We’ve all been there, it’s time to replace some of your supplies or you’ve seen a new technique you want to try. So you go to your local art supply store to stock up and find three or four different brands and grades of the item.
Should you always go with the most expensive, professional quality materials? In general, I always tell people to buy the best you can afford, whether you’re talking about colored pencils, markers or marker paper. There is often a big difference between the student grade and the advance/professional grades, but I’d rather see someone using a mid-grade colored pencil then none at all because they couldn’t afford the best, at least they are using what they have and learning. That being said, if you can afford 24 low-grade pencils or 12 professional pencils I would tell you to buy the 12 professional ones.
Here’s the thing. As we learn, we develop techniques and habits that correspond to the quality of the materials we are using. Looking at colored pencils, the lower grade pencils do not blend nearly as well or easily as the higher grade ones do. To blend the lower grade pencils you have to scrub more, use more blending products, or put more and more layers on, these techniques can just make a mess and waste your upper grade pencils.
For marker paper there is a big difference. I’ve seen people who have started with very low-grade marker paper get so frustrated they stop using markers because the techniques they used didn’t work with the higher grade paper, they basically had to go back and relearn every technique; it’s very frustrating and time-consuming. If they had spent the extra money on the top quality paper to start with they would have saved themselves time and ink (which can be more expensive than the paper to begin with).
Here is where I will give you a mixed answer. In my favorite brand of sketchbooks, Strathmore, there are generally three different types of sketchbooks you can find. I LOVE Strathmore’s 300 series, I like the weight and texture of this paper, and it stands up well to my drawing and sketching techniques. Unfortunately, Strathmore does not sell the 300 drawing series in a sketchbook (they call them “Art Journals”) so I buy the 400 series. If they made the lower quality paper in a sketchbook I’d buy it in a heartbeat. My point on sketchbooks is to buy what you like and what will standup to your techniques, they generally are for practice and personal use anyway.
Only you know what you can afford, but buy the best quality you can with the resources you have, you’ll thank yourself in the long run, but also buy what you’ll use. If you’re afraid to use the $35 Faber-Castell Polychromos set you bought it was just as much a waste of money as the $20 set of Prismacolor.