A peek inside my studio at what I use for my portraits

Pencil Portrait Artist's Materials - Part 2, Paper

I’m often asked what materials I use in drawing my pencil portraits. My aim is always to produce the highest quality work possible, and this naturally requires the use of only the finest tools and materials.

This section is all about paper. Often overlooked, the type of paper you choose has a significant effect on the overall appearance of finished piece, and will also determine how long the portrait lasts and how it ages. There are countless brands and types out there to choose from, but I have settled on only a couple of papers that I think really suit the vast majority of my work.

Strathmore Bristol Board Vellum

This is my main go-to brand of paper, that I use for the majority of my pet portraits. You can buy Strathmore Bristol Board in pads of varying sizes, which means you can reduce waste when drawing smaller portraits.

It is available in a choice of finishes – Smooth and Vellum. I prefer the rougher texture of the Vellum over the Smooth as it adds more texture and depth to fur. Smooth might suit you better if you are more into technical drawing, or drawing with pens and ink.

Fabriano Artistico Hot Pressed Watercolour Paper

I was initially drawn to this paper as I had a few very large portraits to draw, and this paper is available in larger sizes than I was able to find Strathmore Bristol Board. Like the Strathmore, watercolour paper has a nice texture that holds the pencil well, which permits layering – essential if you are trying to create a depth of colour and texture of fur for example.

Fabriano Artistico watercolour paper is produced with 100% cotton. It is chlorine and acid free, which means it will last a long time and won’t react with the pigments and mount board etc. It is available by the sheet, rather than as pads. It is a very high quality paper, but expensive so I still mainly use it just for exceptionally large pet portraits and some wildlife portraits, which tend to be larger than I usually draw pets. 



This is a paper developed exclusively for pastels, which I use mostly for wildlife portraits and the occasional pet portrait. It has a very rough ‘toothed’ surface which ensures that it can hold many layers of soft pastel. PastelMat is available in a variety of colours, which can be useful when you want a plain-coloured background and is especially suited to drawing white animals that would not stand out on white paper. Having said that, my preference is for white PastelMat as I can add my own backgrounds using Pan Pastels which can be made to give a very flat and even colour on this paper.

How to Buy

As I mentioned, I have settled on only a few types of paper that particularly suit my work and style. I don’t actually have much experience of other brands as a result. Therefore, I would encourage you to experiment as much as possible, early on, with different types, and take the time to discover your own preferences. Your choice of paper makes such an impact on how your finished piece looks and lasts, that it is well worth this investment.

Always look for papers marked as acid-free, to ensure it doesn’t react with other materials and will keep your art looking fantastic for as long as possible.

I would be delighted to hear about your experiences and preferences too.

All opinions and recommendations are my own, and based on my own experience. I have not been paid to endorse or recommend any specific products. As a member of the Jackson’s Art affiliate scheme, I may earn a small commission when you purchase any product from them using links on my website or social media. They also offer new customers 10% off their first order when you visit via these links.