I’ve tried quite a few pencils, papers, erasers, and other tools over the years, and here are the best I’ve found. I’ve tried to list them in the order of how you might need them as you progress.
Graphite Drawing Pencils
These come in grades that range from 9B (very soft) to 9H (very hard). A good starter set would be 4H, 2H, HB, 2B and 4B. You can buy drawing pencils in sets or individually. I currently use Palomino, Derwent, and Staedtler Lumograph drawing pencils.
Good Hand Held Pencil Sharpener
A small plastic one will do but make sure it brings your lead down to a full long sharp point. The Kum Two Stage Long Point Pencil Sharpener is the best I’ve found, and it’s inexpensive and comes with a second set of blades.
Kneaded erasers are very easy on the paper and lift graphite well. I think several small individually wrapped erasers are more convenient than one large eraser.
Rectangular Vinyl (plastic) Eraser
Cleanly erases even very dark graphite, but use the kneaded eraser to lift most of the graphite first or it may permanently rub the graphite into the paper.
Make sure the texture is not too rough (or your details will look rough) and not too slick (or the graphite won’t stick to it well enough to make dark values.) A tablet that is marked as “drawing paper” will probably work fine.
Get a good sized tablet. (At least 8.5 x 11) A tablet that has rings is much easier to use than one with a bonded top or side.
If you are concerned about your drawings lasting for a while, look for “acid free” paper. I use Canson Classic Cream and Strathmore 400 Series Drawing Paper Pads.
Wider Variety of Pencils
Extend your range of pencils. You will be able to make interesting value variations and textures with more grades.
A lead holder (or mechanical pencil) and 2mm leads. These large leads come in several grades and sharpen to a long fine point quickly with a good sharpener. I currently use Staedtler leads. I use them to draw extremely small detail. Be sure to get a sharpener that fits the mechanical barrel. (Information about which lead holder the sharpener is for is usually on the back of the package.)
They come in a plastic body and you can sharpen the eraser’s end into useful shapes, like a point or a wedge, to create special effects. I like the Paper Mate Tuff Stuff Eraser Stick.
Small Sharp Knife
Use it to shape vinyl erasers into better erasing tools, and sharpen pencil tips into flat and angled chisel tips.
Tortillons are ground gray paper formed into a stump shape. They are slightly softer than rolled paper stumps. I prefer tortillons because the softer texture works well with graphite. To save money, buy a package of mixed sizes.
A small flat angled brush to use for blending and also shading techniques and textures.
Archival 100% Cotton Paper
To preserve your artwork, use 100% cotton paper. Stonehenge is good inexpensive cotton paper, but it’s extremely soft so you have to use the softer leads. I use Arches hotpress watercolor paper too. It’s more expensive but the texture works great for graphite.
Use a protective spray finish on your finished drawings. Don’t skimp on this. Your drawings are worth it, one can lasts a while, and it’s not very expensive. For graphite drawings, use the kind marked “archival,” “matte finish,” and “for pastels and charcoal.”
A big tool box to keep all your tools in. I use a plastic tool box I bought at a hardware store. It was cheap and works great.
Small Battery Powered Eraser
Use one to create textures and to erase very small details and highlights. I use a Sukura. I’ve had it for 20+ years, used it on hundreds of drawings, and it’s still working. At this point, I don’t think the thing is ever going to die. Maybe I’ll leave it to someone in my will. :)
Tombow MonoZero Eraser
A small round tipped eraser that’s tough and erases small areas extremely well.
Use a blow-bulb to blow away graphite dust and eraser crumbs. Look in the pharmacy in the “infant” section for a blow-bulb type of “nasal aspirator.”
Pastel Brushes For Blending Graphite
I’ve never found bushes made specifically for graphite, but some pastel brushes work well to blend hatching and to apply powdered graphite.
I use the Holbein Round Blender, Horse, 1/4″. It’s pretty small, but my work is usually small, so it’s perfect for me. There are other sizes and shapes, but I think the short round with stiffer bristles works best with graphite