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Drawing Supplies I Use in My Videos

November 27, 201267 Comments

The most commonly asked question so far has been, “What kind of pencil do you use?” So, I do have a specific pencil and a specific way of sharpening it. I do this because that’s the way I was trained at the Watts Atelier.

Basic List of Supplies

  • Conte 1710 B or 2B
  • Primo 59B
  • Wolff’s Carbon 6B
  • General’s 2B and 4B
  • Ritmo B
  • Razor Blade
  • Sand Paper Block
  • Smooth Newsprint
    * paper –newsprint is NOT archival. It will yellow and wrinkle overtime.
  • Kneaded eraser
  • Clipboard

How to Sharpen a Charcoal Pencil

Main pencil – Conte 1710 B or 2B

I also like to use the primo 59B and wolff’s carbon 6B.. And there’s a bunch of other options out there. They’re all slightly different, and the best way to see the difference is to just try them out. They’re not very expensive.

The primo and wolff’s carbon feel a bit more like drafting pencils compared to the Conte and so I use them more for linear work. And the Conte is thicker and softer, so it’s easier to be tonal and more painterly with it.

shave one inch off pencil

rotate and shave the pencil
I’m right handed, so I control the blade with my right hand and hold the pencil in my left hand, like this. The first thing I’m going to do is expose about an inch of the charcoal removing the wood. Push the razor forward with the left thumb and control the position and angle of the blade with the right hand. Take off thin pieces of the wood and rotate the pencil. Make sure not to go to deep.

If you try to take off all the wood at the same time, you risk cutting into the charcoal. Keep rotating until all the wood is off and there is a smooth taper from the wood to the charcoal. Sometimes there will be a layer of glue still on the charcoal. Chip away at it to remove all the glue.

Now let’s focus on getting the charcoal to the right shape. Right now, the charcoal has these sharp corners towards the top. What we want is a smooth taper to the point.

If you have any rough edges or sharp corners on the side, the pencil won’t work properly.

We want a smooth taper so that we can use the side to shade smooth tones.

smooth taper to the point


I like to use sandpaper to soften the sides. One of those little ones that you can get at most art stores works fine and fits in a pencil box. I prefer to use these larger blocks from Home Depot because you can clean and reuse them. Medium grit sandpaper works best. Use a forward and back or side to side motion while constantly rotating the pencil.

sandpaper blocks
When you first start sharpening the pencil this way, you’ll probably break a bunch of them. That’s ok, it becomes much easier over time. You can actually get quite fast at it..

AND don’t forget to wipe off the excess powder. It gets all over the paper and then you can’t erase it..


First, the paper. I use smooth newsprint when I do studies because it’s cheap and allows you to shade very smooth tones. It’s important that you buy the ‘smooth’ newsprint and not the rough. Nothing wrong with the rough, it’s just that the smooth gets better details. The rough has some texture that breaks up the details a bit.
smooth newsprint not rough
Before you start the drawing, make sure you’re drawing on a thick stack of newsprint. This provides some cushion and get’s smoother tones when you’re shading. If you’re getting towards the back of the pad, some of the texture from the cardboard will begin to show through.

I do want to point out that newsprint is NOT archival. It will wrinkle and yellow over time if exposed to heat, light, moisture, and oxygen. I use it only for practice. When I want to do a drawing on archival paper, I use watercolor paper and i pick ones that has a soft and cushiony feel. Or I’ll use bristol paper with graphite pencils. I’m always trying out new paper and I encourage you to do the same.


To erase, I like a kneaded eraser because I can shape it to erase large areas, or small details. It also doesn’t fall apart while you’re erasing and you can knead it to clean it up a bit.
kneaded eraser bulb point blade


You’ll need either a clipboard, a piece of wood, or foam board with clips to hold your paper. Put the pad towards your knees, and lean it against a table or the back of a chair.

Hold the pencil like a paint brush, sit up straight, move from the shoulder, and you’re ready to begin.


For more supply recommendations, check out my second video. It covers the materials I use for my longer and more professional drawing sessions.

Want to learn more? Be sure to check out the Portrait Drawing Fundamentals course, which includes step by step instruction, real-time demos, 3D models & Full Demonstrations.

Filed in: FundamentalsVideos

Comments (67)

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  1. Julie W says:

    Great (and funny) video. Wish it was out before my very first class at Watts last term. 🙂 I’ve been traveling for work too much to attend this term so these videos are great for trying to keep some of your class lessons fesh in my mind. Thanks! Love them.

  2. Josh Rowland says:

    Hey man great video! “Don’t forget to wipe.” That’s good stuff. I’ve never saw a charcoal pencil sharpened exactly like that. Very informative. I’ll have to keep that in mind.

  3. pamela says:

    Excellent. Very good suggestion of meditating rather then cursing after breaking a charcoal pencil!

  4. Michelle says:

    Thank you for the helpful video! I had never seen a charcoal pencil sharpened like that, I will have to try it out next time I am practicing.

  5. Jim King says:

    Oh, yes. “When you first start sharpening the pencil this way, you’ll probably break a bunch of them.” I spent my first week at the Watts Atelier back in 1999 cursing that pencil sharpening technique. It took me many days and many broken pencils to get the hang of it. Back then we all used the Ritmo brand pencils – which Jeff and Erik liked best. But I guess the Ritmo’s stopped being manufactured, or the method of manufacturing changed, and those particular Ritmo pencils no longer worked as well for Jeff and Erik. Thanks for the video – very well done! And thanks for the tip on the Conte 1710 B.


    Portland, Oregon

  6. Jim King says:

    “And thanks for the tip on the Conte 1710 B.”

    Ha – No pun intended.


  7. 整型 says:

    Good day! I simply wish to give a huge thumbs up for the nice information you have got
    right here on this post. I will likely be coming again to your blog for extra soon.


    Well I have Stabilo pencils (Othello 282, 2B, HB and 2H) what do you think of this pencils I’m a beginner… thx in advance!

    • They’re good pencils.. Totally different from charcoal pencils thought (they’re graphite). Not better or worse, just different. I wouldn’t use graphite with newsprint though. From what I’ve seen graphite doesn’t go well with newsprint. I use graphite when I’m doing more detailed work and I draw on bristol paper.

  9. Jim Froland says:

    I am very impressed with your tutorials. I became disabled in 1994
    and Finally had to stop working in 2009. This was done very unwillingly . Since then the Doctors have told me no more anything.
    I have Missed My Grandsons Funeral Mothers also this year alone Because I Cant travel. Hence the Drawing as therapy. I just got back out of the Hospital.
    I am on my 4th year trying to get Disability.
    I watched your video Tutorials and love them. With out income I can not Buy them. But I still wanted to Thank you For the time you took
    to make them. Also Where can I get affordable supplies at a low price? Very Low Price! Im sorry to ask.

    James Froland

  10. Han Thlang says:

    Thank you Proko! I was debating whether to purchase your vids or Glenn Vilppu! I decided to get both! Ended up being cheaper than the ridiculous tuition at Academy of Art/Art Institute (rip offs to be honest) Love the work and step by step details you show and the excellent spirit in fundamentals!

    Keep up the great work! I would love to see you do digital drawings and your approach in the digital medium and how you hold the tablet stylus, methods, etc.


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    I’m thinking about making my own but I’m not sure where to
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  14. sam says:

    Would you recommend (and if not why not) using printing paper (like basic white paper for laser printers) with graphite?
    What are your thoughts on that?

  15. Ella Cally says:

    Hey proko. Please can you give a guidline as to how “beginners” may go with the tutorials, like which do we watch first, then after that, which follows, that kinda stuff. Thanks

  16. estate says:

    Good answer back in return of this question with genuine arguments and explaining everything concerning that.

  17. Joshua Taft says:

    So I’ve been using mostly drafting pencils (2mm) and lead holders (5.6mm) for drawing, and recently, after watching your videos, I decided to try out charcoal. I found a set of compressed charcoal leads, but it was a soft set. They weren’t marked B or 2B like your pencil or graphite pencils. Needless to say, I think the soft was too soft and it’s difficult to draw with the same quality I usually do with graphite. Like, really difficult. Almost sloppy. So my question would be, should I get a medium set, or a hard set? What would give me the best control over my lines and shading in one lead as I would get with a B, 2B, or 4B graphite lead?

    • You wont be able to get charcoal pencils that give you the same precision as graphite. You can get close though. Soft charcoal is darker and spreads easier, so it is less precise. Harder is more precise but when too hard, they’re very light. You need to find your balance. Every brand is different, so a 3b in one brand can be too soft but in another too hard. For example i like the conte 1710 pencils as hb-2b. I also really like wolff’s carbon as 4b-6b. Try them out for yourself. You might need to spend a fee bucks to try them, but once you pick your favorite, you can stick with it for years.

  18. Curt says:

    Thank you, I have recently been looking for info about this
    subject for ages and yours is the greatest I have found
    out till now. However, what about the conclusion? Are you positive in regards to the supply?

  19. Jade Scarlett says:

    Hi Stan, I just purchased the Portrait Fundamentals course, and I have a question about the Conte Pierre Noir pencils. You seem to be able to erase it so easily, but when I try, I can’t really remove it, not completely at least. I tried with HB, B, 2B, and 3B, and no matter what eraser I used, plastic, putty, gum, pink, the lines won’t erase, with any of the pencils. I drew as lightly as possible. What I am doing wrong? Could it be the paper? I’m practicing on both sketch and smooth newsprint, and couldn’t remove the marks on neither…I’ve finally resorted to graphite and Nitram charcoal out of sheer frustration. But I would really like to be able to use the Conte pencils as you do. Help please! Thank you 🙂

  20. pedro marchante grille says:

    he comprado tu curso de dibujo.Muy bueno pero soy español y pensé que estaria traducido

  21. says:

    Talked to the Dick Blick people today, and they informed me the box of 12 Conte 1710 2B have been discontinued. They are, however, sold individually, under item number 20425-2021 for the 2B and 20425-2011 for the B. I report this because they currently don’t have a product picture for the 1710’s, but I did verify those item numbers with customer support.


  22. Josh says:

    Hey Proko,

    That link to the Conte 1710B pencil shows it as a graphite pencil, is that just a mistake on their part? Do you order your pencils from that same wholesaler?

    • says:

      Josh, order from Blick instead and look up the item numbers I supplied on November 5th. They’re less expensive than ASW, even though you have to buy them individually as the boxes have been discontinued by Blick. Also, Stan references the Conte 1710 HB in later videos as being among the supplies he uses. The Blick order number for those is 20425-2051.

  23. Michelle McCready says:

    Thank you! This video was really helpful as a beginner and not as sure which pencils were the best to use! I’ve never seen pencils sharpened that way and it works really well for me now.

  24. Michael Fleming says:

    Stan what brand of kneaded eraser do you use?

  25. joe says:

    Hi I watched this and there is always something new to learn. Great!
    What I’d like to know that wooden thing like a big scissor sort of to measure a still life and transfer (larger or smaller) on the paper. What is it called and how large is it. I intend to make one.


    God bless

  26. Nathan says:

    Good day, sir!

    I just discovered your youtube channel and I find your tutorials to be very good even though I can’t really follow along just yet. But I’d like to ask, do you think mechanical pencils are good for drawing? I know it’s impossible to shade with them but from my past drawing experiences I’ve learnt to like and appreciate them a lot better and almost like them better than normal pencils. If at all mechanical pencils are OK, which ones in particular do you recommend?


  27. Kairam Ahmed Hamdan says:

    I’m also using graphite Lyra pencils and kneadable eraser, are they good?

  28. crocket says:

    For a sanding block, I recommend

    This can be used until it is completely worn down.

  29. Outsoba says:

    Hi, How important is it to use the conte 1720b and the smooth newsprint?

    Here in Austria I can’t find to buy them. Can I just use some b pencil and smooth drawing paper out of an art supply shop? Or are there any recommended alternatives?

    • Outsoba says:

      Of course I meant 1710b.

    • crocket says:

      I recommend getting 5.5mm cretacolor nero soft/medium lead and a 5.5mm lead holder. It is very easy to break conte 1710b while sharpening or drawing. It is not easy to break 5.5mm cretacolor nero leads.

      I recommend cretacolor nero leads because they are oil-based charcoal which produces gradual tones without graphite shine.

      You can also buy cretacolor nero pencils.

  30. Outsoba says:

    thank you!

  31. Lucky says:

    Why can’t I watch the videos?

  32. Jen says:

    I used to draw in high school and was fair at best, although I could’ve been better had I stuck with it and practiced. I became more interested in mechanical drawing and became a landscape architect. I’m 50 now, retired and rusty in sketching. Is this series for me (pretty much a beginner) or should I practice to come up to speed and then take the course?

  33. Nick says:

    Hey Stan, what grades of graphite pencils do you typically use for finished work? Also, what grades do you use for the under drawing/construction work? Thanks!

  34. Josh says:

    One surprising thing I’ve found is that it’s actually pretty tricky to find “smooth” newsprint. I’ve checked 2 different art stores and Black and the only one I’ve found was on Amazon and only in 18 x 24 in size by Pro Art. I’ve been doing all of my sketches on 9 x 12 in up until now.

  35. Victoria says:

    Hey, Stan. Here in Norway newsprint isn’t widely available. I can only find one type and it is rough. I was wondering if you have any experience with papers from fabriano, strathmore or canson? They don’t have newsprint available here so idk what would be a good alternative sketching paper.

    • Sean Ramsey says:

      Stan uses Strathmore paper a lot, and we actually have Strathmore newsprint in the office. I have never heard of the other two paper manufacturers though so I can’t attest if they are good or not.

  36. Horizon says:

    thank you… you are awesome in helping 🙂

  37. Alex says:

    Hey Stan,

    I live on an EU island where newsprint is not easy to come by, oddly enough. I can order it online from overseas but a normal 100-page pad ends up costing 20 euro with delivery.

    As I understand it, the only reason for the newsprint is that it’s cheap. But times having changed, it seems some paper is cheaper than newsprint now. For instance the MALA drawing paper roll they sell at IKEA costs only 5 euro or something, and I’ve asked on amazon and they say the paper is much higher quality than newsprint and is strong and smooth. In that case, would you say it’s better to get regular paper?

  38. Mohammad says:

    Hi stan,
    I’m from Iran, I wanted to start drawing and looking for a good course until I find your youtube channel, those helped me alot, Thank you. 🙂

    I wanted to buy your courses but unfortunately I’m from Iran and we don’t have any paying method that work in other countries; Can I buy them with cryptocurrency? If the anwser is no, how can I purchase?

  39. Patrick says:

    I guess this will qualify as a dumb or inexperienced question, but why use a razor blade? Why not use an electric pencil sharpener? I’m 58 and trying to get back into drawing after many years away and I don’t recall ever been shown or asked to use blades.

  40. Loretta says:

    Sharpening your pencil…otherwise known as “whittlin’ “.

  41. adabz says:

    good job man, but my question is is it necessary we use that newspaper

  42. Kathryn says:

    Extremely helpful video and funny. Thank you!

  43. Josue says:

    Stan, if you ever need a translator for Spanish or Portuguese, I can help.

  44. Takesumi LTD says:

    Thank you. The Takesumi we import from Japan comes from the bamboo groves of the master burners. Moso and Tiger bamboos are used for the production of sticks, blocks, and powder. Take 竹 (bamboo) Sumi 炭 (coal).

  45. The pencil sharpening techniques are mindblowing I must admit! I use smooth newsprints too but thinking of switching to something else, not sure though. Do you like to use fixative sprays over your drawings?

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