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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
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!
The General's Charcoal pencils are my favorite medium for life drawing.
Here's why I think they're the best:
- They have a beautiful sooty texture.
- They have strong charcoal leads that rarely break.
- They make minimal mess because they're in pencil form.
- They come in white which is perfect for highlights on toned paper.
- And there are many grades to choose from.
It works out cheaper to buy these in the following set:
- 3 × charcoal pencils (6B, 4B, 2B)
- 1 × white charcoal pencil
- 1 × kneadable eraser (Bonus!)
I highly recommend you try these out! (Amazon link)
3. Willow charcoal — for beautiful, soft life drawings
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
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:
- Full-strength with an ink nib to create strong line work.
- Diluted with water and applied with a brush to build up areas of tone. This is best done on a flat angle to prevent running ink.
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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:
- We created a completely black image in Pixelmator.
- Used a projector to project this image over the model.
- 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.
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