There are thousands of tools, programs, supplies, and products out there for artist. And it is possible to spend a truly overwhelming amount of time and money reading about them and trying them out. These are 5 things I use on a regular basis and are invaluable to me. Some of them were expensive, others were cheap, and there are a dozen other things I love working with too that just didn't make the list.
Let's get real. This program is the mother of all programs. It doesn't matter whether you do photography, graphic design, digital painting, photomanipulation, comic making... Photoshop will do it all, and do it with flying colors. There are other programs out there, and a lot of them are really good, but for me nothing will ever replace photoshop. The major downfall of Photoshop is, of course, its price. This program is not cheap, and for a good reason - it is basically god.
2) 2B Pencil
Yes, its a simple one, but paired with 3) these two buddies are the key to artistic bliss. Pencils come in all sorts of numbers, from 6H to 6B (and beyond!) but nothing beats the plain old simplicity of a 2B pencil. It's pervasive because it will do everything you ask of it. Basically, it's a station wagon.
3) Kneaded Eraser
Kneaded erasers! These guys make my life so much easier. If you've never worked with one before, prepare yourself for a little surprise after you unwrap its clear plastic wrapper. It's squishy, and that's okay! Kneaded erasers can be moulded into any shape you want, making erasing small areas a breeze, but can be re-flattened out to deal with large areas too. My favorite aspect of kneaded erasers is that you can 'dab' away at lines without completely erasing them. Talk about a lifesaver!
(One tip though: don't let them get lost in the bottom of your bag or purse. Crumbs and bits of things stick to them something awful and you'll never get all the grit out of them. And that makes for a sad day.)
4) Digital Tablet
My most recent, frivolous and expensive purchase was Wacom's medium digital Intuos 4 tablet. It took a dip out of my savings, but it was worth it. Wacom is one of the leading brands intablets, and there's a reason for it. Everything Wacom makes is impeccably designed and lasts for years. Although it's hardly a necessity, tablets just make life easier. If you plan on putting good use to your computer programs (such as Photoshop) and unless you are uncommonly dexterous with a mouse (or patient and not liable to tear your hair out) a tablet is a stable for computer art making.
5) Watercolors and India Ink
Okay, I kinda cheated here by including two different mediums, but since I use them interchangeably sometimes, I decided a little cheating was alright. ;)
As much as I love digital mediums, there are plenty of times that I just need to 'make' things that are tangible, and for me that includes scribbling like mad over extra paper and slopping color everywhere. Sometimes the digital world just doesn't cut it when it comes to artistic catharsis. For that there are two things I would die without: plain old India Ink and a nice set of watercolors (no, that Winnie the Poo set just won't do.)
And lastly, because I'm a sap, I'm including a numberless addition to this list. It doesn't have a number because it's the sort of thing that couldn't have one. Supplies are wonderful, tools are fun, but they are all mediums, replaceable ways by which we do things. The process of creation is what's so enticing, making something beautiful, making something that means something (or nothing) and watching it grow. You can do this with a tube of lipstick and some rocks if you're really talented (I'm not that talented). In other words, this last thing is simply the drive to make.