Matthew James Taylor Matthew James Taylor

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Best Life Drawing Mediums (Examples, Tips & Techniques)

18 Jan 2023 — Updated 13 Mar 2023

A selection of life drawings in different mediums

Table of contents

Over the last two decades of attending life drawing classes I've created hundreds of drawings and tried all the common drawing mediums (plus a few unique ones too).

Exploring new mediums and techniques is so fun, it's one of the reasons why I love life drawing so much.

In this article, I list my favorite mediums and show examples that illustrate different styles.

I highly recommend you give these a try.

Here are the best mediums for life drawing:

1. Graphite pencil — a popular favorite

'Girl lying on stomach' in graphite pencil
'Girl lying on stomach' in graphite pencil. See more of my graphite pencil life drawings.
Staedtler Lumograph graphite pencils
My graphite pencils get a lot of use

I've been using Staedtler Lumograph graphite pencils for as long as I can remember and they've never let me down. The graphite leads are strong and almost never break.

You can buy these bad boys individually or in various sets that come in neat protective storage tins.

Here's the set I recommend: (Amazon link)

2. Charcoal pencil — my personal favorite!

'Girl on pillow' in black and white charcoal pencil
'Girl on pillow' in black and white charcoal pencil. See more of my charcoal life drawings and white charcoal life drawings.
General's Charcoal pencils black and white
My charcoal pencils might be dirty but I still love them! ♥

The General's Charcoal pencils are my favorite medium for life drawing.

Here's why I think they're the best:

It works out cheaper to buy these in the following set:

I highly recommend you try these out! (Amazon link)

3. Willow charcoal — for beautiful, soft life drawings

Willow charcoal life drawings by Greg Harris and Norman Bonney
Willow charcoal life drawings. Left: Portrait by Greg Harris. Right: Figure drawing by Norman Bonney. Follow them on Instagram!
Making willow charcoal sticks by hand
Making willow charcoal sticks by hand, photo by Follow them on Instagram

Willow charcoal has an unmistakably soft and sculptural feel to it, especially when used by someone who has had plenty of practice with it.

I haven’t got there yet.

I find this medium difficult to master because it gets all over my hands and smudges with the slightest disturbance. I’m not a big fan of messy materials, but for people who like to get their hands dirty, it's the perfect life drawing medium.

Willow charcoal is very affordable: (Amazon link)

But you’ll also need a fixative to prevent your drawings from smudging: (Amazon link)

4. Ink — with a nib or brush

Two sepia ink life drawings in different styles
Sepia ink life drawings. Left: with an ink nib. Middle: with diluted ink applied with a brush. Right: a combination of both. See more of my ink life drawings.
Black India ink, 2 nibs, 2 brushes
Black India ink and various sizes of ink nibs and brushes

Ink can’t be deleted once it’s on the page so your approach to ink life drawing needs to be more considered.

For me, this changes the overall feeling of drawing to something more formal.

I like to use ink in two main ways:

Sepia or black ink are my preferred colors but you can get any color you can dream of.

I recommend the following: (Amazon links)

TIP: Keep your ink brushes separate from your watercolor brushes so your colors stay vivid.

7. Chalk — in pencil or block form

Two chalk life drawing examples
Chalk life drawings. Left: with Conté Crayon on manila paper. Right: with red and white chalk pencils on blue paper. See more of my chalk life drawings.
My chalk pencils and Conté crayons
My chalk pencils and Conté crayons

Chalk has a different feel to graphite pencil or charcoal, it’s more powdery.

You can get chalk in pencil form or in solid blocks which you hold directly in your hand. If you like making big wide marks of solid tone then the latter option is definitely the better choice for you.

Here are my picks for both formats: (Amazon links)

5. Markers — clean and simple

Two copic marker life drawing examples
Copic marker life drawings. Left: with a gray tone. Right: with a cool blue tone.
A selection of copic markers for life drawing
A selection of Copic markers that I use for life drawing

Markers have a unique style to them that is hard to replicate with any other medium. I think it has something to do with the consistency of tone and hue.

They’re also very easy to use.

For me, I prefer pale colors so I can build up layers of tone slowly — I have more control that way and I’m less likely to make mistakes.

My favorite brand of marker is definitely Copic.

Copic markers have a double-ended design with a chisel point on one side and a flexible brush tip on the other.

I love the brush, you can use it on its side for coloring large areas or make the tiniest fine lines and dots with the tip.

Copic pens are expensive but they’re totally worth it. The good thing is you only need three to do all the basics. A cool, gray, and warm color.

Here are my recommended colors: (Amazon links)

6. Colored pencils — not just for kids

Two very different examples of colored pencil life drawing
Two very different examples of my colored pencil life drawing
A few of the colored pencils from my life drawing kit
A few of the colored pencils from my life drawing kit

Colored pencils are not just for kids, they’re a serious medium that can look amazing in the right artist’s hands.

I love their slightly waxy texture.

And the colors!!

It’s refreshing to break out some color once in a while, particularly if you’ve been drawing with charcoal all day.

I think every artist should have at least a few colored pencils in their kit, just for fun.

Here’s a set I think you might love: (Amazon link)

8. Pastels — for amazing color

Yuji Sakuma pastel life drawings
Unbelievable pastel life drawings by Yuji Sakuma, follow him on Instagram
Drawer of pastels, photo by very very quiet
A well-used drawer of pastels, photo by very very quiet

Pastels are similar to chalk but they use a different binder and often come in bigger blocks.

There are a huge range of colors available, not just pastel shades, but also vivid hues.

I love the variety of marks used in pastel life drawings, from lots of tiny strokes to long and deliberate sharp lines, and large sweeps of color from the side of blocks.

Definitely try pastel life drawing if you get the opportunity.

Here’s an inexpensive set to get you started: (Amazon link)

9. Paint — the road to life painting

Life paintings by Juliet Grieves, Melanie Gray, and Alan Mcgowan
Life drawings or life paintings? Left: Watercolor figure by Juliet Grieves. Middle: Watercolor and pencil figure by Melanie Gray. Right: Figures in oil on paper by Alan Mcgowan. Follow them on Instagram!
Watercolor paints, photo by Bernal Saborio
Watercolor paints, photo by Bernal Saborio

Splashes of paint can really make life drawings come alive. Try experimenting with watercolors or oils along with your normal drawing mediums.

If you enjoy it, you might find yourself venturing into the world of life painting.

Here’s a simple watercolor set you can start with: (Amazon link)

BONUS: Life drawing with projected light!

A model covered in lines drawn with light
A model covered in lines drawn with light

This has to be the craziest life drawing I have ever done. I was literally drawing with light onto the model!

Here's how it worked:

  1. We created a completely black image in Pixelmator.
  2. Used a projector to project this image over the model.
  3. Then used a Wacom tablet to draw white lines on the image which became light over the model.

It was such an amazing experience to draw with light. The room started out dark and got lighter with every line — so there was a real build-up to the completed drawing. You also noticed every slight movement made by the model.

I would love to try this again.

Matthew James Taylor

I've been creating art all my life and running this website since 1997! During this time I've found many amazing tools and services that I cannot live without.”
— Matthew James Taylor

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