Well, I'm not all that experienced, but here's what I've learned thus far that could be of some help. When I started drawing as a real hobby, buying the right supplies was definately the most intimidating part, so I worked with basically crap- normal #2 pencils and printer paper, like we all do in the very beginning. Here are some tips on how to improve that situation.
Deq's drawing supplies tips-
1- The art supply and office supply stores are your friends. Don't think that, just because a certain thing comes from a fancy art-oriented store, that it'll necissarily be expensive or hard to find. Actually, most of the stuff you'll want is pretty affordable- only a tiny percent of professional artists are even financially stable, let alone rich, so the basic stuff can't be too high priced. Ask for help if you need it- even if a clerk doesn't know about it, they can usually pull out a pamphlet or something that is of some assistance. A lot of art supply companies have very detailed catalogues that explain a lot about their products, and they'll usually send them to you for free if you write. However, some things, like straight edges and lighting sources, aren't that complicated, and you can pick them up anywhere- an expensive Tsquare from a catalogue is rarely any better than a medium priced one from Office Depot. Shop around, don't be afraid to ask questions, and research what you need, and you should do fine.
2- Things like the grain of paper and the hardness/softness of pencil lead is important, they don't just put it on the packaging to be pretty. But remember, there's nothing to stress about. Most of it is self-explanatory, or you can find a catalogue guide or book to explain it in detail. Most importantly, you can still get a good selection on a limited budget, at a local store. For serious drawings, you want to have a range of leads and a heavy, smooth paper, but these are not hard things to find. You can get all sorts of lead for a mechanical pencil, my tool of choice, at the office supply place, and the selection of paper there is pretty good too. Buy some good .7, .5, and, if you're really into it, .1 lead pencils, then buy refills- really good pencils will be a little more expensive, but over time you'll save money, because the refills are usually no more than three dollars each (and they last a while), and the well built pencils will take a lot of abuse without busting. You can even get colored leads and what are called "effects" leads, ones that are glittery or spiraled or change color throughout the piece.
A lot of "serious" artists bash mechanical pencils for creating too uniform a line, but it's a good way to learn, and some professionals stick with them for good, especially for preliminary designs. Best part- no sharpening!
As for paper, it's a little more complicated. There are a lot of different grains and finishes and such, and the only real way to see what you like is to try them out, just like with erasers and paint colors. What I like to do is split a pack of something new with one or more friends, so none of us spend too much money and we all get a couple of sheets to experiment on. Believe me, you'll probably find something totally different that you're comfortable with, but I personally like using Wausu Exact brand Bristol for sketches and small drawings, which is most of my stuff. It's pretty stiff- medium card stock, with a thick grain but not too rough (semi smooth is the technical definition)- a good step up when you've learned on normal printing paper. The best part- you can get 250 sheets of it at 8.5 x 11 inches for about 8 dollars (it's also sold at larger sizes in pads- see next tip)
3- The biggest misconception I found when starting to draw with professional supplies is that, when you look at a really good artist's work, you're looking at the actual size of it. This is DEFINATELY not true. Most of the serious fantasy art you see in books, on standard 8.5x11 paper, is actually done 2, 3, even 4 or 5 times larger, then shrunk in printing. Even in comic books, which are usually not that finely detailed, the originals are almost always on 15x11 inch 2 ply bristol board. And for painted work it gets insane- some popular artists like Brom and Greg and Tim Hildebrant will do their originals on 4 or 5 foot canvases, which is nuts when you see it reprinted in a 1.5x2 inch format in fantasy card games. No wonder they look great!
My reccomendation- If you have an idea for a project that isn't just going to be a sketch or a little thing, but a real effort that you wouldn't mind framing (if it works), do it big. I myself like 11x14 inches, but, again, I like working kind of small, relatively. You can get pads of stuff as big as 2.5 feet, though it'll cost you about 20 dollars for 25 sheets, which can get kind of expensive. Luckily, it's usually thick and high-quality stuff at that price. You can also get thin sketching crap at those sizes, but that's up to you. I personally don't see the point, but that's just one guy's opinion.
More reasons I like 11x14- it's freeingly large when you're used to standard 8.5x11, but not cumbersome. You can get it in nice stiff bristol, and a pad of 40 sheets of it will only run you about 15 bucks. And, in case you're so inclined, it's a standard frame size (this may not seem important, but believe me, IT IS if you ever want to frame it. I've been looking everywhere for a frame for my autographed Munch's Oddysee poster, but 2ft by 1ft is not a standard size, so a custom one is probably going to end up costing me 50 bucks instead of 12. Yeah, standard sizes are nice)
(super hidden bonus word to make sure somebody actually read through all this!- Zepplin. Mention this word in this thread to win something all cooly-cool... and stuff)
4- Here's a tip that's sure to piss some people off- if you don't like inking your pencil work... don't! If you don't want to, then don't bother with pens, or computer program tracing, or any of that stuff- just go over the finished product with a heavy pencil lead to fortify the lines. I have ruined a number of good drawings by inking them, and wasted a good many hours tracing them in photoshop just to have them come out crappy and I revert them to the scan. If you have a good scanner, turn the resolution up really high, scan the darkened pencil, and spend a little while cleaning up the smudges and stuff, brightening the backgrounds, etc, but don't worry about darkening stuff anymore. You actually lose a certain charm to the graphite when you ink over it and erase it- it doesn't look as natural, but again, that's just my opinion.
If preserving your originals is the concern, say, you don't want the pencil to smudge in your portfolio, inking is still not the only option. Go back to our good friend the office supply place again, and pick up a box of sheet protectors- see-through plastic sleeves that fit a standard piece of paper, but they sell them in all the other sizes we talked about too. A box of 200 8.5x11 protectors- 13 dollars. That's 400 drawings (you can put another in the back!), for just 13 bucks, all protected, and, for the additional price of a three ring binder, all kept neatly in an impressive looking portfolio. You can even carry it around with you a little, if you take some clear tape and close the tops of the sleeves, and it should be okay. Just don't go nuts and start stomping through the river- they aren't magic, just cool.
If you have a wild squirrel up your butt and you really REALLY want to ink stuff, I personally reccomend Zig and Rapidograph drafters pens, as these are the brands I've failed the least embarresingly with. The Zig are probably best for beginners- Rapidograph require refilling cartridges and being much more careful with the nubs, and they're more expensive, but they can be worth it if you practice. As for inks and brushes- yes, it looks wonderful when done well, and yes there's a whole world of techniques that open up to you when you get good, but they're a bitch to clean and maintain, it's easy to screw up in the beginning, and the stuff is expensive as all heck. I'm struggling at the beginning of learning more, so I'll try to explain more at a later time. For now, stick to the pens, if you really want even that.
(Remember, Zepplin is the magic word. Super cooly cool coooool prize!)
5- I know everybody says this, but it's important- don't be afraid to screw up, everybody does it a lot more than you'd guess. I've used up entire pads with attempts that turned out sucky. Don't look at it as wasting the stuff- look at it as a development process. That way you won't get too pissed about essentially having just crumpled up and thrown away 14 of your hard earned dollars. It's all a part of the learning process.
6- I'm tired, so I'll make this the last one for tonight. It's the most important thing I've learned thus far about art- always remember to take all advice from other artists with a grain of salt. In other words, listen to them, but don't follow anything religiously. Drawing is just like playing music or writing books- there are fundamentals to learn, and learning them from people who know something already is certainly useful, but no two artists are the same, so what you are comfortable with is going to be different from them. If you really like the way your work looks very small on thin paper and heavily inked, then run with it, bucko, and to hell with how I do it!! What we say to you are merely suggestions, NOT RULES. There are no rules, that's the beauty- and the difficulty- behind it.
Phew, that was long. Did it help? Somebody, validate my existance, please!