sketching tips & tools

by | Jul 11, 2017 | All Things Home, Antiques, crafts, Favorite Finds, Tutorials | 29 comments

I have had such a great couple of days of recuperating from weeks of packing.

Sunday, I crashed.  My head hurt, I was congested, and I just couldn’t do much of anything.  Jeff let me sleep in.  My sister-in-law pampered me with a healthy breakfast.  And everyone gave me some time to just lay in bed and rest.  By the afternoon, I felt like I was coming around.

Today, I got to sleep in again, had time to catch up on work stuff, and Jeff gave me a chance to drive around and do a little shopping.  I bought a few small things, but the point was more to get out and start to refill my creativity well.

And it was awesome.  I bought a few magazines and books to digest later.

It’s still going to take me a while to get back into some sort of a groove, but I feel like I’m on my way.

Today, I’m picking up a post I planned to write months ago.  When I shared some of the sketches I had been working on, I received a lot of questions of the kind of pencils I use, etc, so I thought I would share some tips as well as my favorite tools (so far.)

Now, I’m going to put it out there right off the bat that I am still learning all of this myself.  I am definitely a novice artist.  But I think there is value in learning from those who are learning.  We can learn and grow together, right?

So, the first thing I’m learning is that practice really does improve art!  Yes, there are people with natural ability, but art is something that can be learned, honed, and improved.  That’s such an encouragement to those, including me, who don’t easily whip out a perfect sketch right away.  I always have to fight through the self-doubt and look past the imperfections.


The second thing I’ve learned is that studies of other sketches help me sketch better.  Katie, my “artist friend”, let me borrow some books of famous artist’s sketches and it was so helpful for me to go through the exercise of copying them.  I could mimic pencil strokes, which is much easier than drawing from real life.

These studies also helped me relax!  Some of the Rembrandt studies I worked on were very simple with stick animals and people and indiscriminate scribbles.  Everything doesn’t have to be detailed and perfect.

I have also learned that I put less pressure on myself if I am sketching or painting in a journal.  If it’s in a journal, it’s just for me and just for practice.  If it’s on a piece of paper or a canvas, I feel like it has to be worthy of a frame.

So, let’s talk about tools.

I have become a big fan of sketching on tan-toned paper.  Katie introduced me to it and it really does make sketches look better for some reason!  Maybe it’s more forgiving?  I don’t know, but I like it much better.

Here’s a sketch I did on white paper in comparison…

(I need to practice eggs more!)

The sketch book I like is the Strathmore tan-toned soft cover journal.

As far as pencils, I started out with the budget-friendly ($3.71) Daler & Rowney Sketch Tin.  I’ve used these pencils quite a bit and, for someone who is just learning, I thought they did pretty well for the price.

I did upgrade my pencils once I was sketching more, though.  I wanted more hardness options, so I read some reviews and bought the Caran D’Ache 15 Grafwood pencil set.  At $35, it’s a much higher price point, but still not outrageous when compared to some art supplies.

Hello, pastels.

The thing I like most about them is that the exterior of each pencil is colored to match the hardness of the pencil.  (The harder the graphite, the lighter the shade it makes on paper.)

In other pencil sets I have, the pencils look identical and you have to read the side to see what number it is.  I’ve also been pleased with the variations in values I’ve been able to get with these pencils.

Another set I like is the Cretacolor Monolith Woodless Graphite Set.  It comes with a great holder, which is nice when they are little nubs.  I use these to cover a bit more paper than the “regular pencils”.

And I’ve become a fan of adding some white to graphite sketches on the tanned-tone paper.  For that, I use General’s White Charcoal.

I even bought some black paper to test the white charcoal on!  That should be fun.

For erasing, I use a kneaded eraser a lot, but I also use a Mono Zero eraser by Tombow for finer erasing jobs.

And lastly, even though it has cream paper and not tan-toned, I love this hand-made leather-bound journal

It is just beautifully made…

…and filled with loads and loads of pages for sketching, journaling, and doodling.

I hope this inspires you to do some sketching of your own!  Having some good tools at the ready is definitely good motivation.

Do any experienced artists have more to add or share?

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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.


  1. Monica

    Your art is so beautiful

  2. Jo

    You are incredibly talented. If, as a beginner, you can sketch that well, you have a gift. They are beautiful.

    • Kimberly

      What Jo said. You’re very artistic, in all ways. From your acting and signing and instrument playing, to your eye for color and design, to your ability to slipcover/reupholster, and repaint furniture, to your photography — you are definitely an artist, and a multi-talented one in various mediums to boot! It’s no different with your actual fine-artwork — your art painting and sketching. You’re a natural, with a gift. Yes, practice helps, but you come by it naturally — that cannot be taught or practiced. You are so blessed!

  3. Erica H

    You are so talented! This is way more than just “I practiced a lot.” You have a gift, and I’m glad you discovered it.

  4. Laura

    I may have to buy that leather bound journal just because it looks so nice. Fill up that creative well; we look forward to seeing what you do next.

  5. Elizabeth

    I actually liked the sketch of the egg. The shading is nicely done… This is an empowering post… I’ve never thought about sitting down to sketch. But with the specifics you’ve provided, I have a good idea of how I might start. Thank you!

  6. Jamie

    Yes! Tan-toned paper is the best. I’ve had the best experiences doing ink and colored pencil travel journals in tan toned paper. It adds a vintage tone to field sketches that you just cannot replicate on white sketch paper. You should feature your favorite paper brands for all mediums someday – I’m having the hardest time finding reliably good watercolor paper journals for an upcoming nature trip!

  7. Cindy in Oklahoma

    Just reading this post gives me peace…. I, too, began sketching over the past couple of years and I found great satisfaction in trying to recreate something I admired or something I found intriguing. These birds looked so doable I gave one of them a try – first one in 4th row.. it now sits in a frame on my desk and gives me so much joy. I love how you are making what sometimes feels out of reach or overwhelming as so accessible and doable if a person finds the idea intriguing. Thank you for all the info!

  8. Kathy

    Your sketches are wonderful!

  9. teri in England

    when I click on your links I lose your page, can you make it so that a new window opens instead? ( not techy hope this makes sense!) While exploring one of your links I saw on Amazon an electric eraser. What!!! I do enjoy your posts ♥

    • judith


      The same thing happened to me. I realized that when I clicked on the link to the product, I should have then hit the back arrow to return to Marion’s post. I was mistakenly closing the Amazon window, then was not returning to the “opened” website entry. Does that help?


    • Kimberly

      Teri and Judith: If you ladies are using a PC or non-Mac computer, just hover your mouse over the link, and then right click on it. You should then get a pop-up menu that lets you open the link either in a new tab, or in a completely new window. I always select open in new tab; that way I can click over to the tab with Marian’s post in it.

      Hope that’s helpful!

  10. Sandi Graham

    Well ,I am so impressed and as an Artist that works in Pastels and does a lot of sketching you inspire me ! I love your sweet art and use of the white pastel pencil.
    You are so talented Marian! God bless you! There is nothing that you can’t accomplish.! Thanks !

  11. judith

    Sorry I misspelled your name earlier! Thank you for this lovely post, which speaks to me. I have always wanted to learn to sketch and you provide so much encouragement. Plus, ideas for supplies as well! Hope you are feeling better.


  12. Sandy

    The girl with the ribbon in her hair is lovely! The white is such a nice accent. You are very talented.

  13. Joanie Ellis

    I absolutely LOVE your girl with the hairbow!……… so pretty and so much detail, you need to frame that……I would buy that!! Your “eyes” have it, girl!! So nice……………….

  14. Denise Cox

    Marion, your artwork is lovely!!! You are blessed to have such a wonderful gift. There is so much “soul” and mystery to them. When you look into their eyes, it’s as though they are telling you they have a secret they want to share with you…. You should sell them!! I’m sure many of us would be vying for first place in line.
    Take care and rest when you can…

  15. Gilda

    get most of these sketches printed into notecards and start selling them, esp at your lucketts shows…people will buy them!!!

  16. Debbie H.

    I am continually in awe of your talents. Feel better and rest, sweet girl!

  17. Jeanne

    This has inspired me. Thank you.

  18. MaryLisa Noyes

    Your talent is endless! The sketches look like they come so naturally to you! Just lovely!

  19. pamela

    Your sketches are great!!!

  20. Addie

    Hello Marian,
    I was wondering if as a child were you always drawing/sketching, got away from it and now are back? You have AMAZING talent!!! God given talent and you are using it wisely. The Midas touch!!!
    The one more item that I would add to the list is a no smear spray adhesive to affix charcoal, graphite, pencil and pastel drawings. As the pages rub against each other, by moving, carrying or flipping through the pages, they can smear and smudge. It will also stop the next page from imprinting on the former one. This does not alter the drawings in any way.

  21. Carolyn Guske

    Hi Marian,
    Congrats on you’re ongoing pursuit of being a creative force in the world, you are amazing! I have some pencil and paper info. Different pencil manufacturers put different types of hardeners in their graphite to create a harder pencil “lead” (there is no lead in graphite or the hardeners). Mostly it’s clay that’s used. There is no universal standard for pencils so a 6B from Generals will be different than a 6B from Tombow. If you’re left handed you may prefer a Japanese pencil like Tombow because it smears much less when your hand crosses over your drawing. Also the Japanese like softer leads so the blacks come easier with their pencils. I would recommend not buying China made pencils, the graphite would be OK but the lacquer that is around the wood may be toxic. USA, England, Germany, Switzerland all great manufacturers it just comes down to the “feel” of the pencil that you prefer. When you buy paper try to get lignin free (wood pulp) or acid free. Otherwise your paper will degrade and yellow over time. I’m sure your family will want to keep and hand down your art so use the best art supplies when possible.
    Good luck with the move and keep creating and sharing, it’s wonderful and an inspiration to see your progress!

  22. Fruity

    Yikes! Except for the “adhesive” part, I agree; but I’d suggest looking for “Spray Fixitif” (or fixitive, and i may be spelling both of those wrong). Sorry I can’t recall brands but that’s why God invented Google!
    Gosh, Miss Mustardseed, I may have to dig out my supplies and commence “refilling my well” (love that!) So inspiring.

    • Fruity

      Sorry, my reply was meant for Addie’s comment.

  23. Lucian Hodoboc

    Those are some really awesome sketches. You’re incredibly talented. Thank you for sharing them.

  24. Linda

    Your sketches are just beautiful! Your creativeness comes out in so many ways, so I’m not surprised that you have such an eye for sketching too. Thanks for sharing them with us!


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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