem with pens sold in stores). We also checked out a handful of different options before settling on this supplier - mainly looking for pens that were as close to the Staedtler Pigment Liner. If I'm being honest, I think these might even perform a little better, at least for our use case in this course.
We've also tested their longevity. We've found that if we're reasonably gentle with them, we can get through all of Lesson 1, and halfway through the box challenge. We actually had ScyllaStew test them while recording realtime videos of her working through the lesson work, which you can check out here, along with a variety of reviews of other brands.
Now, I will say this - we're only really in a position to make this an attractive offer for those in the continental United States (where we can offer shipping for free). We do ship internationally, but between the shipping prices and shipping times, it's probably not the best offer you can find - though this may depend. We also straight up can't ship to the UK, thanks to some fairly new restrictions they've put into place relating to their Brexit transition. I know that's a bummer - I'm Canadian myself - but hopefully one day we can expand things more meaningfully to the rest of the world.
Staedtler Pigment Liners
These are what I use when doing these exercises. They usually run somewhere in the middle of the price/quality range, and are often sold in sets of different line weights - remember that for the Drawabox lessons, we only really use the 0.5s, so try and find sets that sell only one size.
Alternatively, if at all possible, going to an art supply store and buying the pens in person is often better because they'll generally sell them individually and allow you to test them out before you buy (to weed out any duds).
Faber Castell PITT Artist Pens
Like the Staedtlers, these also come in a set of multiple weights - the ones we use are F. One useful thing in these sets however (if you can't find the pens individually) is that some of the sets come with a brush pen (the B size). These can be helpful in filling out big black areas.
Still, I'd recommend buying these in person if you can, at a proper art supply store. They'll generally let you buy them individually, and also test them out beforehand to weed out any duds.
Sakura Pigma Microns
A lot of my students use these. The last time I used them was when I was in high school, and at the time I felt that they dried out pretty quickly, though I may have simply been mishandling them. As with all pens, make sure you're capping them when they're not in use, and try not to apply too much pressure. You really only need to be touching the page, not mashing your pen into it.
In terms of line weight, the sizes are pretty weird. 08 corresponds to 0.5mm, which is what I recommend for the drawabox lessons, whereas 05 corresponds to 0.45mm, which is pretty close and can also be used.
Pentel Pocket Brush Pen
This is a remarkable little pen. Technically speaking, any brush pen of reasonable quality will do, but I'm especially fond of this one. It's incredibly difficult to draw with (especially at first) due to how much your stroke varies based on how much pressure you apply, and how you use it - but at the same time despite this frustration, it's also incredibly fun.
Moreover, due to the challenge of its use, it teaches you a lot about the nuances of one's stroke. These are the kinds of skills that one can carry over to standard felt tip pens, as well as to digital media. Really great for doodling and just enjoying yourself.
I've played around with a lot of sketchbooks, and there aren't many that stand out. Here are the few that do.
Cottonwood Arts Sketchbooks
These are my favourite sketchbooks, hands down. Move aside Moleskine, you overpriced gimmick. These sketchbooks are made by entertainment industry professionals down in Los Angeles, with concept artists in mind. They have a wide variety of sketchbooks, such as toned sketchbooks that let you work both towards light and towards dark values, as well as books where every second sheet is a semitransparent vellum.
Other Drawing Tools
A variety of other tools useful when drawing traditionally.
Ellipse Master Template
This recommendation is really just for those of you who've reached lesson 6 and onwards.
I haven't found the actual brand you buy to matter much, so you may want to shop around. This one is a "master" template, which will give you a broad range of ellipse degrees and sizes (this one ranges between 0.25 inches and 1.5 inches), and is a good place to start. You may end up finding that this range limits the kinds of ellipses you draw, forcing you to work within those bounds, but it may still be worth it as full sets of ellipse guides can run you quite a bit more, simply due to the sizes and degrees that need to be covered.
No matter which brand of ellipse guide you decide to pick up, make sure they have little markings for the minor axes.
There aren't many instructional books that I've really delved into deeply, but here are the few that I feel that are a must-have. Don't just keep them on your shelf for show, either. Read them!
How to Draw by Scott Robertson
When it comes to technical drawing, there's no one better than Scott Robertson. I regularly use this book as a reference when eyeballing my perspective just won't cut it anymore. Need to figure out exactly how to rotate an object in 3D space? How to project a shape in perspective? Look no further.
Color and Light by James Gurney
Some of you may remember James Gurney's breathtaking work in the Dinotopia series. This is easily my favourite book on the topic of colour and light, and comes highly recommended by any artist worth their salt. While it speaks from the perspective of a traditional painter, the information in this book is invaluable for work in any medium.
These aren't instructional so much as inspirational. I have a lot of art books, but over the years I've found that my favourites were ones that really delved into the artist's history and experiences, and had a good deal of written content. Some of the best inspiration comes from understanding where an artist was when they drew or painted something particularly striking, and how it fit into their lives.
The Art of Blizzard Entertainment
While I have a massive library of non-instructional art books I've collected over the years, there's only a handful that are actually important to me. This is one of them - so much so that I jammed my copy into my overstuffed backpack when flying back from my parents' house just so I could have it at my apartment. My back's been sore for a week.
The reason I hold this book in such high esteem is because of how it puts the relatively new field of game art into perspective, showing how concept art really just started off as crude sketches intended to communicate ideas to storytellers, designers and 3D modelers. How all of this focus on beautiful illustrations is really secondary to the core of a concept artist's job. A real eye-opener.
The Art of Brom
Here we're getting into the subjective - Gerald Brom is one of my favourite artists (and a pretty fantastic novelist!). That said, if I recommended art books just for the beautiful images contained therein, my list of recommendations would be miles long.
The reason this book is close to my heart is because of its introduction, where Brom goes explains in detail just how he went from being an army brat to one of the most highly respected dark fantasy artists in the world today. I believe that one's work is flavoured by their life's experiences, and discovering the roots from which other artists hail can help give one perspective on their own beginnings, and perhaps their eventual destination as well.
A few pieces of software that play a huge role in my general workflow.
This is another one of those things that aren't sold through Amazon, so I don't get a commission on it - but it's just too good to leave out. PureRef is a fantastic piece of software that is both Windows and Mac compatible. It's used for collecting reference and compiling them into a moodboard. You can move them around freely, have them automatically arranged, zoom in/out and even scale/flip/rotate images as you please. If needed, you can also add little text notes.
When starting on a project, I'll often open it up and start dragging reference images off the internet onto the board. When I'm done, I'll save out a '.pur' file, which embeds all the images. They can get pretty big, but are way more convenient than hauling around folders full of separate images.
Did I mention you can get it for free? The developer allows you to pay whatever amount you want for it. They recommend $5, but they'll allow you to take it for nothing. Really though, with software this versatile and polished, you really should throw them a few bucks if you pick it up. It's more than worth it.
There are a lot of options for illustration software out there, but mine has always been Adobe Photoshop. I've been using it for nearly 20 years now, ever since I started fooling around with digital art, and it has served me well into my career, both in freelancing and in studio positions. One of the biggest advantages, in my opinion, for those jumping into digital art with Photoshop now is its accessibility. Where when I was younger, it'd cost hundreds, even over a thousand dollars for a software license, younger students can now get their feet wet with industry standard software for just $10/month with their Photography Plan.