Naturally, I asked her what kind of pencils she was using.
(Being an art supply whore means I have ALL the art supplies)
She replied she didn't know, they were just some really cheap-o pencils.
Well, no wonder.
It is extremely difficult if not impossible to get the same results with inferior materials. There are some exceptions* but in general you will have to fight a whole lot harder to get cheap materials to do the same thing as professional materials, if you can pull it off at all.
*I have heard of some professional illustrators who only used Winton oils, for example....Winton is a student-grade oil paint (Winsor Newton).
It is much better to get, for example, a smaller set of really good pencils (like Derwents) than a large cheap set.
There is a reason that student grade/cheap materials are, well, cheap.
That's not always a bad thing and of course there is a need for a lower-tier range.
I used Winton in college, because I had no money. Everyone said "You know that's crap paint, right?" and I said "You know I have to do my homework and I can't afford anything else, right?" However, no one ever offered to relieve me from my crap paint and replace it with good paint.
When I was out of college and got back into oils, I went professional grade. Little by little. And when I started painting with them I said "Whoa!!"
There is a huge difference. A totally different experience. Yes, it really is that big of a difference.
Let's look at Winton cerulean blue (PB35).
37ml is $9.28 at Blick with a list price of $14.99.
Cerulean is an expensive pigment and $9.28 is a great price- especially when you look at the WN artist range where a 37ml tube of PB35 is Blick-priced at $18.30 with a list price of $36.59.
You are paying for the pigment. There is a LOT more pigment in the artist range, and because of that, the paint will handle and mix completely differently.
(We are ignoring the winton "cerulean hue" because it is not really cerulean, it is a mix of pthalo blue and white. Imitation.)
A 37ml tube of Williamsburg PB35 is Blick-priced at $38.15 with a list price of $69.53. Williamsburg is amazing paint and it has even more pigment than the WN. This is very high pigment load paint.
So, there are variations even at artist-grade.
You don't have to use the Williamsburgs or Vasaris.
Anything artist-grade is fine. Whatever budget permits.
Gamblins, WNs, Rembrandts...all of those artist grade paints are just fine.
But student paint?
Just say no.