As for pencils, I have Cretacolor, Derwent, Bruynzeel, Faber-Castell, Staedler and "brandless" (Conda?).
Cretacolor ones (I have both 150 and 160 series, no full sets though) are quality stuff and not that expensive. Go for 160 series, they're better, 150 is more like sketch quality (pretty much on par with Derwent, though).
Derwent graphic pencils are good and not too expensive pencils. I'd call them entry level for the lack of a better word. Biggest annoyances for me: 1) the inconsistency in graphic strips: some pens have around 2 mm cores, others close to 5! And 2) the quality of wood used is inconsistent: some pens are pretty hard to sharpen due to the random changes in wood density (I use a knife to sharpen pencils and it leaves the side of the pen looking wavy where it meets a harder spot). (I currently use Derwent as my main brand.)
Bruynzeel... oh, I just love the brand. Suits my temperament and needs as an artist to the t. Hard to find, but not really that expensive.
Staedler is quite sketch quality, I wouldn't use as my main brand.
Faber-Castell makes nice basic pencils. Haven't used them much, I've mainly used their 100% graphite sticks. Pretty consistent and good quality, pretty cheap. I think they have an art range and a hobby range?
I've also used Koh-I-Noor, but currently don't have any of them actively in use (for no particular reason other than I ran out and happened to have full sets from other brands). They are fine, I think a step up from Derwent, maybe on level with Cretacolor 160.
The brandless things come into the equation just this much: they were dirt cheap and they are absolutely great to use. So don't overlook the dollar store stuff! Maybe I wouldn't use them as a stand-alone set but they do act as a back-up and replacement set quite beautifully.
As for paper, it is pretty hard to recommend anything. What kind of paper is good for you might be absolutely the last thing that would work for me. I suggest going to an art store and checking if they sell anything by the sheet OR provide samples.
As a general rule I'd say: go with you gut. Big brands like Daler-Rowney, Fabriano or Canson have good papers, and more importantly, a range of them for you to choose from. Don't overlook the cheaper and unknown brands if they intrigue you (as long as they're acid free, it's not a bad idea to try them). Look for thick, 180 g/m^2 or over, paper that feels good to your fingers.
Bristol board (smooth) is always a good place to start, if you don't have any (better) ideas.
Happy hunting and good luck with finding the best materials for your art! :)
Last edited by kayhmk; 07-10-2010 at 10:54 PM.