So you’ve made the choice to pick Art GCSE and now you’re wondering: “Do I need to buy anything?”. The honest answer is no, no you don’t. In England it’s your school’s job to supply you with the basics that you need to pass. But if you want to make your life a lot easier, improve at a faster rate, and give yourself more opportunities to raise your grade; then I highly suggest spending a little bit of money on equipment.
The reasons for this are what you would expect; shortages in materials at school, the freedom to continue working at home, or simply for your own personal use so you can practice, raising your skill level and your grade along with it. Also, it’s just pretty cool to just use your own stuff – people chew pencils you know… So take a seat, grab a pen and paper and prepare yourself for the (rather short) shopping list of a lifetime.
1. Sketching pencils, HB to 6B.
Sketching pencils are the basic weapons of the artist. I like to call these your swords. You’re going to be doing a lot of drawing, so it’s good to have a full set of pencils that allow you to reach the full range of tone whether you’re at school, at home, or on a beach in the Caribbean. Out of all your equipment, pencils give the best value for money – because drawing forms the backbone for all art, its better to spend more money on good quality sketching pencils at this stage than on good quality paint.
2. An A2 and A3 folder.
If pencils are your sword, then folders are your shield. Presentation is important, and you cannot risk damaging your work, make sure you have an A2 or A3 folder you can use to transport work from school to home and back again. This is something your school won’t supply you with for free, so start looking for one as early as possible.
3. Acrylic paint and a selection of brushes
Learn to use acrylic paint, it’s a brilliant medium that lends itself well to the GCSE art course because of its flexibility and ability to dry fast. You can also achieve watercolour-like effects by watering it down, or impasto effects by layering thickly, or using mediums. Acrylic is also an excellent precursor to oil paints, which may turn out to be a major material in your toolkit if you continue art beyond secondary school level.
Charcoal is an amazing medium. You can produce impactful monochrome work extremely fast and on a large scale. The amount of energy you can transfer into your artwork through charcoal is impressive, allowing your pieces to look dynamic and full of emotion. And don’t forget - you’ll need hairspray or fixative to make sure it doesn’t smudge or get ruined once your drawing is done.
5. A good quality A5 or A4 sketchbook
This one is more for you as a budding artist than for the GCSE itself. If you’re planning to eventually go into a creative industry or you just want to improve your art in general, you’re going to need to get used to recording your ideas and practicing new things. You need space to do this, so get a good looking, high quality sketchbook that you can take everywhere with you. Guard this with your life. Draw your favourite characters, things around you or just jot down ideas. Use it to practice hands - for hands are the epitome of evil to many an artist.
The quality of most of these materials isn’t highly important at GCSE level and as I mentioned before, the only thing I would advise you to spend more money on is the sketching pencils. Cheap pencils feel awful to work with and won’t give you the quality of mark you’ll want. You’ll be able to feel straight away that they don’t even match up to your standard school pencils, so avoid these like the plague. Generally speaking, this list shouldn’t burn a hole in your pocket; when I did a quick check on amazon, I found that all together the list could be bought with less than £25, and some of this equipment will last you several years. Doesn’t sound like a bad investment, does it?
Do you feel like we’ve missed any materials? Which materials do you consider essential to your toolkit? Comment below to let us know.
Also check out our video below where we go more into depth on each of the above materials: