Recently, I was teaching class with a relatively new student whose goal is to improve her drawing skills. She has innate skills and an observant eye, but needs practice and some range in her mark making language. We had been working on an extended pencil drawing project and were nearing the end of class with a few minutes to spare. I gave her a ball point pen and asked her to play with it, making a variety of marks, values, and layering effects.
She was thrilled with this tool, one she had used her whole life to write with, but now re-examining it with an artist's sensibilities. She couldn't wait to get home and give her children, who she home schools, a chance to make expressive drawings with this everyday item. I was taken by her enthusiasm, and spent the next few days revisiting my own relationship with simple drawing tools. What I realized is that I had allowed that relationship to stagnate.
I must admit that I have not followed his advice very often since his passing about a dozen years ago. However, I have not forgotten his urging to keep the foundational elements of creating visual art at the front of day to day artistic process.
It's very easy to get enthralled with new materials, processes, or the notion that our art must be big, bold, and important. My feeling is that nothing is more important that communicating with the simplest means possible. If you can't communicate your ideas with a pencil, how will you convey them with a full palette of paint? Visual ideas are best distilled directly. What could be more direct than a ball point pen?
What simple tools do you use on a regular basis?